From the New York Times:
Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism
By ERIC HERSCHTHAL FEB. 22, 2018
… That statement was part of a lecture in which he attacked one of the most prominent scientific fields of the antebellum era: ethnology, or what was sometimes called “the science of race.” Though often dismissed today as pseudoscience, at the time Douglass was writing, it was considered legitimate. The most accomplished scientists engaged in it, and the public eagerly consumed it.
Ethnology was not embraced by only proslavery Southerners. Its most important theorists lived in the North: one, Louis Agassiz, taught at Harvard; the other, Samuel George Morton, was president of one of the nation’s leading scientific societies, in Philadelphia.
Morton, of course, was a 19th century scientist libeled by Stephen Jay Gould in his 1981 bestseller The Mismeasure of Man. Gould fantasized that Morton must have done his experiment on skull capacities wrong out of racism. When 21st Century scientists replicated Morton’s experiment, they found that Morton did it more or less right and it was Gould who was wrong. (Here’s a New York Times editorial on Gould’s Mistake.)
Agassiz and Morton rejected the 18th-century view of race, which held that all human beings descended from a single pair and that physical differences emerged because of changes in the natural environment.
… In preparation for the 1854 lecture, Douglass read dozens of books on ethnology, then dismantled polygenists’ claims one by one. Among the most important to Douglass was Morton’s claim that ancient Egyptians were white. For that theory to work, Morton needed to explain away the fact that ancient Egyptians were Africans, since if they were, it meant that people of African descent had the potential for equal civilizational greatness. …
Douglass would have none of it. He cited text after text, all written by respected European scientists, that noted that ancient Egyptians bore a striking resemblance to modern-day Africans.
The sleight of hand here is that virtually nobody who has thought scientifically about race considers “African” to mean that the entire continent of Africa comprises just one race. The Sahara Desert has long been a bigger barrier to gene flow than the Mediterranean Sea.
Thus Berber soccer star Zinedine Zidane looks kind of like a U-Boat Kapitan.
Egypt is a little different, though, because the Nile could keep you from dying of thirst while traversing the Sahara, although it’s surprisingly hard to get from black South Sudan to brown Khartoum by boat or by foot.
Fortunately, we now have new scientific evidence on this question. From Nature in 2017:
“The study, published on 30 May in Nature Communications, includes data from 90 mummies buried between 1380 bc, during Egypt’s New Kingdom, and ad 425, in the Roman era. The findings show that the mummies’ closest kin were ancient farmers from a region that includes present-day Israel and Jordan. Modern Egyptians, by contrast, have inherited more of their DNA from central Africans. …
“Both types of genomic material showed that ancient Egyptians shared little DNA with modern sub-Saharan Africans. Instead, their closest relatives were people living during the Neolithic and Bronze ages in an area known as the Levant. Strikingly, the mummies were more closely related to ancient Europeans and Anatolians than to modern Egyptians.
“The researchers say that there was probably a pulse of sub-Saharan African DNA into Egypt roughly 700 years ago. The mixing of ancient Egyptians and Africans from further south means that modern Egyptians can trace 8% more of their ancestry to sub-Saharan Africans than can the mummies from Abusir el-Meleq.”
From the original study:
Absolute estimates of African ancestry using these two methods in the three ancient individuals range from 6 to 15%, and in the modern samples from 14 to 21% …
So, classical era mummies were, say, 12% sub-Saharan black by ancestry, which isn’t insignificant but isn’t all that much either.
It would, however, be interesting to look at DNA from buried individuals further up the Nile than Egypt, some of whom built impressive imitations of Egyptian structures in classical times.
On the other, Morton’s multi-regional origin theory has turned out to mostly wrong, although slightly right. Most people outside of Africa trace their DNA overwhelmingly back to Africa (the Out of Africa theory). On the other hand, about 2% of the DNA of non-Africans traces back to interbreeding with Neanderthals and other species outside of Africa. In contrast, Africans today have virtually no DNA from Neanderthals and the like.
So, I’d score it:
On Egypt, Morton 88-12 over Douglass.
On multiple-origins, Douglass 98-2 over Morton.
So, Douglass did well for an autodidact.