Joel Augustus Rogers
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Joel Augustus Rogers (September 6, 1880 or 1883 – March 26, 1966) was a Jamaican author, journalist, and historian who contributed to the history of Africa and the African diaspora, especially the history of African Americans in the United States. His research spanned the academic fields of history, sociology and anthropology. He challenged prevailing ideas about race, demonstrated the connections between civilizations, and traced African achievements. He was one of the greatest popularizers of African history in the 20th century.
Joel Augustus Rogers was born September 6, 1880 or 1883, in Negril, Jamaica. One of eleven children, he was the son of mixed-race parents who were a minister and schoolteacher. His parents were able to afford to give Rogers and his ten siblings only a rudimentary education, but stressed the importance of learning. Rogers himself claimed to have had a "good basic education". Some sources have implied that he became an autodidact later in life.
Rogers emigrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1906, where he settled in Harlem, New York. There he lived most of his life. He was there during the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African-American artistic and intellectual life in numerous fields. He became a close personal friend of the Harlem-based intellectual and activist Hubert Harrison.
While living in Chicago for a time in the 1920s, Rogers worked as a Pullman porter and as a reporter for the Chicago Enterprise. His job of Pullman porter allowed him to travel and observe a wide range of people. Through this travel, he was able to feed his appetite for knowledge, by using various libraries in the cities which he visited. He self-published the results of his research in several books.
From "Superman" to Man
Rogers' first book From "Superman" to Man, self-published in 1917, attacked notions of African inferiority. From "Superman" to Man is a polemic against the ignorance that fuels racism. The central plot revolves around a debate between a Pullman porter and a white racist Southern politician. Rogers used this debate to air many of his personal philosophies and to debunk stereotypes about black people and white racial superiority. The porter's arguments and theories are pulled from a plethora of sources, classical and contemporary, and run the gamut from history and anthropology to biology. Many of the ideas that permeated Rogers’ later work can be seen germinating in From "Superman" to Man. He addresses issues such as the lack of scientific support for the idea of race, the lack of black history being told from a black person's perspective, and the fact of intermarriage and unions among peoples throughout history.
To enslave a man, then dope him to make him content! Do you call THAT a solace?...The honest fact is that the greatest hindrance to the progress of the Negro is that dope that was shot into him during slavery...The slogan of the Negro devotee is: Take the world but give me Jesus, and the white man strikes an eager bargain with him...Another fact' there are far too many Negro preachers. Religion is the single most fruitful medium for exploiting this already exploited group. As I said, the majority of sharpers, who among whites would go into other fields, go, in this case, to the ministry.
Though he criticized Black people's unquestioning embrace of Christianity, he had many good things to say about Islam and how it uplifted people regardless of their race or social background.
In the 1920s, Rogers worked as a journalist on the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Enterprise. He was a sub-editor of Marcus Garvey's short-lived Daily Negro Times. As a newspaper correspondent, Rogers covered such events as the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia for the New York Amsterdam News, and wrote for a variety of other black newspapers and journals: Crisis, American Mercury, The Messenger Magazine, the Negro World and Survey Graphic. One of his interviews was with Marcus Garvey in prison (New York Amsterdam News, November 17, 1926).
Rogers also contributed to a syndicated newspaper cartoon feature entitled "Your History". Patterned after the look of Robert Ripley's popular Believe It or Not cartoons, multiple vignettes in each cartoon episode recounted short items from Rogers' research. The feature began in the Pittsburgh Courier in November 1934, with art by George L. Lee. In 1940, the art chores were handed over to Samuel Milai, who stayed with the feature through the rest of its run. In 1962, the title was changed to "Facts About The Negro". The feature outlived its author, and continued appearing regularly until 1971, presumably in reprints at the end of the run. Two collections were published, Your History in 1940 and Facts About The Negro c. 1960.
Joel Augustus Rogers died on March 26, 1966 in New York City. He was survived by his wife Helga M. Rogers.
Rogers’ work was concerned with "the Great Black Man" theory of history. This theory presented history, specifically black history, as a mural of achievements by prominent black people. He devoted a significant amount of his professional life to unearthing facts about people of African ancestry, intending these findings to be a refutation of contemporary racist beliefs about the inferiority of blacks. Books such as 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro, Sex and Race, and World's Great Men of Color described remarkable black people throughout the ages and cited significant achievements of black people. He gave the evidence and proof that several of the historical figures previously cited as "white", including Aesop, Cleopatra, and Hannibal, were, in fact, "black", long before the research was done by later Afrocentric historians which reinforced his research.
Rogers commented on the partial black ancestry of some prominent Europeans, including Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas, père. Similarly, Rogers was among those who asserted that a direct ancestor of the British royal family, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had a remote ancestor who was of African origin.
Rogers’ theories about race, sex and color can be found in the books Nature Knows No Color-Line, World's Great Men of Color and the pamphlet Five Negro presidents, all of which deal with the ideas of race, sex and color. In the latter, he provided what he said was evidence that there had been 19th- and 20th-century presidents of the United States who had partial black ancestry. His research in this book inspired Auset Bakhufu's 1993 book Six Black Presidents: Black Blood: White Masks USA.
Rogers surmised that a large percentage of ethnic differences were the result of sociological factors. However, in his opinion, often the differences between groups were attributed primarily to physical differences such as race. He deals with the themes of race and sex In Sex and Race and also in Nature Knows No Color-Line. Rogers’ research in these works was directed to examining miscegenation and how it left a black "strain" in Europe and the Americas.
In Nature Knows No Color-Line, Rogers examined the origins of racial hierarchy and the color problem. He stated that the origins of the race problem had never been adequately examined or discussed, and he believed that color prejudice generally evolved from issues of domination and power between two physiologically different groups. According to Rogers, color prejudice was then used a rationale for domination, subjugation and warfare. Societies developed myths and prejudices in order to pursue their own interests at the expense of other groups. He was trying to show that there is nothing innate about color prejudice; that there is no natural distaste for darker skin by lighter-skinned people; and that there is no natural aversion for lighter skin by darker-skinned people.
Sex and Race describes Rogers' theory regarding the origin of the races themselves, claiming that original humans were light-skinned, though similar to black Africans. One strain became the modern "white" race, the other in Africa becoming black Africans. All other races are their descendants to greater or lesser degrees. None are regarded as superior to any other.
Within these works, Rogers questioned the concept of race, the origins of racial differentiation, and the root of the "color problem". Rogers felt that the "color problem" was that race was used as social, political and economic determining factors.
Philosophy and viewpoint
Rogers was a meticulous researcher, astute scholar and concise writer. He traveled tirelessly on his quest for knowledge, which often took him directly to the source. While traveling in Europe, he frequented libraries, museums, and castles, finding sources that helped him prove African ancestry and history. He challenged the biased viewpoint of Eurocentric historians and anthropologists.
Rogers gathered what he called "the bran of history". The bran of history was the uncollected, unexamined history of the world, and his interest was the history of black people. Rogers intended that the neglected parts of history would become part of the mainstream body of Western history. He saw black inclusion in white historical discourses as helping to bridge racial divides. His scholarship was meant to shed light on hitherto unexamined areas of Africana history as well as combat the stereotypes of inferiority that were attributed to black people.
Rogers asserted that the color of skin did not determine intellectual genius, and that Africans had contributed more to the world than was previously acknowledged. He publicized the great black civilizations that had flourished in Africa during antiquity. He devoted his scholarship to vindicating a place for African people within Western history. According to Rogers, many ancient African civilizations had been primal molders of Western civilization and culture.
With these assertions, Rogers was attempting to point out the absurdity of racial divisions. His belief in one race – humanity – precluded the idea of several different ethnic races. In this, he was a humanist. He used history as a tool to bolster his ideas about humanism, and his scholarship to prove his underlying humanistic thesis: that people were one large family without racial boundaries.
Rogers was self-financed, self-educated, and self-published. Some critics have focused on his lack of a formal education as a hindrance to producing scholarly work; others suggested the fact that he was self-taught liberated him from many academic and methodological restrictions. He made himself free to tackle the difficult racial issues with which he dealt. As an autodidact, Rogers followed his research into various disciplines that more formally educated scholars may have been loath to attempt. His works are complete with detailed references. That he documented his work to encourage scrutiny of his facts was a testament to his due diligence, work ethic and commitment to not only African people, but the world, its history and culture.
Rogers articulated ideas about race that were informed by anthropology and biology, rather than social convention. He used what he discovered in his research, not as end in itself, but as a tool to underscore his humanist beliefs, and to illustrate the unity of humanity as a people. He discarded the non-scientific definition of race and pursued his own ideas about humanity’s interconnectedness. Thus, although his work has often been relegated to the controversial genre of Afrocentric history, his main contribution to African scholarship was his nuanced analysis of the concept of race.
Legacy and honors
Rogers was a member of professional associations including the Paris Society of Anthropology, the American Geographical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Academy of Political Science.
In the words of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Rogers "looked at the history of people of African origin, and showed how their history is an inseparable part of the history of mankind."
- From "Superman" to Man. Chicago: J. A. Rogers, 1917. —novel.
- As Nature Leads: An Informal Discussion of the Reason Why Negro and Caucasian are Mixing in Spite of Opposition. Chicago: M. A. Donahue & Co, 1919. —novel.
- The Approaching Storm and Bow it May be Averted: An Open Letter to Congress. Chicago: National Equal Rights League, Chicago Branch: 1920.
- "Music and Poetry — The Noblest Arts," Music and Poetry, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1921).
- "The Thrilling Story of The Maroons," serialized in The Negro World, March–April 1922.
- "The West Indies: Their Political, Social, and Economic Condition," serialized in The Messenger, Volume 4, Number 9 (September 1922).
- Blood Money (Novel) serialized in New York Amsterdam News, April 1923.
- "The Ku Klux Klan A Menace or A Promise," serialized in The Messenger, Volume 5, Number 3 (March 1923).
- "Jazz at Home" The Survey Graphic Harlem, vol. 6, no. 6 (March 1925).
- "What Are We, Negroes or Americans?" The Messenger, vol. 8, no. 8 (August 1926).
- "Book Review, Jazz, by Paul Whiteman." Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Volume 4, Number 48 (December 1926).
- "The Negro's Experience of Christianity and Islam," Review of Nations, Geneva (January–March 1928)
- "The American Occupation of Haiti: Its Moral and Economic Benefit," by Dantes Bellegarde (translator). Opportunity, Volume 8, Number 1 (January 1930).
- "The Negro in Europe," The American Mercury (May 1930).
- "The Negro in European History," Opportunity, Volume 8, Number 6 (June 1930).
- World's Greatest Men of African Descent. New York: J. A. Rogers Publications, 1931.
- "The Americans in Ethiopia," under the pseudonym Jerrold Robbins, in American Mercury (May 1933).
- "Enrique Diaz," in Opportunity, vol. 11, no. 6 (June 1933).
- 100 Amazing facts about the Negro with Complete Proof. A Short Cut to the World History of the Negro. New York: J. A. Rogers Publications, 1934.
- World's Greatest Men and Women of African Descent. New York: J. A. Rogers Publications, 1935.
- "Italy Over Abyssinia," The Crisis, Volume 42, Number 2 (February 1935).
- The Real Facts About Ethiopia. New York: J. A Rogers, 1936.
- "When I Was In Europe," Interracial Review: A Journal for Christian Democracy, October 1938.
- "Hitler and the Negro," Interracial Review: A Journal for Christian Democracy, April 1940.
- "The Suppression of Negro History," The Crisis, vol. 47, no. 5 (May 1940).
- Your History: From the Beginning of Time to the Present. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Courier Publishing Co, 1940.
- An Appeal From Pioneer Negroes of the World, Inc: An Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Pius XII. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1940.
- Sex and Race: Negro-Caucasian Mixing in All Ages and All Lands, Volume I: The Old World. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1941.
- Sex and Race: A History of White, Negro, and Indian Miscegenation in the Two Americas, Volume II: The New World. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1942.
- Sex and Race, Volume III: Why White and Black Mix in Spite of Opposition. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1944.
- World's Great Men of Color, Volume I: Asia and Africa, and Historical Figures Before Christ, Including Aesop, Hannibal, Cleopatra, Zenobia, Askia the Great, and Many Others. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1946.
- World's Great Men of Color, Volume II: Europe, South and Central America, the West Indies, and the United States, Including Alessandro de' Medici, Alexandre Dumas, Dom Pedro II, Marcus Garvey, and Many Others. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1947.
- "Jim Crow Hunt," The Crisis (November 1951).
- Nature Knows No Color Line: Research into the Negro Ancestry in the White Race. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1952.
- Facts About the Negro (drawings by A. S. Milai; booklet). Pittsburgh: Lincoln Park Studios, 1960.
- Africa's Gift to America: The Afro-American in the Making and Saving of the United States. With New Supplement Africa and its Potentialities, New York: J. A. Rogers, 1961.
- She Walks in Beauty. Los Angeles: Western Publishers, 1963. —novel
- "Civil War Centennial: Myth and Reality", Freedomways, vol. 3, no. 1 (Winter 1963).
- The Five Negro presidents: According to What White People Said They Were. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1965.
- "Joel Augustus Rogers", African-American Registry, accessed January 20, 2009.
- "Joel Augustus Rogers". aalbc.com.
- "Religion and The Negro". From Superman to Man. autodidactproject.org.
- "Your History", Stripper's Guide, April 22, 2011.
- "Joel Rogers, 85, Author Of Afro-American Books", The New York Times, March 27, 1966; accessed May 20, 2007.
- Hubert Harrison
- Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
- George Schuyler
- Marcus Garvey
- John Henrik Clarke
- John G. Jackson
- First Italo-Ethiopian War
- Pittsburgh Courier
- Sam Milai
- The New York Amsterdam News
- African diaspora
- Yosef Ben-Jochannan
- Chancellor Williams
- Ivan van Sertima
- Asukile, Thabiti. "J. A. Rogers Would Have Lionized Ivan Van Sertima: Who is Going to Continue Van Sertima's Work Left Behind?", in Runoko Rashidi (ed.), Uncovering The African Past: The Ivan Sertima Papers, London: Books of Africa, 2015.
- Asukile, Thabiti. "Joel Augustus Rogers’ Reflection And End of Life Admiration of Marcus Garvey in New York". Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, Vol. 37, No. 2 (July 2013).
- Asukile, Thabiti. "Seeing Asia Through Joel Augustus Rogers (1880–1966)", in Runoko Rashidi (ed.), African Star Over Asia: The Black Presence In The East, London: Books of Africa, 2012.
- Asukile, Thabiti. "Joel Augustus Rogers' Race Vindication: A Chicago Pullman Porter & The Making of the From Superman to Man (1917)." Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2011).
- Asukile, Thabiti. "Joel Augustus Rogers: Black International Journalism, Archival Research, And Black Print Culture", The Journal of African American History (Special Issue "To Be Heard in Black and White: Historical Perspective on Black Print Culture"), Vol. 95, Nos. 3–4 (Summer-Fall 2010).
- Asukile, Thabiti. "J. A. Rogers on ‘Jazz at Home’ and Jazz in Paris during the Jazz Age", The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research Black Issues, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Fall 2010).
- Asukile, Thabiti. "The Harlem Friendship of Joel Augustus Rogers & Hubert Harrison", Afro-Americans in New York Life and History Journal, Vol. 34, No. 2 (July 2010).
- Asukile, Thabiti. "Joel Augustus Rogers", in Henry Louis Gates Jr. & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (eds), African American Biography, Volume 6. Oxford University Press, 2008.
- Asukile, Thabiti. "J.A. Rogers: The Scholarship of an Organic Intellectual", The Black Scholar, Vol. 36. No. 2–3 (Summer/Fall 2006).
- Garvey, Marcus M. (1987). The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05817-8
- Harrison, Hubert H. A Hubert Harrison Reader, ed. and intro. by Jeffrey B. Perry. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
- Logan, Rayford, "Joel Augustus Rogers", in Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston (eds), Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.
- Putnam, Aric. "Ethiopia Is Now: J. A. Rogers and the Rhetoric of Black Anticolonialism during the Great Depression", Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Volume 10, Number 3 (Fall 2007).
- Rogers, Helga M. "Biographical sketch to J. A. Rogers", 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, With Complete Proof: A Shortcut to the World History of the Negro, St. Petersburg, Florida: Helga M. Rogers, Publisher, 1995.
- Rashidi, Runoko. "The Life and Legacy of Joel Augustus Rogers: Chronicler of a Glorious African Past", Atlanta BlackStar, May 9, 2014.
- Sandoval, Valerie. "The Bran of History: An Historiography Account of the Work of J. A. Rogers", The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Journal, 4 (Spring 1978).
- Thorpe, Earl E. Black Historians: A Critique. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1971.
- Thorpe, Earl E. The Central Theme of Black History. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1969.
- Thorpe, Earl E. Negro Historians in the United States. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Fraternal Press, 1958.
- Turner, W. Burghardt. "Joel Augustus Rogers, An African American Historian". Negro History Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 2 (February 1972).