There exists a very rich, but largely untapped well of African American philosophical thought, in which many Black thinkers were debating the role philosophy played in racial advancement among themselves. One such work that demonstrates this vibrant tradition is William H. Ferris’s The African Abroad or, His Evolution in Western Civilization: Tracing His Development under Caucasian Milieu. In 1913, Ferris composed and published one of the most authoritative encyclopedias of Black (African-American) thought and Black civilization. The African Abroad was well known and widely engaged with in Black debates about philosophy, politics and history through the mid-1900’s, yet has largely disappeared from contemporary scholarship.
The text itself offers readers the first evidence of a Black idealist philosophy of history that seeks to explain the evolution of the Negro race the world over. The African Abroad establishes a system of thought starting from God, the revelation of knowledge God offers humanity through history, and finally the Negro problem. Ferris offers the world a Black philosophical perspective currently unavailable in any collection of Black authors. He is a racial idealist who offers systematic thinking about the world faced by the Negro in the first decade of the 20th century. This edition includes Ferris's Philosophical Treatises from Sections I-III from The African Abroad. Tommy J. Curry includes two comprehensive introductory essays highlighting the significance of Ferris’s text in the study of African American philosophy, and the possible contributions Ferris’s thoughts on ethnological thought, the philosophy of history and the role of race play in the larger field of American philosophy.
Acknowledgements / Author’s Preface: “Deliberate Misreadings: Derelictical Avoidance, William H. Ferris and the Need to Expand the Geography of Black Nationalism to Comprehend The African Abroad” / Author’s Introduction: “The Racial Idealism of William H. Ferris: An Idealist Philosophy of History Rooted in the Ethnological Era” / Section I: Introduction to a Philosophy of History / 1. A Narragansett Reverie upon the Ethernal and Ephemeral in History and Human Life and History / 2. God Revealed in the Course of Human History, in the Movement of the Human Spirit in its Historical Development—the Meaning of History / 3. Teleology in Reality; or, in what Sense is there a Teleological Movement in the World? Is Man One of the Final Purposes of the Universe? / 4. The Success of Philosophy / 5. The Epical Meaning and Historical Significance of the Black Man’s Spiritual Strivings and Higher Aspirations / Section II: An Ethnological Account of Negro Thought and Life / 6. Typical Negro Traits / 7. A Historical and Psychological Account of the Genesis and Development of the Negro’s Religion / 8. Is the Negro and Imitative or Reflective Being? To what Extent is the Present Anglo-Saxon Civilization Original and Underived / 9. Reason why the Term “NegroSaxon,” or Colored, Better Characterizes the Colored People of Mixed Descent in America than the term “Negro” / Section III: Racial Idealism and the Color Question / 10. The Key Solution of the Race Question / 11. The Educated Leader the Hope of the Race and the Hero in the Struggle for Negro Liberty / Index
The publication of selections from William H. Ferris’s The African Abroad is a long overdue event. Ferris’s ideas that racial redemption will come from African American contributions to western civilization and that black folk need an educated leadership of the highest talents are nothing new. Given his unique philosophical perspective and conclusions that rub against established orthodoxies, however, Ferris’s work casts new light on the insights and dilemmas of black intellectuals of the early 20th century, and is worth serious consideration.
Tommy J. Curry is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Professor of Africana Studies at Texas A&M University. He is a Ray A. Rothrock Fellow and has commented on social matters in venues ranging from Forbes to Sirius XM. He is the author of 50 articles on issues of racism, Black intellectual history, and Black political theory.