New Encyclopedia Sheds Light on America’s ‘African Founders’

*Historian David Hacket Fischer compiled an encyclopedia documenting the experiences of slaves in the United States from the 17th to the 19th century.

Fischer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Washington’s Crossing, per Time, “draws heavily on the writings and oral histories of slaves and former slaves” for his latest book, “African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals.”

The encyclopedia, which came out on May 31, is organized by region to show the impact of slavery on local cultures today.

Fischer spoke to TIME about his encyclopedia news and also shared his thoughts on the 1619 Project.

Read excerpts from the interview below.

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Why is your book called African founders?

It revolves mainly around the contribution of the peoples of nine regions of Africa, in particular, to the foundation of this great Republic.

What was the most surprising search you found?

The most important things were the writings that Africans have produced in which they described their own goals, who they were, where they came from, their own values, what they wanted, what their hopes were for a better world in America. And when they arrived, they started building new societies in America around ideas of how a society should be run. And generally they had an idea of ​​freedom and freedom and then little by little they started to have an idea of ​​the participation of many people in the management of these places. First, [America’s leaders were] mostly men, mostly men with property, but then it expanded to include more men, and then it started to include women. And then it started to include different ethnic groups. And America’s diversity has grown. And all of this is what makes us free today and keeps us free.

And we have hundreds of such writings by individuals from the very beginning of American history. This country we have, this great Republic, was born out of their goals. And my book is to help people remember those founders and what they were trying to do, and also to understand that diversity is the key to our freedom and freedom.

I think the most important thing I’ve found is how Creative many of these Africans were and have become even when they came in chains. And they learned how to break their chains and help others become free.

Why is Absalom Jones on the cover of the book? Why is it significant?

He was a very serious man who became an important minister and then helped to build institutions for free Africans in his region, which was New England. And also he was interested in expanding the idea and instinct of freedom and expanding the institutions of a free society, which we have today. And you will see that these were very important for the foundation of African Churches in America.

What is the biggest lesson you want readers to learn?

The central idea is the importance of what Africans did to help found this free Republic and how they made it freer than it otherwise would have been. We are all indebted to them. And they also gave us the obligation to make it even freer.

The subject of your book was recently popularized by the New York Time“Project 1619”. How do you see your book fitting into the conversation this feature has started?

They are too focused on what went wrong and too little on the creativity of people reacting to what went wrong. And I want to highlight the creativity. I think that’s much more important than talking about racism in America.

These are the people who have found ways to overcome it, to take us beyond it and to make us less racist than we were. This is the big story in America. The big story is not that we were racist. The big story is that we overcame that. And we still have a long way to go. And I want to celebrate that.

Read the full article here.

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