12 Historical Figures Many People Don’t Know Are Black

French General Thomas Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie a.k.a. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (1762-1806), fighting off the Austrian army, at the bridge of Clausen in Tyrol, on 17 January 1797. Illustration from French newspaper Le Petit Journal. May 26, 1912.
French General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas fighting off the Austrian army, at the bridge of Clausen in Tyrol, on Jan. 17, 1797.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (1762-1806) 

Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, also known as Alexandre Dumas, was a general in the French army and became one of the highest-ranking Black men of all time in a continental European army. Born in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Alexandre Dumas was of mixed race, the son of a white French nobleman and an enslaved mother of African descent.

In 1776, at age 14, he traveled to France to live with his father, who had left Saint-Domingue the year before. Dumas’s upbringing was typical of a son of an aristocrat, and in 1786, at age 24, he joined the French army as a private. However, his father refused to allow him to use his name in the lowest rank of the army. Thus, he dropped Thomas from his given name and took his mother’s surname, entering the service as Alexandre Dumas.

By 1792, Dumas was a lieutenant colonel and married Marie-Louise Labouret. The next year, he was promoted to general of the Army in the western Pyrenees. Eventually, he joined Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy, and later in Egypt where he questioned Bonaparte’s policies. The break between them was permanent. Denied a decent pension, the general soon died a man broken in spirit.


alexandre dumas

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)

Alexandre Dumas, was the son of Alexandre Davy de La Pailleterie, and the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and  The Three Musketeers. He’s regarded as one of the most widely read French authors of all time.

After General Dumas’s death in 1806, the family fell on hard times, and the young Alexandre went to Paris to attempt to make a living as a lawyer. He managed to obtain a post in the household of the Duke d’Orléans, the future King Louis-Philippe, but tried his fortune in the theatre. Dumas’s plays were well received in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Though he continued to write plays, Dumas next turned his attention to the historical novel,  eventually writing the books mentioned above and what he is best known for.

For more information on the Dumas’ read the following books:

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
General Alexandre Dumas: Soldier of the French Revolution

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof: A Short Cut to The World


Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin  (1799-1837)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was born into Russian nobility in Moscow after his great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Abram Petrovitch Ganibal, was enslaved and brought over from Africa to Russia where he rose to become an aristocrat. Pushkin’s historical fiction “The Blackamoor of Peter the Great” is based on his great-grandfather.

Even though he was considered nobility, Pushkin often faced racism because of his African heritage. His jaded yet proud defense of his ancestry in “My Genealogy” is in response to racial slurs aimed at him by his critics. He clearly saw himself as a Black man and closely identified himself with those Africans held in bondage in the Americas. In a letter composed in 1824 he stated that: “It is permissible to judge the Greek question like that of my Negro brethren, desiring for both deliverance from an intolerable slavery.”

Read “The Collected Stories (Everyman’s Library)” of Alexander Pushkin.

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