This work is dedicated to Dr. John Henrik Clarke.
Critical Assessments of Joel Augustus Rogers
Although Joel Augustus Rogers was largely self-trained, some of the most distinguished scholars of the 20th century have acknowledged our debt to him. Dr. William E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), perhaps the greatest scholar in American history, wrote that, “No man living has revealed so many important facts about the Negro race as has Rogers.”
The eminent anthropologist and sociologist John Gibbs St. Clair Drake wrote: “No discussion of comparative race relations would be complete without consideration of the work of the highly motivated, self-trained historian Joel A. Rogers. Endowed with unusual talent, Rogers rose to become one of the best-informed individuals in the world on Black history, writing and publishing his own books without any kind of organizational or foundation support.”
In April 1987, in a personal interview with James Brunson and me, author-historian professor John G. Jackson (1907-1993) said: “Rogers came from Jamaica in the West Indies. He settled in Chicago. He eventually took a job as a Pullman porter so he could visit different cities and libraries and do research. I got an interesting story about that. The story was that in a lot of large cities a lot of libraries were for whites only. Black people weren’t permitted to go into them. So Rogers had to pay the Pullman conductor to go to the libraries and take out books from them. The conductor said, ‘Rogers, I believe you’re a damn fool. But if you want to throw away your money that way, I’m willing to cooperate.’
“Rogers was a field anthropologist. He traveled to 60 different nations and did a lot of research and observing. He had been told when he was a child in Sunday School that God had cursed the Black man and made him inferior. Rogers wanted to prove that the Black man was not inferior.”
After a short illness, Joel Augustus Rogers died in New York City in March 1966, at the beginning of the Black Studies movement.
His widow, Helga M. Rogers, said, “He suffered a stroke while visiting friends and continuing to do research in Washington.” His labors, however, were not in vain. His impact was enormous, his legacy colossal, his place in history secure.
Joel Augustus Rogers was a man without peer in gathering up and binding the missing pages of African history. Indeed, Rogers, in the words of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, “looked at the history of people of African origin, and showed how their history is an inseparable part of the history of mankind.”
“Ethiopians, that is, Negroes, gave the world the first idea of right and wrong and thus laid the basis of religion and all true culture and civilization.”
–Joel Augustus Rogers
The Man and His Work
Joel Augustus Rogers (1883-1966) was a world traveler, a prolific writer, an accomplished lecturer, and the first Black war correspondent. Rogers became an anthropologist, historian, journalist and publisher. He was a scholar unparalleled in assembling information about African people, and probably did more to popularize African history than any single writer of the 20th century.
He was born in Negril, Jamaica, on September 6, 1883, the son of a small town school teacher (his father). In 1906, he moved to the United States, settling for a while in Chicago but spending most of his life in Harlem, New York. In 1917 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Rogers had known Marcus Garvey from their youth in Jamaica. In 1923, he covered the Marcus Garvey trial, and although he was never a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, of which Garvey was founder and president-general, Rogers wrote regularly for the UNIA’s weekly newspaper, Negro World, and lectured to local UNIA chapters.
A prodigious and meticulous detective, Rogers did exhaustive, primary research into the global history of African people. In 1925, he went to Europe for investigations in the libraries and museums there. In 1927, he returned to Europe for research lasting three years, and journeyed to North Africa during the same period. Between 1930 and 1933, Rogers continued his explorations in Europe, while in 1930, 1935 and 1936 he pursued his research in Egypt and Sudan.
The year 1930 was indeed a high water mark in Rogers’ career, for it was in that year that he went to Ethiopia as a correspondent for the New York Amsterdam News to attend the coronation of Haile Selassie I, who presented him with the Coronation Medal. It was also in 1930 that Rogers spoke at the International Congress of Anthropology held in Paris and opened by the president of France.
Rogers’ organizational affiliations included the Paris Society of Anthropology, the American Geographical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Academy of Political Science.
For 50 years of his life, Rogers investigated and reported the accomplishments of ancient and contemporary African people and their place in history, contributing to such publications as The Crisis, American Mercury, the Messenger, the Negro World and Survey Graphic. To the Pittsburgh Courier, Rogers contributed an illustrated feature entitled, “Your History.”
When publishing houses refused to publish his works, Rogers was undeterred and published them himself. All told, J.A. Rogers wrote and published at least sixteen books and pamphlets. These publications became classic works that were circulated primarily in African communities. His texts covered the entire spectrum of the global African community, from ancient and modern Africa, to Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
Among Rogers’ most acclaimed and prominent works are: “From Superman to Man,” “One-Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro,” ” The Real Facts About Ethiopia, Sex and Race,” “Nature Knows No Color-Line,” and “World’s Great Men of Color.”
Rogers’ first publication, “From Superman to Man,” was published in 1917 and focused on “the stupidity of racism.” The book was so well received that is was recommended for reading in the original constitution and by-laws of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.
Dr. Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1927), himself a brilliant scholar and one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, referred to “From Superman to Man” as “a genuine treasure,” and insisted “that it is the greatest book ever written in English on the Negro by a Negro.”
“One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof: A Short Cut to the World History of the Negro” went through many printings and at least 18 editions. A singularly provocative quote in One Hundred Amazing Facts About the Negro is by the English scholar and traveler Samuel Purchas (ca. 1575-1626).
According to Rogers, Purchas claimed that “of all (the kings of Ethiopia), Ganges was most famous, who with his Ethiopian army passed into Asia and conquered all as far as the River Ganges, to which he left that name.” This was a particularly interesting statement for me personally, and helped catapult me on my own research concerning the African presence in Asia.
In the same book Rogers mentioned that “Beethoven, the world’s greatest musician, was without a doubt a dark mulatto. He was called `The Black Spaniard.'”
In 1935, dissatisfied with the reporting of news by the white press concerning the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, Rogers served as war correspondent in Ethiopia for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. After returning to the United States in 1936, he published a highly popular illustrated pamphlet entitled “The Real Facts About Ethiopia.” In “The Real Facts About Ethiopia,” Rogers wrote that the Ethiopian woman “goes with her husband to war, and often becomes his avenger, should he fall. Usually, she is fiercer in battle than the man. Europeans sometimes kill themselves, rather than fall into the hands of the African woman.”
“Sex and Race” was published in three volumes from 1941 to 1944. The first volume focuses on antiquity and is arguably the most fundamental of the three.
As to ancient Asia, for example, Rogers devoted several pages of “Sex and Race” to the Black presence in early Japan. In the process, he cites the studies of a number of accomplished scholars and anthropologists, raising the question, “Were the first Japanese Negroes?”
Other chapters are devoted to “The Negro in Ancient Greece,” “Negroes in Ancient Rome and Carthage” and “Were the Jews Originally Negroes?” The appendices of Sex and Race are equally fascinating, focusing on “Black Gods and Messiahs” and the “History of the Black Madonnas.”
In volume 2 of “Sex and Race,” Rogers examines “racism and race-mixing in the New World,” while volume 3 seeks to define the concept of race itself. Like most of his works, all three volumes of Sex and Race are lavishly illustrated.
*Runoko Rashidi is an historian and anthropologist based in Los Angeles, California and Paris, France. He is the author of major works on the Global African Community. Runoko coordinates international African heritage tours and lectures extensively. For more information write to [email protected] or go to www.travelwithrunoko.com