Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan was a respected New York City-based African studies scholar who died March 19, 2015, at the age of 96. The American writer and historian was considered to be one of the more prominent Afrocentric scholars.
Here are 10 things you should know about him.
Ben-Jochannan was affectionately known as “Dr. Ben.” He and his work gained the respect of “a later generation of Black intellectuals. Cornel West said he ‘was blessed to study at his feet.’ Ta-Nehisi Coates, the son of Ben-Jochannan’s publisher, praised him for teaching that history ‘is not this objective thing that exists outside of politics…It exists well within politics, and part of its job has been to position Black people in a place of use for white people’,” Wikipedia reported.
Ben-Jochannan authored some 49 books. Most of them covered ancient Nile Valley civilizations and their influence on Western cultures. Among his books is the often-cited“Black Man of the Nile and African Origins of Western Religions.” Other books he wrote include “Cultural Genocide in the Black and African Studies Curriculum,” “Africa: Mother of Western Civilization,” and “African Origins Of Major Western Religions.” He also wrote and co-wrote elementary- and secondary-school texts during the 1960s.
Dr. Ben was also the chairman of the publishing house Alkebu-Lan Foundation and its subsidiary, Alkebu-Lan Books and Education Materials Associates.
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Besides teaching and authoring books, Dr. Ben was also known for his guided tours in Africa. During the 1980s, he led guided tours to the Nile Valley. Organized three times each summer, his 15-day trips to Egypt were billed as “Dr. Ben’s Alkebu-Lan Educational Tours.” Alkebu-Lan is considered among some Black nationalists in the U.S. as the “true” and ancient name of Africa. As many as 200 people per season accompanied Dr. Ben to Africa, The New York Public Library reported.
In 2002, Ben-Jochannan donated his library of more than 35,000 volumes, manuscripts and ancient scrolls to the Nation of Islam.
An Afrocentric historian, Ben-Jochannan’s work focused mainly on the Black presence in ancient Egypt. According to his writings, the pharaohs came out of the heart of Africa, the original Jews were Black Africans from Ethiopia, and the white Jews adopted the faith and customs later, Black Past reported.
According to Ben-Jochannan’s own accounts, he was born in 1918, the only child of an Ethiopian Jewish father, Kriston Ben-Jochannan, and an Afro-Puerto Rican Jewish mother, Julia Matta, in a Falasha community in Ethiopia. Shortly after he was born, his family moved to St. Croix, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He grew up there. In 1940, he moved to the U.S. and initially worked as a senior draftsman for the architecture firm, Emery Roth & Sons, in New York City.
He went on to attend schools in Brazil, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Cuba and he said he earned degrees in engineering and anthropology.
Later on, he continued his education at the University of Havana, Cuba, where he earned a master’s degree in architectural engineering. He next earned a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology from the same school. Then he attended the University of Barcelona, where he earned another doctoral degree, this one in Moorish history.
Ben-Jochannan was appointed chairman of the African Studies Committee at UNESCO headquarters in 1945, where he served until 1970. In 1950, he began teaching Egyptology at Malcolm King College and City College in New York. He was an adjunct professor at Cornell University from 1976 to 1987. Dr. Ben also taught at Columbia University, Al-Azan University, and Rutgers.
Ben-Jochannan was married three times and fathered 13 children. He died on March 19, 2015, at the age of 96, at the Bay Park Nursing Home in the Bronx, NY.
Dr. Ben once wrote, “Truth is a continuous examination, and fact… always supersedes belief.”
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