The Significance of the Late Black Egyptologist Dr. Yosef A. A. ben Jochannan

0 Posted by - July 6, 2021 - Black History, BLACK MEN, BLACK RELIGION, Gone But Not Forgotten

By Bashir Muhammad Akinyele

Editor: Victor Trammell, Jr.

Photo credits: Public Domain

“Dr. Ben gave Kemet and Nile Valley Civilizations back to us”

-Dr. Leonard Jeffries (legendary Africana Studies Professor)

(I will use the words Afrikan and Black interchangeably for people of Afrikan descent.)

As I embark on my very first educational tour of Kemet (Egypt), I am overwhelmed with emotions. I understand that I will now become a part of an exclusive list of activist intellectuals fighting to rescue, reclaim, and restore Kemet to Afrikan people. Unfortunately, over the centuries, white supremacist “scholars” have distorted the history of Kemet. Not only have racist white intellectuals argued that Kemet was a non-Black civilization, they took Kemet geographically out of the continent of Afrika. But a courageous Black Egyptologist scholar led a movement in the twentieth century to seize Kemet from the hands of white supremacy and Arab hegemony in the world.

This revolutionary scholar’s name was Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben Jochannan (pictured).

In my house, I have a great and massive library. I have been building my personal library since 1989 after becoming Afrikan-centered in my Black consciousness in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of the books sitting on the shelf of my library is Ancient Times by Egyptologist James Henry Breasted. The very first edition was published in 1916 and then revised throughout the 20th century. This book contains well-written documentation of the majesty, which existed within the earliest civilizations of the planet earth, starting with Kemet (Egypt). The name Kemet is the Afrikan word for “the land of the Blacks.”

However, the book unapologetically supports white supremacy. This influenced my mission to expose the intellectualization of white supremacy as a justification for Black oppression. Dr. Breasted’s book is important to study but only for its recording of history. It is also a case study of his contribution to the exacerbation of white supremacist Ideologies. Dr. Breasted was America’s premier Egyptologist. He was born on August 27, 1865. He completed his undergraduate studies at North Central College. Dr. Breasted then finished his Master of Arts degree at Yale University. He went on to pursue a Ph.D. in graduate school. Dr, Breasted chose the University of Berlin in Germany.

After completing his Ph.D., he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in Illinois. In 1901, he became director of the Haskell Oriental Museum at the university, where he continued to concentrate on Kemet (Egypt). In 1905, Dr. Breasted was promoted to full professorship. He ascended to the permanent Chair of Egyptology and Oriental History at the university. He became the first American Professor to hold that position in the United States of America. Eventually, Dr. Breasted helped to establish the school of Egyptology at his institution. The school of Egyptology at the University of Chicago is presently one of the world’s most premier programs on the study and science of Kemetic (Egyptian) history, religion, and culture in today’s world.

His work on the history of Kemet (Egypt) is great and credible. It is worth reading and studying. In his research, Dr. Breasted acknowledges that Kemet (Egypt) is the world’s first major civilization. He shows that Kemet (Egypt) is the author of the world’s civilizations and western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Al-Islam). Dr. Breasted has documented that Kemet (Egypt) led the world in science, mathematics, agriculture, government, law, theology, philosophy, ethics, a written language, monotheism (the idea of the aseity of God), and medicine.

Kemet also was the first civilization to lead the world in architecture, the invention of paper, the invention of a 365-day calendar, the belief in the afterlife, and the belief in a soul. Kemet is the first to have originated the belief in the judgment of a soul, the belief in spirituality, and the resurrection story. Kemet started these advancements thousands of years before Europe, Mesopotamia, Western Asia (the Middle East), China, Greece, Rome, Judaism, Christianity, and Al-Islam.

However, Dr. Breasted’s beliefs in white supremacist notions about Afrika and Black people would not allow him to go on record to say that before the invasions of the Assyrians (676 B.C.E), the Persians (525 B.C.E.) the Greeks( 332 B.C.E.), the Romans (30 B.C.E.) and the Arabs (646 A.D.) in history, Kemet was an indigenous all Black civilization. This was true from 10,000 B.C.E up until the times the foreign invading forces came from Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Arabia. After these invaders and conquerors came to Afrika, Kemet (Egypt) became a mixture of different cultures. Its inhabitants came from Black, White, and West Asian (Middle Eastern) worlds.

However, Dr. Breasted falsely argued that Kemetic (Egyptian) people were white people from the beginning to the end of Kemetic (Egyptian) dominance on the earth. We know this to be untrue.

Dr. Breasted published many books on ancient history in his lifetime, such as The Dawn of Conscience, Survey of the Ancient World, and A History of the Egyptians, to name a few. However, his book Ancient Times: A History of the Early World Volume 1-The Ancient Near East (revised second edition of 1967) is the one that stands out for me. This is because of its blatant racism. It is a rare book now. You cannot go to your local bookstore and purchase Ancient Times. You will have to special order it online. However, Dr. Breasted’s Ancient Times is steeped in white supremacy. In fact, the scholarship in this book has contributed greatly to the ideology of white supremacy.

It innovated the system of racism in America and the world; particularly in the field of Egyptology. Dr. Breasted writes on page 12: “In North Africa these people were dark-skinned, but nevertheless physically, they belong to the Great White Race.” On the very next page is a map of North Afrika, the Mediterranean, Europe, Asia, and West Asia (the Middle East). Right on that page in highlighted black ink, it reads the following: THE GREAT WHITE RACE. Whites were not alone in their slanderous attacks on Afrikan history and culture. We learn from world history that the Arabs were disrespectful to Afrika as well.

After the Arab invasion of Kemet in 646 A.D., they also distorted Kemet’s culture. They destroyed as many temples, monuments, libraries, and schools as they could on their march to dominate North Afrika. This is documented in Tony Browder’s book called Nile Valley Contributions to Civilizations. Browder, an Egyptologist, writes in his book on pages 178 to 179:

“After their conquest of Egypt, the Arabs expressed little interest in preserving its historical past. The great Kings and Queens of old had been forgotten, and the mighty temples they had built were now lying in ruins after centuries of neglect. The ability to read the Medu Neter (the European and Arabs call it the Hieroglyphics) had been lost for almost 250 years. The Netcherw, or gods, of the ancient Kemites (who had been worshiped by both the Greeks and Romans), were regarded as pagan by the Byzantines and Coptics. The Netcherw were looked upon with even greater disdain by the Muslims. It has been said that the invading Muslim Amir played a major role in the final destruction of the Library and the University of Alexandria. He ordered his army to demolish the last remnants of these educational institutions. When scholars begged him to spare them the ‘Amir declared, ‘If the library contains what is not in the Koran, it is false. If it contains what is already in the Koran, then it is superfluous. Burn it.’ In other instances, the temples that were not burned were dismantled block by block and the stones were used to build new structures in Cairo and various other cities.”

It is out of these centuries of propagandized racist intellectual conditions that produced the great Dr. Yosef A. A. ben Jochannan. He was inspired by his predecessors and his peers. Dr. Ben (as he is affectionately called by many in the  Afrikan world community) was one of the pioneering intellectuals who proved to the academy, and Afrikan people, that Kemet was Black. He did it with the threat of constantly losing his teaching jobs and his life. Dr. Ben was known to profess the need to rally against white and Arab hegemony in the world. Many Black scholars credit him with rescuing and restoring Afrika’s ancient history, as well as its culture–particularly the true Black history of Kemet.

Dr. Ben was born on December 31, 1918, in Gondar, Ethiopia to a Puerto Rican Jewish mother and an Ethiopian Jewish father. In his adulthood, he emigrated to Harlem, New York in the United States. Like many scholars in his lifetime, Dr. Ben documented the facts on Kemet by traveling extensively to North Afrika. He published his research in many books. Dr. Ben authored 49 books, which primarily covered Kemet and other Nile Valley civilizations. His books documented how these early Black civilizations influenced Western cultures and the world’s three Abrahamic religions (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Al-Islam).

The most popular texts from Dr. Ben are Africa: The Mother of Western Civilization, Black Man of the Nile and His Family, We the Black Jews, and The African Origins of the “Major” Western Religions. Dr. Ben began his educational teaching career in Harlem in 1967 at HARYOU-ACT (the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited-Associated Community Teams). He worked as an adjunct professor (1973–1987) at Cornell University in the Africana Studies and Research Center, which was then directed by Professor James Turner. He also taught at other institutions, including Rutgers University. In 1977, Dr. Ben accepted an honorary faculty position with the Israelite Rabbinical Academy at Beth Shalom Hebrew Congregation in Brooklyn. He also taught at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Kemet (Egypt).

During his career in the 1980s, Dr. Ben was well-known for leading guided tours to Kemet and the Nile Valley Civilizations (Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia). His tours were 15-day trips in Afrika. They were called “Dr. Ben’s Alkebu-Lan Educational Tours.” According to Dr. Ben’s research, Alkebulan was an ancient name for Afrika. In the late 1800s to the 20th century, Dr. Ben joined the ranks of many radical Black scholars that rose up to challenge white supremacist scholarly distortions of Afrikan history and culture, particularly ancient Kemet (Egypt).

These radical Black scholars, who were consistent in their struggle against racist white intellectuals, comprised of the following giants in academia:

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Dr. George G. M. James, Joel A. Rogers, Alfred G. Dunston, St. Clair Drake, Frank M. Snowden, John G. Jackson, Drusilla Dunjee Houston, William Leo Hansberry, Chancellor Williams, Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Molefe Kete Asante, Dr. Lenonard Jeffries, Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Theophile J Obenga, Dr. Asa Hilliard, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Dr. Runoko Rashidi, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Dr. Marimba Ani, Dr. James Turner, Dr. Charshee McIntyre, Dr. Amos Wilson, Professor Ashra Kwesi, Professor Tony Browder, Dr. Rhkty Amen, and Dr. John Henrick Clarke.

Using research from ancient and radical white scholarship (i.e. Herodotus, Hippocrates, Jean-Francis Champollion, Count C.F. Volney, Diodorus Siculus, Gerald Massey, Leo Frobenius, E.A. Wallis-Budge, Charles Darwin, Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey, Basil Davison, Martin Bernal, etc), they labored to present the evidence of the Afrikan origins of civilizations. They proved the Afrikan origins of Western religions, western philosophy, and the Afrikan origins of ancient Kemet (Egypt). Dr. Ben’s scholarship on Kemet has produced an army of younger Egyptologist intellectuals. One of them is Dr. Mario Beatty.

He is a Professor of Africana Studies at Howard University and the National President of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC). The ASCAC was co-founded by Dr. Ben in 1984. The other co-founders were Drs. John Henik Clarke, Jacob Curthers, Maulan Karenga, and Rhkty Amen. Dr. Beatty now leads many people and students in Egyptology on educational trips to Kemet. At Howard University, Dr. Beatty teaches a course on Medu Neter to educate students on an Afrikan language that gave birth to many of the world’s languages. 

Dr. Ben was the intellectual driving force behind Professor Ashra Kwesi’s Afrikan-centered Kemet Nu Tours. Professor Kwesi and his wife Merira, have led educational tours and seminars about the cultural history of Kemet on the continent of Afrika (and around the world) for nearly 40 years. Professor Kwesi was Dr. Ben’s number one student. My wife and I will be joining the Kwesies to learn firsthand the genius of Black people before foreign invaders, slavery, apartheid, and colonialism came to dominate and distort Afrikan history and culture. The continent of  Afrika has been on the long path of Black liberation and Pan Africanism since Ghana, a west Afrikan country, freed itself from the English in 1957.

The great Dr. Ben died on March 19, 2015, at the age of 96. He was staying at the Bay Park Nursing Home in the Bronx borough of New York City. However, his legacy is still inspiring the next generation of Black scholars fighting to rightfully restore Kemet to Afrika and Afrikan people.

Bashir Muhammad Akinyele is a History and Afrikana Studies teacher at Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ. He is also the co-coordinator for ASCAC’s (the Association for Study of Classical African Civilizations) Study Group Chapter in Newark, NJ. (https://ascac.org/)

Victor Trammell, Jr. is a digital media producer, freelance journalist, and author. He primarily covers current events for the Your Black World online news network. Mr. Trammell is also a graduate student taking up legal studies at Pepperdine University’s Caruso School of Law

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