It has been known throughout the long continuum of the African(a) experience that when an elder dies, it is as if a library burns. Many people make it to old age but never become elders. In such a case, they, simply, are those who have lived lives without purpose enough to uplift the consciousness and fuel the action of their community. We cannot dare say that Yosef ben-Jochannan who, March 19, at the ripe age of 96, joined our renowned ancestors, was not an elder.

The respect he earned from the thousands who revered him was well deserved. A lifelong commitment to tearing down the walls and armor of white supremacy in everything from history to religion did not earn him many fans in the world of Eurocentric sympathizers, but that was an understood and accepted consequence of taking up the mantle for intellectual liberation in a society that has always sought to suppress knowledge and trivialize the Black experience.

Anyone familiar with white supremacy posing as intention-less scholarship, or objective journalism, etc., knows that it systemically sends out its writers and scholars in strategic attempts at remaking Black intellectual and political warriors at or after their transition points. This is why the New York Amsterdam News’s phenomenal coverage of Dr. Ben’s transition is so necessary, as it successfully shields his legacy and narrative from such calculated kidnappings.

Let us make no mistake about it, the attempts at reappropriation are consistent with the historic attempt to kill the freedom fighters over and over to erase their eternal images from people’s collective memory. Those versed in the Africana experience know this and should expect these stabs at their legacies. Malcolm X made his physical transition almost a half century ago and still writers, even some in Blackface, have attempted to recast his legacy for mainstream approval. Much can also be said about the annual attempts at minimizing Martin Luther King Jr. to a nonviolent dreamer, devoid of any mention of his fearless and unrelenting challenge to the violent and virulent racism of his era.

Thankfully, Dr. Ben has students in the multitude who are as fearlessly committed as he was to telling their history. Though it has been said that Dr. Ben is one of the last of his generation, he has done enough, and taught enough, to secure his rightful legacy as one of the greatest “memory recover specialists” to ever live. His students have trained students who are training students who will train their own generation of students in times to come.

None of those “intention-less” scholars or “objective” journalists labeling him as a pseudohistorian have ever actually debunked his writings. In fact, they never actually engaged his works. So if they haven’t engaged his many writings, then what is to blame for the hostility toward his legacy, if not his intentions and his defiance of white supremacist logic?

It must be emphatically stated and reiterated that he unapologetically wrote solely for the African world. And as expected, his intentions not to ease the conscience of white America rubbed its academicians and sympathizers the wrong way, especially given his poignant critique of the falsehood of white racial norms. As an Ethiopian Jew and an ethnic member of arguably the world’s oldest remnant of legitimate ancient Israelite stock, his identity alone shattered ideas of an exclusive white Jewish racial myth.

As scholars are now following his lead from decades ago and beginning to study areas that he once explored, he is unquestionably a trailblazer in the study of the early African populations, though contemporary scholars in his wake may not give him credit in their works. Often, scholars solidifying their scholarship with topics he discussed as early as the 1940s attempt to separate themselves from him by claiming that his work is non-scholarly. Unfortunately for them, scholars who were trained in the tradition and have done the research are not fooled by any of the attempts to discredit his academic and general contributions.

Dr. Ben’s critique was not only waged at the ideology of white supremacy. Within Black spaces, Dr. Ben was unrelenting in his attempts at clarification. He challenged the Black Hebrew community in New York to reject the urge to follow European Zionist Judaism and rather to look to the Nile Valley for the blueprint. He also recommended that all people of African descent, irrespective of religious tradition, align themselves with other Africans first, especially because the major religions practiced came from African roots. He suggested in “We The Black Jews,” that as a Black man, if his religion was to keep him from working closely with other people of African descent and prevent him from respecting other African ideologies, then that religion was just as detrimental to him as chains and shackles.

He challenged, in a loving way, all people of African descent to put their African identity above all other identities. He stated emphatically that one’s politics should not be separate from one’s belief system and was critical of all Africans who lived life with that dichotomy. While he was critical, he was also sincere. This sincerity was realized in many of his charitable acts. As I sat with him last year in the Bronx with my better half and our daughter, he told us how he foot the bill out of his own pocket for the many group tours he led to Kemet (ancient Egypt). Many times the financial revenue did not come as was expected. He did not complain, although he had good reason for doing so. Rather, he was proud of his sacrifice and joyously exclaimed that he would do it again because it was what the people needed.

On multiple occasions, he used his own resources for the benefit of the community, perhaps most exemplified by his donation of 35,000 books from his personal library to the Nation of Islam. Although in community sessions he was critical of Islam and its Black practitioners for divorcing themselves from their African roots, he sought to increase their access to information rather than disassociate himself from them or blast them in the public arena.

Within Black studies spaces, Dr. Ben’s works had been used countlessly, not only as an anchoring device for scholars’ historical references, but also as examples of how scholarship looks when an author claims no falsehood of objectivity, embraces the difficult task of writing for his own community, and rejects bounds and traditions of Western academic writing. Those who his writings were intended for have understood him clearly. And despite his critique of the academy for its white normativity, he has been embraced by some of the most prestigious universities in the United States, including Cornell University through its Africana Studies and Research Center.

As I watched Professor James Small do such a great job officiating the transition rituals for Dr. Ben, I saw so many people, representing various spiritual denominations of the African world, come together to celebrate this great ancestor’s life and contribution. It was fitting, for he was not more religious than he was politically African. When I last saw him in early 2014, he stressed to me that African people, being spiritual by nature, should not lose sight of what makes African spirituality unique, that being its ability to not only create everlasting harmonic societies, but also the incredible ability of its practitioners to be practical in meeting contemporary challenges. Spirituality, said Dr. Ben, was a conscious assessment of the environment and a plan for action towards addressing that challenge in both the invisible and visible worlds. It did not shy away from the political. Rather it would free and expand one’s knowledge and resolve to action, rather than limit and make one ignorant of history and genealogy. This is a lesson that will always be with me.

Dr. Ben’s life has not been in vain. He gave his life literally to the recovery of African memory so that we may truly live. In that he will continue to exist. We honor him. We respect him. We love him. And we will continue to learn from him. Ase! Ase! Ase o!

Dr. Miciah Z. Yehudah holds an M.A. in Africana studies from SUNY. at Albany and a Ph.D. in African American studies from Temple University. For his dissertation, “Seizing the Power to Define: Afrocentric Inquiry and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem,” he was awarded the Octavius V. Catto award for its relevance to the Philadelphia community and larger African world. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University.