Many of us are taught that Africans were "primitives" before Portuguese navigators "discovered" them in the 15th century, whereupon slavery began. But Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes that African kingdoms were actually sophisticated civilizations that had formal diplomatic relations with European countries around that time. Gates notes that historians Linda Heywood and John Thornton discovered that the king of Kongo sent an ambassador named Chrachanfusus to Portugal as early as 1488. He presented ivory that was "marvelously white" to the king, and was even baptized and given the name of Joao de Silva. "He is the first African ambassador to Europe of whom we have records."
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