Fact Check: Black Americans Are NOT Descendants Of North America's Original Indigenous Inhabitants

Fact Check

  • by: Madison Dapcevich

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: Black Americans Are NOT Descendants Of North America's Original Indigenous Inhabitants Not History

Are Black Americans descended from the original indigenous inhabitants of North America and not from enslaved persons taken from Africa? No, that's not true: This notion descends from the Moorish Science Temple, a pseudoscience organization that argues without evidence that Black people are of "Moorish" descent and the original indigenous group of North America. Black Americans are descendants of enslaved persons forcefully brought to North America from Africa during the Atlantic slave trade beginning in the 17th-century. Prominent archaeological and anthropological evidence shows that indigenous Native Americans are the original inhabitants of North America, and their ancestors migrated to the continent approximately 15,000 years ago.

The claim originated in a video slideshow shared on Instagram on January 26, 2023, that suggested without evidence that Black Americans are the original indigenous inhabitants of North America. A text overlay reads:

Dear African Americans, we are NOT African, we are the Indigenous Americans the colonizers arrogantly claimed were wiped out. But WE ARE STILL HERE.

They implemented paper genocide to separate us from our heritage and gave us a new identity (negro, colored, black,) if we claimed to be indian, we were unalived.

This is who you are and everyone knows but you

They invaded our lands, forced their religion on us, destroyed our history and taught us that we came from a different continent, but in reality we've been home this entire time. They LIED

They forced us to believe our ancestors came from Africa on slave ships so they could continue to take our land for profit

Remember who you are

You come from GREATNESS

You are an Indigenous American

Below is how the post appeared at the time of this publication:

Screen Shot 2023-01-30 at 4.32.25 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Mon Jan. 30 23:32:25 2023 UTC)

In an email to Lead Stories received January 31, 2023, Ben Fitzhugh, professor of anthropological archaeology at the University of Washington Department of Anthropology, said that the TikTok clip "offers no evidence, only cherry-picked, out-of-context, and in at least one case clearly faked images."

"Those images are provided without context to imply phenotypic similarity between Native Americans and African/African Americans," added Figzhugh.

The video in the post included the TikTok watermark @theaboriginalamerican, which the Lead Stories newsroom tracked to a TikTok account with content that included several other videos related to the notion that Black Americans are the original indigenous people of North America. While the video on Instagram was not posted to the TikTok account, it did include several slides from various videos. The below compilation shows the TikTok video on the left and the Instagram video on the right, for example:Screen Shot 2023-01-30 at 4.40.01 PM.png

(Source: TikTok and Instagram screenshots taken Mon Jan. 30 23:40:01 2023 UTC)

The Moor theory

The above social media videos echo the broader ideologies of the Moor theory, which claims that the original inhabitants of North America were Moors, the term "used by Christian Europeans during the Middle Ages to refer to Muslim Black Africans from North Africa,"' as Lead Stories previously reported. Followers claim, without corroborating evidence, that the original indigenous inhabitants of North America were Black Africans. In the U.S., this claim is rooted in a movement known as the Empire Washitaw de Dugdahmoundya and promoted by the Moorish Science Temple, which has been described by some scholars as a "peculiar religious sect."

However, experts previously confirmed to Lead Stories that there is no known evidence proving these ideas.

Black Americans are descended from enslaved Africans

The first African Americans were descendants from Africa brought to the U.S. as enslaved persons transported during the West Africa slave trade as early as the 16th-century. Pew Research Center notes:

The trans-Atlantic slave trade marked the beginning of the Black population in the U.S., with the first record of an enslaved African person in the U.S. in 1619. The importation of enslaved African people persisted until 1808, when this practice was outlawed. By 1810, there was already a significant U.S. Black population (19% of the overall population, according to the 1810 decennial census).

The Library of Congress further states that free and enslaved Africans came to North America with Spanish explorers in the early 15th-century and that captive Africans "first set foot in North America" in the midsts of a slave society:

In 1790 there were fewer that 700,000 enslaved people in the United States; in 1830 there were more than 2 million; on the eve of the Civil War, nearly 4 million.

...

Enslaved people of African descent could be found in all parts of the country, and put their hands to virtually every type of labor in North America.

Britannica also writes that "African Americans are largely the descendants of enslaved people who were brought from their African homelands by force to work in the New World."

Native Americans are the descendants of the original indigenous inhabitants of North America

While there is some discord as to the precise dates of human migration to North America, scientists generally agree that North America's original inhabitants migrated from Asia approximately 15,000 years ago, or possibly sooner, according to leading anthropological and archaeological theories.

"There are multiple theories about the peopling of the Americas and consensus is hard to find. The main theories include a terrestrial route -- Beringia [an] ice-free corridor around 13,000-15,000 years ago -- and a Pacific coastal route that is generally considered to be earlier than the terrestrial one," Archaeological Institute of America's Ben Thomas told Lead Stories in November 2022.

Archival searches of photographs featured in the video

The slideshow video shared on Instagram relied upon several authentic historical photos, but misrepresented their contents. These photographs should not be considered historical evidence and do not outweigh millennia of historical record.

One such example includes the photograph below:

Screen Shot 2023-01-31 at 10.35.14 AM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Tues Jan 31 18:06:28 2023 UTC)

Figzhugh identified the above figure as one of the "colossal heads" of the Olmec tradition found in the Veracruz region of Mexico, which dates back approximately 3,000 years.

"There is no evidence of a direct transatlantic connection. Indeed, the archaeological evidence is straight-forward that the Olmec tradition gave birth, in a continuous sequence of cultural development and in-situ demographic continuity to the cultures that followed in Mesoamerica... and to the Indigenous people who continue to live in modern Mexico today," said Figzhugh.

Another example includes the photograph below that Lead Stories used to conduct a reverse image search:

Screen Shot 2023-01-30 at 4.42.32 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Mon Jan. 30 23:42:22 2023 UTC)

We found that the above image is hosted in the digital collections of the Six Nations Public Library in Ontario, Canada. The image dates to 1892 and is described as the "Tuscarora Team Six Nations." Tuscarora Nation is an indigenous and self-described "historic Indian Nation" related to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) peoples who migrated south and occupied lands in North Carolina, notes a web page of the Dartmouth University library. Tuscarora Nation is recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Leaders Directory as of January 30, 2023.

Lead Stories also conducted a reverse image search of the below photograph:

Screen Shot 2023-01-30 at 4.43.46 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Mon Jan. 30 23:43:26 2023 UTC)

The above image is hosted by photo sharing site Alamy and depicts a mural at the Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris, France titled, "St. Francis Solanus baptism of South American Indians." Francis Solanus was a Spanish missionary and friar (1549-1610) who traveled to South America under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, according to the Catholic website New Advent.

Finally, a reverse image of the below photograph:

Screen Shot 2023-01-30 at 4.45.08 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken Mon Jan. 30 23:45:08 2023 UTC)

The image led to an Ebay listing on the German version of the online auction site that described an autographed picture of "Buffalo Child." Born Sylvester Clark Long, "Buffalo Child" was a controversial journalist and actor with a controversial heritage of "mixed indigenous and white (and possibly black) ancestry," according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.

None of the above photographs provide historical evidence that Black Americans are the descendants of the original indigenous Native American inhabitants of North America. These photographs are authentic images presented without historical context and used to bolster an unverified theory.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to Black Americans can be found here.

Updates:

  • 2023-01-31T18:45:09Z 2023-01-31T18:45:09Z
    Adds details, comments from Ben Fitzhugh, professor of anthropological archaeology at the University of Washington Department of Anthropology.

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  Madison Dapcevich

Raised on an island in southeast Alaska, Madison grew up a perpetually curious tidepooler and has used that love of science and innovation in her now full-time role as a science reporter for the fact-checking publication Lead Stories.

Read more about or contact Madison Dapcevich

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