Who Is Cheikh Anta Diop?
Cheikh Anta Diop, the brilliant Black anthropologist, historian, and physicist was one of the most prominent and proficient Black scholars in the history of African civilization. His discoveries and deductions have shown the world the true accomplishments of African history, effectively put an end to the debate over who the original people of Egypt were, and pioneered techniques of scientific research – such as carbon dating as a means of dating artifacts and remains.
To those who would believe that people of African descent have accomplished nothing, and to those who would believe that Blacks are incapable of higher thought and science, Cheikh Anta Diop stands as a shining example.
Cheikh Anta Diop was educated early in life. As part of an aristocratic Muslim family, Cheikh was privileged to have studied at a traditional Islamic school before graduating and achieving a Bachelors degree at age 23. The year was 1946. Following his Undergraduate achievement, he moved to Paris where he would stay for 15 years to study Physics (translating Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into the Senegalese language of Wolof), history, and Egyptology. It was here that Cheikh Anta Diop would become a Pan-Africanist. In 1948, his studies led him to explore the accomplishments of African cultures. He would write, “Quand pourra-t-on parler d’une renaissance africaine” (When we will be able to speak of an African Renaissance). For the next three years, he immersed himself in the study of anthropology, sociology, and Pan-Africanist thought and philosophy with an eye towards identifying the contributions that Africans made to the world as we know it. His studies led him to three primary revelations:
- That Ancient Egypt was founded, populated, and ruled by Black Africans
- That the Egyptian language and culture still exists in modern African languages – including his own Wolof language – and
- That Black Egypt was responsible for the rise of civilization throughout Africa and the Mediterranean (including Greece and Rome)
These findings were published in what could be considered Cheikh Anta Diop’s first book – Negro Nations and Culture. Immediately, he became one of the most controversial scientists in the world during a time when civil rights and African independence were focal points on the world stage. It was assumed that Blacks had never produced anything of cultural value, and were incapable of constructing such majestic works of engineering as the Great Pyramids. Diop’s work effectively and irrefutably destroyed the assumptions of Black cultural inferiority. Negro Nations and Cultures – despite the controversy it caused – earned Dr. Diop a Ph. D. At the University of Paris in 1960.
From Scholar to Activist
Dr. Diop’s studies solidified his political philosophy as well as his academic credentials: he was a full-blown Pan-Africanist. In 1950, shortly before publishing Negro Nations and Culture, Cheikh Anta Diop was elected as the Secretary-General of the African student nationalist organization Rassemblement Democratique Africaine (RDA). The organization made its first priority the restoration of Black consciousness, which had been (and still is) warped by slavery and colonialism. Immediately after his election as Secretary-General, he organized and successfully hosted the first Pan-African student conference for the purpose of promoting African national independence from colonial rule. At this conference, Diop would reveal his plan for the restoration of Black Consciousness through a focus on Ancient Egypt. By acknowledging the civilizing role of Ancient Egypt and adopting its political structure (in the form of a federated state), Africa would be best positioned to deal with the challenges that it faced at the time. These early ideas would lead to his second major work in 1962: Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State. In it , he wrote “ the formation of a federated and unified Africa, culturally and otherwise,is the only way for Africa to become the power in the world that she should rightfully be.”
Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State served as a manifesto for his political party – the Mass Senegalese Bloc (BMS). Armed with a faith in Pan-African principles, and Dr. Diop’s manifesto, the BMS won the hearts and minds of so many Senegalese that they became a clear threat to then President Leopold Senghor. Diop was arrested and tortured to the point of death, and his political party was banned in Senegal. All his work was nearly lost, and would have been forgotten had it not been for other loyal BMS fighters. Diop supporters unleashed a barrage of anti-Senghor campaign messages, threats, and stand-ins. Ultimately, President Senghor folded, and offered to not only release Diop, but to offer him a position in a new government. Diop refused when Senghor refused to release all other political prisoners, and disappeared from politics until 1975.
Rather than remaining idle, Dr. Diop continued his research. He became a pioneer of the scientific method of radiocarbon dating, and established the Institut Fondamental de L’Afrique Noir, which was renamed Cheikh Anta Diop University in his honor after his death on February 7, 1986. His techniques provided scientific means of identifying the racial identity of mummies (providing proof of the race of the Ancient Egyptians), as well as dating artifacts and remains.
It is thanks to The African Origins of Civilization, Diop’s first English translated book, that we in America and other English speakers the world over have become aware of Chiekh Anta Diop’s contributions to Afrocentric thought and science. The 1974 book openly challenged European archaeologists who then continued to understate the extent and possibility of Black civilizations, and gave further proof of the African influence over so-called western civilization.
The Legacy of Chiekh Anta Diop
In 1975 Chiekh Anta Diop died in his sleep of natural causes, and passed into eternity. His works continue to be studied, debated, and built upon, both at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal, and in Black circles around the world. He is a pharaoh of Black scholarship, and his name should be enshrined with the likes of Imhotep, Ahmed Baba , and George Washington Carver. Activists including Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Huey P. Newton, and Louis Farrakhan have all directly attributed their evolution as Pan-Africanists to the works of Cheikh Anta Diop.
His university bears the motto “Lux Mea lex”, which is Latin for “Light is my law”. For more than 50 years the University has remained a premier institution of higher education and is currently one of the most successful in Africa. In December of 201, the institute will hold an international symposium titled “Population, Development and Climate Change”.
Cheikh Anta Diop will live forever!