The 1st Black Man to See the Baby Jesus

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: What do we really know about Balthasar's origins?

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By the 1400s, the identity of one of the Magi as a black African had become widely accepted throughout Christendom, in part because of the increasing contact between Europeans and Africans in the latter half of the 15th century, especially the growth of the slave trade. As Kaplan puts it in his book, "By 1500, the story of the Magi in art constituted the preeminent means of integrating the inhabitants of the non-European world into the Western Christian universe. Still associated with Prester John [legendary king of the Ethiopians and discoverer of the Fountain of Youth], the black King was too useful to be discarded. The black Magus/King was a predominantly positive character entwined in a web of attitudes which could damage as well as support the position of black people in European society."

Merry Christmas, everyone!

As always, you can find more "Amazing Facts About the Negro" on The Root, and check back each week as we count to 100.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.

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