The First African In America

The Root interviewed Henry Louis Gates Jr. about his recent PBS series African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross:

The Root: What about the series will be most surprising to viewers?

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: I think the most surprising thing to many viewers will be that [the first] African Americans did not arrive in 1619, when … 20 Africans arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia, and were transported to Jamestown. Rather, it was a century before that, in Florida, when the first black man whose name we actually knew arrived, in 1513.

Juan Garrido was a free black man, not a slave. He was a conquistador, and like the others, he was looking for the fountain of youth. He went to Baja California, Mexico, looking for the black Amazons. We even have a petition he filed to [the] king of Spain asking for a pension. He claims he was the first person ever to sow wheat in the New World. [In the series] we trace the arc of black history from Juan Garrido’s riveting story to, half a millennium later, another black man who happens to be president of the United States.