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The significance of the late Black Egyptologist Dr. Yosef A. A. Ben Jochannan

By July 8, 2021July 14th, 2021Commentaries/Opinions
Dr Yosef A.A. ben Jochannan seated in the middle of legendary history scholars Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and Dr. John Henrik Clarke on Gil Noble’s talk show

Dr Yosef A.A. ben Jochannan seated in the middle of legendary history scholars Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and Dr. John Henrik Clarke on Gil Noble’s talk show ‘Like It Is.’ Gil Noble was a pioneering Afrikan American journalist on ABC news in NYC.

By Bashir Muhammad Akinyele —

“Dr. Ben gave Kemet and Nile Valley Civilizations back to us” — Dr. Leonard Jeffries (legendary Africana Studies Professor)

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, but they also 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.

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. The book is a well written documentation of the majesty of 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 leads me to my mission to expose the intellectualization of white supremacy as the justification for Black oppression. Dr. Breasted’s book is important to study, not only for its recording of history; but because it’s a case study of his contribution to the creation of white supremacist Ideology.

Dr. Breasted was America’s premier Egyptologist. He was born on August 27, 1865. Dr. Breasted completed his undergraduate studies at North Central College. He then finished his Master of Arts degree at Yale University.

Dr. Breasted went on to pursue a PhD in graduate school. He chose the University of Berlin in Germany. After completing his PhD, 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, he helped to establish the school of Egyptology at the 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, medicine, architecture, the invention of paper, the invention of 365 day calendar, the belief in the afterlife, the belief in a soul, the belief in the judgement of a the soul, the belief in spirituality, and the resurrection story thousands of years before there was such a thing called Europe, Mesopotamia, Western Asia (the Middle East), China, Greece, Rome, Judaism, Christianity, and Al-Islam in the known world.

However, his 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 from 10,000 B.C.E to the foreign invading forces from Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs. After these invaders and conquerors came to Afrika, Kemet (Egypt) became a mixture of different cultures from the Black, White, and West Asians (Middle eastern) worlds. However, Dr. Breasted argued that Kemetic (Egyptians) 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. But 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 because of its blatant racism. It is a rare book now. You cannot go to your local bookstore to 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, and the system of racism in America, and in 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.

Another racist book I have in my library is called, General History Collections: Types of Mankind: or Ethnological Researches… Illustrated by Selections from the Inedited papers of S.G. Morton…. and by additional contributions from L. Agassiz, W. Usher… H.S Patterson co-authored by two white men named Dr. Josiah Clark Nott and Dr. George Robbins Gliddon.

This book was first published in 1854. Nott and Gliddon fabricated beliefs in racial myths that whites were born “genetically superior” to Black people. This factious belief allowed them to accept the facts on Kemet (Egypt) as a white civilization. They argued on page 461 in their book the greatness of Kemet’s (Egypt’s) civilization. But that greatness was because of whiteness. They said, “the earliest civilization known to us is that of Egypt; and from this foundation, it is commonly said, all more modern civilizations derived…. From Egypt, the stream is supposed to have flowed steadily on, through Assyria, Palestine, Tyre, Persia, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Germany, Spain, Britain, until it crossed the Atlantic to our Federal Union.” These two white supremacist scholars argued that the great Egypt (Kemet) of the ancient world was a white civilization, not a Black civilization.

But on the very next page of 462 of their book, Josiah Nott supports his racism by quoting another white racist historian named Theodore Parker in the text to justify Kemet’s (Egypt’s) whiteness and the racial supremacy of white people. He writes, “the Caucasian race differs from all other races: he is humane, he is civilized, and progresses. He conquers with his head, as well as with his hand. It is intellect after all that conquers-not the strength of a man’s arm. The Caucasian has been often master of the other races-never their slave. He has carried his religion to other races, but never taken theirs. In history, all religions are of Caucasian origin. All the great limited forms of monarchies are Caucasian. Republics are Caucasian. All the great sciences are of Caucasian origin; all inventions are Caucasian; literature and romance come of the same stock; all the great poets are of Caucasian origin; Moses, Luther, Jesus Christ, Zoroaster, Buddha, Pythagoras, were Caucasian. No other race can bring up to memory such celebrated names as the Caucasian race…… To the Caucasian race belong the Arabian, Persian, Hebrew, Egyptian; and all the European nations are descendants of the Caucasian race.”

Historian Stanford Lewis, a retired Africana Studies Professor, says that the purpose of many racist white intellectuals was to intentionally justify the inferiority of Black people in fictitious scholarship. Lewis, the Harvard and Cornell University trained scholar, has challenged white supremacist notions about Kemet (Egypt) and Black people in his groundbreaking book called-The Falsification and Fabrication of Ancient Egypt 3400 BCE to 500 BCE: A Survey of the Literature. Published in 2002, he writes on page 9, “consequently, the propaganda establishing the inferiority of Afrikan people-and its chief corollary, the supremacy of European peoples-became one of the primary aims of European scholarship.”

Now Dr. Breasted, Nott, Dr, Gliddon, and Parker made these White supremacist statements despite the fact that radical scholarship revealed that Kemet (Egypt) was a Black civilization and that Afrika is the mother of humanity.

For example, Count C.F. Volney went to Kemet (Egypt) with Napoleon Bonaparte’s team of European scholarly professionals in 1798. At this time Napoleon was the Emperor of France, but he had an interest in the ancient world. They discovered that Kemet was a great Black civilization in Afrika and that she influenced the world. But Volney’s research already led him to see that Kemet (Egypt) was a Black civilization years before his trip to Kemet (Egypt) with Napoleon. In 1787, Volney wrote in his book, Voyages on Syrie Et En Egypt on pages 74-77, about Kemet (Egypt) being a Black civilization. He writes, “all have a bloated face, puffed up eyes, flat nose, thick lips; in word, the true face of the mulatto. I was tempted to attributed it to the climate, but when I visited the Sphinx, its appearance gave me the key the riddle. On seeing that head, typically Negro in all its features, I remember the remarkable passages where Herodotus says: “as for me, I judge the Colchians to be a colony of the Egyptians because, like them, they are Black with wooly hair……” In other words, the ancient Egyptians were true Negroes of the same type as all native-born Africans. That being so, we can see how their blood, mixed for several centuries with that of the Romans and Greeks must have lost the intensity of its original colour, while retaining nonetheless the imprint of its original mould. We can even state as a general principle that the face is a kind monument able, in many cases, to attest or shed light on historical evidence on the origins of peoples…..But returning to Egypt, the lesson she teaches history contains many reflections for philosophy. What a subject for meditation, to see the present barbarism and ignorance of the Copts, descendants of the alliance between the profound genius of the Egyptians and the brilliant minds of Greeks! Just think that the race of Black men, today our slaves and the object of our scorn, is the very race to which we owe our arts, sciences, and even the use of speech. Just imagine, finally, that it is in the midst of peoples who call themselves the greatest friends of liberty and humanity that one has approved the most barbarous slavery and questions whether Blackmen have the same kind of intelligence as Whites!”

But the Europeans were not alone in their 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 by destroying as many temples and monuments and 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. The 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, and the Netcherw, or gods, of the ancient Kemites, who had been worshiped by both the Greeks and Roman, and regarded as pagan by the Byzantines and Coptics, were now looked upon with even greater disdain by the Muslims. It has been said that General ‘Amir played a major role in the final destruction of the Library and University of Alexandria. He ordered his army to demolish the last remnants of these educational institutions, and when scholars begged him to spare them ‘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 racist intellectual conditions that produced the great Dr Yosef A. A. ben Jochannan. He was inspired by his predecessors, and his peers, the need to struggle against white supremacy, and Arab hegemony in the world to rescue and restore Afrikan history and culture, particularly the history of Kemet, to Black people.

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.

He authored 49 books, primarily on Kemet and Nile Valley civilizations, and their influences on Western cultures and the world’s major 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; that 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’s 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 scholar’s distortions of Afrikan history and culture, particularly ancient Kemet (Egypt). These radical Black scholars, who were consistent in their struggle against racist white intellectuals, comprise of the following giants in academia such as, 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. Leonard 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, to name a few. 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; the Afrikan origins of western religions; the Afrikan origins of western philosophy; and the Afrikan origins of ancient Kemet (Egypt).

His scholarship on Kemet has produced an army of younger Egyptologist intellectuals, such as 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). An organization that was co-founded by Dr. Ben in 1984. The other co-founders were Drs. John Henrik Clarke, Jacob Carruthers, Maulana Karenga, and Rhkty Amen.

Dr Ben has been 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 on the history and culture of Kemet on the continent of Afrika for nearly 40 years. Professor Kwesi is 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 Afrika. The continent of Afrika has been on the path of Black liberation and Pan Africanism since Ghana, a west Afrikan country, freeded itself from the English in 1957.

‘Dr Ben’, as he is affectionately called by many in the Afrikan world community, was one of the pioneering intellectuals that proved to the academy, and Afrikan people, that Kemet was Black. And he did it with the threat of constantly losing his teaching jobs and his life. He died on March 19, 2015 at the age of 96 in the Bay Park Nursing Home in the borough of the Bronx 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.

Hotep (Medu Neter for Peace)!


Bashir Muhammad Akinyele is a History and Africana Studies teacher. 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/)

Note: Spelling Afrika with a k is not a typo. Using the k in Afrika is the Kiswahili way of writing Africa. Kiswahili is a Pan -Afrikan language. It is spoken in many countries in Africa. Kiswahili is the language used in Kwanzaa. The holiday of Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1.

Medu Neter is the original Afrikan language of ancient Kemetic people. When the Europeans and Arabs invaded and conquered Kemet, they changed the name Medu Neter to Hieroglyphics.

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