“No man living has revealed so many important facts about the Negro race as has Rogers.”
– Dr. W. E. B. DuBois
If you were to engage a Black person born and raised in the U.S. in a conversation about Black History, more often than not the conversation would center on the slavery era or the Civil Rights Era. Prominent figures such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X would undoubtedly be mentioned. However, it’s unlikely that the history of Black people in other countries, continents, or periods prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade would make it into the conversation.
This is not a coincidence. With school textbooks remarkably empty, the classroom version of Black history is usually biased and one-dimensional at best and untrue at worse. Adding insult to injury, the lack of Black stories and Black history depicted in the media has left a large portion of the Black population grossly ignorant.
Thankfully, due to advances in technology and the increased access to information, Black people in the U.S. and around the world are being re-educated. Enter generation WOKE. More than a popular urban slang, the term ‘woke’ is used to describe individuals who are not only aware of current affairs but also their history. Although technology provided the means, it was the work of pioneers of the ‘woke’ movement who planted the seeds and tilled the soil of the minds of Black people in the U.S. and abroad, admonishing them to learn the truth about Black history. One such pioneer is J.A. Rogers.
Long before Black History Month was instituted and being ‘woke’ was a thing, J. A. Rogers informed Black people about their rich history beyond the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He wrote numerous books and articles to counter the biased and racist narratives of Black history and Black people throughout the African diaspora. While many sought to discredit his views as being outlandish or often a bit extreme, J.A. Rogers contributions as a writer, publisher, historian, lecturer, and world traveler helped to re-define the image of Black people in the United States and around the world.
Joel Augustus Rogers was born on September 6, 1880, in Westmoreland, Jamaica, West Indies. Rogers is of mixed raced parentage and is one of eleven children. He was raised primarily by his white father (Samuel John Rogers), a Methodist minister and school teacher, after the death of his mother (Emily Johnstone Rogers). His father remarried, and the Rogers family moved to St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica where J.A. Rogers met Marcus Garvey.
Rogers immigrated to the United States in 1906. Without a formal education, Rogers extensively researched African and Black history. He moved to Chicago and worked as a Pullman porter which afforded him the ability to travel across the United States to research Black history and culture. Rogers quest for knowledge also took him to Europe and Africa as he curated diverse stories about the Black experience. He was a self-taught polyglot having mastered French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Later, during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Rogers moved to New York City and settled in Harlem where he became the sub-editor of Marcus Garvey’s Daily Negro Times and contributing writer for the Universal Negro Improvement Association weekly newspaper, Negro World. J. A. Rogers also worked as a reporter for several newspapers including, the Chicago Defender, Pittsburg Courier, The Messenger, and the New York Amsterdam News. In 1930, he was selected by the New York Amsterdam news to cover the coronation of Haile Selassie and was the only Black news correspondent to cover World War II.
Some of Rogers’ most notable works are his own. Undaunted by the lack of support of publishing houses, Rogers was determined to spread his message of Black excellence. He self-published dozens of books including the famous, From “Superman” to Man, 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro with Complete Proof: A Short Cut to the World History of the Negro, Sex and Race: Volumes 1-3. J.A. Rogers’ body of work spans 50 years in which he worked tirelessly to debunk the pervasive ideology that Blacks were an inferior race. He passionately challenged white supremacists views on race and often outed white notables in history who had African ancestry.
Though Rogers contributed much to the conversation of Black history during his time, he was often excluded from mainstream anthropological and historical research due to his lack of a formal education. He became the people’s historian, by publishing inexpensive pamphlets highlighting the accomplishments of Black people around the world. Through his work, Rogers was able to provide Black people with a different perspective on Black history than what was being propagated. He let them know that the Black identity was bigger than slavery and injustice by featuring Black nobles, inventors, and Kings and Queens around the globe who ruled nations and made great contributions to all human societies at large.
Without the backing of a company or a financier, Rogers’ work was mostly self-funded. With nothing more than an insatiable appetite for knowledge and a desire to see Black people educated about their heritage, J.A. Rogers dedicated his life to educating men and women about the diverse history and rich culture of Black people around the world.
Like many pioneers on the front lines, J. A. Rogers’ contributions were recognized posthumously after his death in 1966. Historian, Dr. John Henrik Clarke wrote, “In more than 45 years of travel and research (two generations), he, more than any other writer of his time, attempted to affirm the humanity of the African personality, and to show the role that African people have played in the development of human history. This was singularly the major mission of his life; it was also the legacy that he left to his people and the world.”
The famous anthropologist and sociologist J.G. St. Clair Drake wrote, “No discussion of comparative race relations would be complete without consideration of the work of the highly motivated, self-trained historian Joel A. Rogers. Endowed with unusual talent, Rogers rose to become one of the best-informed individuals in the world on Black history, writing and publishing his own books without any kind of organizational or foundation support.”
Now that’s WOKE.
For more information on Joel Augustus Rogers, add the following books to your book lists:
- Blood Money (novel) serialized in New York Amsterdam News, April 1923.
- From “Superman” to Man. Chicago: J. A. Rogers, 1917.
- World’s Greatest Men of African Descent. New York: J. A. Rogers Publications, 1931.
- 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.
- The Real Facts About Ethiopia. New York: J. A Rogers, 1936.
- An Appeal From Pioneer Negroes of the World, Inc: An Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Pius XII. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1940.
- Nature Knows No Color Line: Research into the Negro Ancestry in the White Race. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1952.
- 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.
- The Five Negro presidents: According to What White People Said They Were. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1965.
- 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.