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Giving the eminent historian and anthropologist J.A Rogers his due

Herb Boyd | 2/27/2014, 9:48 p.m.
Poignant and insightful vignettes reminded me of the ones that used to appear in Black publications “back in the day,” ...
J.A. Rogers

“Pigmented humanity becomes lighter in the temperate zone, while unpigmented humanity becomes brown in the tropics,” Dixon continued. “One summer’s exposure at a bathing beach is enough to make a life-saver darker than many Indians. The true skin of all human beings is of the same color: All men are white under the first layer.”

This lesson for the senator was clearly an example of the enormous gathering of facts and information Rogers had compiled from his extensive travels, which took him to the four corners of the globe as he sought to chronicle the African experience and minimize the impact of race on social and political relations. One continuing narrative he asserted in most of his work was the global presence of African blood, concluding it was absolutely boundless and could be found in most people of the world.

Joel Augustus Rogers was born Sept. 6, 1883, in Negril, Jamaica. What little we know of Rogers’ early years is gleaned from his books, but it usually occurs only after his arrival in the United States in 1906, and of course, by then he would have been a young man. But there must have been at least some aspects of a formal education. Either that or he was a very disciplined self-learner because by 1917, he had published his first book, “From ‘Superman’ to Man,” while residing in Harlem, which would be his home for many years.

“Despite his light complexion and mulatto background,” wrote the esteemed Runoko Rashidi, whose life replicates Rogers’ in so many fascinating ways, “Rogers bitterly discovered that Black people were all treated the same, no matter the complexion.” But, as Rashidi concluded, Rogers “rejected the dogma of white superiority, even as a child. In a class and color conscious Jamaica, the young Rogers observed, ‘I had noticed that some of my schoolmates were unmixed Blacks and were, some of them, more brilliant than some of the white ones.’”

This Week in Black History

Feb. 24, 1999: Rap artist Lauryn Hill wins a record five Grammy Awards—the most by a female artist to that date.

Feb. 25, 1964: Muhammad Ali defeats Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship.

Feb. 28, 1984: Michael Jackson wins eight Grammy Awards—the most ever in one night.

The whole notion of white superiority was banished from his thinking and, consequently, set him on a lifetime pursuit to show the genius of African people and how their presence can be found among the most gifted people of the world and, in many instances, exposing their racial origins.

In two volumes of “World’s Great Men of Color,” Rogers offered perhaps a definitive narrative of his research, and in volume two, we learn that the great Russian writer Alexander Pushkin was of mixed ancestry, and so was the poet Robert Browning, Alexander Dumas and Hannibal, to name but a few of the countless notables he listed.

Probably no book caused as much controversy as his “The Five Negro Presidents” (1965), including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Warren G. Harding, all of whom, he contended, had Black ancestors or were of African descent.