Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cleopatra wasn't black

Despite the slogan, Cleopatra, though Egyptian, wasn't black. Egyptians are Africans, so it's correct to refer to the last ruler of an independent Egypt (until relatively recently) as African. She was however, the last of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, a dynasty founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals, Ptolemy, and hence she was of Greek descent. There was a lot of Appalachian-style intermarriage in this dynasty, so the chance of some black blood getting into the line, while possible, is remote.

Even if Cleopatra VII had come from native Egyptian stock, she wouldn't have been black any more than modern Egyptians are. The Ptolemaic Dynasty lasted between 305 BC and 30 BC, when Egypt was conquered by the Romans. Prior to the Ptolemies, however, there was a dynasty of black pharaohs, between 750 and 656 BC. This would be the period of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, also known as the Nubian Dynasty.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in Boston Harbor? It turns out that the National Center of African American Artists in Roxbury has a permanent exhibit that commemorates the Nubian Dynasty. The imposing and somewhat dilapidated mansion that serves as the Center's headquarters at 300 Walnut Avenue is also home to the recreated tomb of the Nubian Pharaoh Aspelta (600-580 BC). It's a remarkable exhibit showing how this pharaoh was laid to rest for life everlasting. If you want to see some photos provided by the Center click here, but for the $4.00 admission price, I recommend going in person since the experience can't be replicated on a computer screen.

I believe this is the only permanent exhibit the Center maintains, and it's an important one. The Nubians were centered in the Kingdom of Kush, in modern Sudan, and they preserved Egyptian civilization during a critical, if ancient time. This is something to be proud of if people are going to be proud of their race and it is much more accurate than erroneously claiming a Greek as a relative. Take it from someone who often mixes fact with fancy. If you're going to do it, you'd better have your facts straight.

Unfortunately, the Center isn't served by train. You have to take the 22 bus from Dudley Station to Walnut Avenue on Seaver Street. It's a short, three-block walk up Walnut to the Center and it's located in a picturesque and well preserved neighborhood. Don't believe all the horror stories you've heard about Roxbury. This little pocket is a peaceful jewel.

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