Joseph Anténor Firmin (1850-1911) was an exceptionally brilliant, extraordinary, multidisciplinary Haitian scholar and statesman. He is deservingly recognized as the first anthropologist and probably Egyptologist of African descent in the diasporan world of the late nineteenth century.
Fortunately for all of humanity, Firmin courageously raised his herculean Haitian literary voice to challenge and meticulously dismantle the dangerous pillars of the race myth and race propaganda. Firmin published “The Equality of the Human Races: Positivist Anthropology” in 1885. The text is the world’s first sustained book length response to Euro-American “scientific racism,” when anthropology was just emerging as a specialized field of study.
This international school propagating the pseudo-science of biological and intellectual inferiority of African descended people has been referred to as “scientific racism.”
During this period, an international school of racial typology favoring the superiority of Caucasian’s over all people of color had begun to develop and publicly express itself in Britain by Charles Hamilton Smith (1848) and Robert Knox (1850); in France by Arthur de Gobineau (1853); in the United States by Samuel Morton (1839, 1844), Josiah Clark Nott (1854), and George Robbins Gliddon (1854); and in Germany by Karl Vogt (1863).
This international school propagating the pseudo-science of biological and intellectual inferiority of African descended people has been referred to as “scientific racism.” The anti-racist anthropologist Ashley Montague has accurately observed, “…throughout the nineteenth century hardly more than a handful of scientific voices were raised against the notion of a hierarchy of races.”
Firmin and his text are a seminal part of a long tradition of intellectual, vindicationist scholarship that seeks to re-conceptualize and reconstruct the historical and cultural position of African people’s achievements and contributions to world history and global civilizations. In my personal view, Firmin’s appraisal and assessment of the ancient classical writers and the direct connection he makes to contemporary historical figures is brilliantly formulated for the modern reader.