THE LIFE & LEGACY OF JOEL AUGUSTUS ROGERS: CHRONICLER OF A GLORIOUS AFRICAN
By RUNOKO RASHIDI
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 twentieth 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 J.G. St. Clair Drake wrote that:
"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
In April 1987, in a personal interview with me, Professor John G. Jackson
(1907-1993) said that:
"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 sixty 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, reported that "he suffered a stroke while visiting friends and
continuing to do research in Washington." His labors, however, were not in
vain. He 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
"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
--Joel Augustus Rogers
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 twentieth
J.A. Rogers, born in Negril, Jamaica, on September 6, 1883, was 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 never a member of the Universal
Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, of which Garvey
was founder and President-General, he wrote regularly for the UNIA's weekly
newspaper, the 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 researches in Egypt and
The year 1930 was indeed a high water mark in Rogers' career, for it was in
that year that Rogers 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 fifty 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, undeterred, Rogers
published them himself. All told, J.A. Rogers wrote and published at least
sixteen different books and pamphlets. These publications became classic
works--works that were circulated primarily in African communities. Rogers'
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 twentieth 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
eighteen 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 researches 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 Two of Sex
and Race Rogers examines "racism and race-mixing in the New World," while
Volume Three of Sex and Race seeks to define the concept of race itself. Like
most of his works, all three volumes of Sex and Race are lavishly illustrated.