This is a riveting lecture from one of our finest African historians, discussing a vast array of historically related topics from an African perspective.
By Runoko Rashidi and James E. Brunson
RASHIDI/BRUNSON: Some older writers tried to make the early Sumerians, or the black-headed people, into Turanians. What are your views on this?
JACKSON: The Sumerians were the people who lived in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates. They formed the original civilization in that area and it was pre-Semitic. The Semites got their culture from them. That's one trouble that we have with these people who call themselves Semites, because they claim that they were the world's first civilized people. Similarly, if you read the average book on the history of Egypt you will be told that the Egyptians were the first civilized people in Africa, and that they then went down and civilized Ethiopia. But we know better now, because two archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago discovered an Ethiopian civilization that predated that of Egypt, so there's no argument there.
R/B: We wanted to ask you about some of the diffusionists. Could you give us some ideas on the works of Albert Churchward?
JACKSON: Well Churchward was a disciple of Gerald Massey. So he left us some outstanding books like The Origin and Evolution of the Human Race, The Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, The Origin and Evolution of Religion. The Origin of Freemasonry, and so on. They are all very scholarly works.
R/B: What type of climate was Churchward writing these books in, and what kind of reaction did he receive?
JACKSON: He got a very negative reaction. Because here was a man that in 1921, in The Origin and Evolution of the Human Race, said that the human race started in Africa at least two-million years ago. His fellow anthropologists laughed at him. This was in 1921. About three or four years later a fossil was uncovered in Africa that was about two-million years old. I think Churchward died in 1929, so he had a chance to laugh at his critics before he died.
R/B: How did you first hear about the works of Albert Churchward?
JACKSON: I heard about them through Dr. Hubert Harrison, who was Staff Lecturer for the Board of Education in New York. He had read Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man and reviewed The Origin and Evolution of Religion for Amsterdam News, and lectured about them. After Harrison died I went to the library to do research. I looked up Churchward's works and then saw where he mentioned his 'dear friend Gerald Massey.' And then I looked up Massey and found out that Massey was the master and Churchward was the disciple. That was in 1930.
R/B: What do you know about the lives and works of the Rawlinson Brothers?
JACKSON: There were two of them. The oldest was Sir Henry Rawlinson. He made the major breakthrough in deciphering some of the important ancient languages of the Near East including Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and so on.
Header: William Edward Burghadt Du Bois. ca.1895. In 1895, Du Bois became the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. degree from Harvard. He was one of the founders of the NAACP and an early proponent of Pan-Africanism. In 1900, Du Bois assessed race relations in the United States and declared that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.
Top row: (1) Drusilla Dunjee Houston (1876-1941) - Race woman, teacher, journalist and historian. (2) Dr. John Henrik Clarke, another prolific "African Scholar King." (3) Anthony T. Browder, author, publisher and cultural historian.(4) Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop (left) was a brilliant scientist who held degrees in Egyptology, physics, linguistics and anthropology. He was regarded by his contemporaries as the "pharaoh" of African studies. Dr. Diop and Dr. Theophile Obenga (right) presented a paper entitled Origins of the Ancient Egyptians and argued, irrefutably, that there were 11 categories of evidence to support the thesis that the ancient Egyptians were indigenous "black" Africans.
Bottom row: (1) Asa Hilliard, III, PhD (1933-2007), Hilliard had a passion for African history and culture. (2) Reverend James Marmaduke Boddy (1866 or 1867).He was one of the earliest African-American writers to tackle the issue of the Black presence in ancient East-specifically China and Japan. (3) Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins.Born in Portland, Maine, she was an editor, journalist, essayist, novelist, poet, publisher, public lecturer, actress, musician, and stenographer for the Bureau of Statistics on the Massachusetts Census of 1895 for four years. She has been called "One of the most neglected early Black women writers." At the age of twenty she completed her first play-Slaves Escape; or The Underground Railroad, and soon became a founder and literary editor of The Colored American Magazine, the first significant Afro-American journal to emerge in the twentieth century." During this period, she began to lecture on African history in churches and schools. As an historian, the pinnacle of her writing career came in 1905. From February to July 1905 Hopkins wrote one of the earliest discourses on the global African presence in the form of a four-part series on "The Dark Races of the Twentieth Century," published in The Voice of the Negro. (4) Dr. Van Sertima (right) authour of the tremendous book They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, and major contributor to another monumental publication African Presence in Early Asia. Runoko Rashidi (left) is an historian, writer and public lecturer with a pronounced interest in the African foundations of humanity and civilizations. He is the author of African Classical Civilizations and the editor, with Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, of the African Presence in Early Asia - the most comprehensive volume on the subject yet published.
He said that there was a common connection between these languages and Egyptian as well, and that the Ethiopian language was the foundation of all of them. His brother, George Rawlinson, was professor of ancient history at Oxford University. He was also a high official in the Church of England and the Canon of Canterbury. So they called him Canon Rawlinson of Canterbury. They were both first-class scholars. Sir Henry Rawlinson was the great Orientalist. His brother was the great ancient historian.
R/B: What do think of the current linguists who have the opinion that there was a distinct difference between the early Sumerian and Ethiopian languages, and that there was no connection between them?
JACKSON: I think that they're trying to cover up something. A lot of them have taken the position that the African is the low man on the totem pole and everybody had to be ahead of him. Some of these people are just plain lying because they have to have capital in order to operate. James Henry Breasted is a fine example. He published a high school textbook in 1916 called Ancient Times. It had two very fine chapters on Egypt and he plainly states in there that the ancient Egyptians were not white folks, but 'a brown-skinned race.' And then he needed money to establish the Oriental Institute and to do research in Egypt. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave him 1.5 million dollars, and then Breasted got out a new edition of his book and the Egyptians became 'members of the great white race.' In other words, in order to get Rockefeller's money he had to switch over the Egyptians to 'the great white race.
R/B: Could you give us a little background on WJ. Perry and Grafton Elliot Smith?
JACKSON: Perry was an Englishman and a disciple of Grafton Elliot Smith. Smith was a physical anthropologist, specializing mainly in anatomy, who traced most of the world's early civilizations to Egypt. He made a scholarly study of mummies in Egypt and other parts of the world. Probably his most outstanding work was a book called Human History. He said that the Egyptian civilization was the first, and that all the others came out of it. Smith did a credible job, but Perry was a much better man in all respects. Smith was a British imperialist.
R/B: You've referred to a scholar named Forlong in your works. Exactly, who was Forlong?
JACKSON: Major General J.G.R. Forlong was a Scottish scholar. In my book Man, God and Civilization I put him down as an Englishman, but I found out later that he was born in Scotland. He went to India while in the British army as an engineer to help build railroads. His great contribution was a two volume work called Rivers of Life.
R/B: In one of his books Cheikh Anta Diop mentions that the worship of Buddha, or the work attributed to Buddha, was probably brought to India by Egyptian priests fleeing from the persecutions of the Persian invaders of Egypt.
Top row: (1) Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (known as the “Father of Black History”) 1875-1950. Carter G. Woodson believed that Blacks should know their past in order to participate intelligently in the affairs in our country. (2) George Washington Williams (1849-1891), a man generally credited as the first African-American to write a "scholarly general history" of Black people not only in America but antiquity. (3) Marimba Ani is an anthropologist and African Studies scholar best known for her work Yurugu, a comprehensive critique of European thought and culture, and her coining of the term Maafa for the African holocaust. (4) Dr. Leonard Jefferies is a leading voice and theoretician in African-centered education. He is regarded as a foremost authority on Africa, having travelled to the continent nearly 100 times on fact-finding historical crusades. He has been crowned Chief and leader among the Ashanti Nation in Ghana.
Bottom row: (1) Professor James Small was born in 1945, in Georgetown, South Carolina. He has taught courses on Malcolm X, Traditional African Religion (Prof. Small is a priest in the Yoruba religion), Pan-Africanism, Crime in the Urban Community, Urban Crisis and Issues, and African Folklore. (2) Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966). Self-trained historian, novelist, and journalist Joel Augustus Rogers spent most of his life debunking pseudo-scientific and racist depictions of people of African ancestry while popularizing the history of black people around the world. (3) African-American writer and historian Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan was born December 31, 1918 in a Falasha community in Ethiopia, and he is considered one of the most prominent scholars of African history. Dr. Ben is considered to be a world-renowned Egyptologist. He is the author of 49 books, primarily on ancient Nile Valley civilizations and their impact on Western cultures. (4) Ashra Kwesi is a historian (griot) and lecturer on ancient African history and religion. Along with his wife Merira Kwesi, he reveals first hand information from the ancient temples, tombs and papyrus papers recorded when African people were teachers of the world.
JACKSON: It could have happened that way. We do know that Diodorus Siculus, the Greek historian of the first century B.C. said that all of the astronomical knowledge of the Babylonians was brought in by a colony of Egyptian priests.
R/B: Could you talk a little bit about your relationship and interactions with J.A. Rogers?
JACKSON: Yes, that's easy. I came to New York in 1922. Rogers had been traveling through the South and he was coming back to New York. Rogers did a lecture for Dr. Hubert H. Harrison, who was my teacher and Rogers' friend. It was Harrison's forum but he let Rogers do the talking. I attended the lecture. Rogers and I became acquainted and became friends. Later on, Rogers introduced me to Dr. Willis N. Huggins who had a B.A. from the University of Chicago, an M.A. from Columbia University, a Ph.D. from Fordham University, and he did historical research at Oxford University in England. Around 1932 Dr. Huggins established a little group to study African history at the Harlem Y.M.C.A. He called the group the Blyden Society. After Rogers introduced me, he asked me to join it. He was the Director. He made me the Associate Director. Among our students were Bayard Rustin and John Henrik Clarke. Rustin decided to pull out and join the Communists. Clarke was writing poetry. He told me that I changed his life. He said that he was wasting his time writing poetry which only a damn fool would write. Huggins and I told him that he should be a historian. He says that we put him on the right track.
R/B: Rogers makes a reference in one of his books to a General Ganges of India. Are you acquainted with this reference?
JACKSON: I saw that reference, but it's probably mythology. There's a Ganges River in India, but I don't think that there was really any such person. So that's probably mythology.
R/B: Where did these early Black scholars like Rogers get the funds for their travels and research?
JACKSON: Well I can tell you about Rogers. He 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.
Interview source: Runoko Rashidi, African Star Over Asia: The Black Presence in the East, Books of Africa Ltd, 2012. pp.62-66
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