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Joel Augustus Rogers: Black International Journalism, Archival Research, and Black Print Culture

Article excerpt

  J. A. Rogers, international correspondent of the Negro press and
  research student in African and European history of Negroes,
  returned to the United States last Saturday aboard the SS Albert
  Ballin of the Hamburg American line after spending four years in the
  best libraries of Europe; and traveling throughout Europe and North
  Africa seeking facts on early Negro history. Mr. Rogers was met at
  the pier by George Schuyler, author, lecturer, journalist, and
  organizer of the Young Negroes Co-operative League. ... Mr. Rogers
  returned with much material gathered during his long stay abroad,
  and plans a lecture lour of the United States to last seven months,
  during which he will discuss the startling information he found in
  his research work. He brought back 100 biographies of great Negroes,
  such as kings, statesmen, generals, philosophers, scientists, poets,
  etc; 150 photos of these notables of history; 24 photos of Negro
  kings of Egypt which he secured from museums in Cairo, and several
  prints of gods and goddesses of Egypt showing that they were
  unmistakably Negroes.
  --Floyd J. Calvin, Pittsburgh Courier, 1931 (1)

The published works of Joel Augustus Rogers, journalist, historian, and author of the two-volume World's Great Men of Color, and other important histories of African-descended people are known currently to only a handful of scholars. Even those historians and anthropologists who are aware of Rogers's self-published and popular scholarly works tend only to remember him for the biographical portraits of African and African American leaders, and his investigations of the history of "sex and race" in antiquity and in the modern era. Most contemporary college students have never heard of J. A. Rogers nor are they aware of his long journalistic career and pioneering archival research. Rogers committed his life to fighting against racism and he bad a major influence on black print culture through his attempts to improve race relations in the United States and challenge white supremacist tracts aimed at disparaging the history and contributions of people of African descent to world civilizations.

Born in Jamaica on 6 September 1880 in Negril, Westermoreland Parish, to Samuel Rogers and Emily Johnstone Rogers, we know little about Joel Augustus's childhood and early life in Jamaica. As an adult, Rogers was a private person and what is known of his early life comes mostly from his widow Helga Rogers-Andrews. According to Rogers-Andrews, Rogers's family moved to St. Ann's Bay where as a boy he met Marcus Garvey, who in 1913 founded the all-black Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which is considered the largest secular organization in the African Diaspora. After Rogers finished primary school, he applied for a scholarship to attend a university in the Caribbean, but was denied admission (where and why is not known). Writing in 1922 recalling his life in Jamaica, Rogers noted there were "few scholarships to universities in the British Isles and to local colleges." (2) Rather than pursuing schooling, Rogers decided to join the British Royal Army and served with the Royal Garrison Artillery at Port Royal for four years. The exact years of service are unknown, but according to Rogers-Andrews, "When his unit was to be transferred abroad, a medical examiner revealed a heart murmur, and Joel was considered unfit for foreign service. ..." (3)

In 1906 Rogers decided to emigrate to the United States, briefly living in New York City and then Boston before settling in Chicago in 1908. While living in Chicago from 1908 to 1921, Rogers worked much of the time as a Pullman porter to help pay for his studies in commercial art at the Chicago Art Institute. Rogers also mentioned that he tried to enroll at the University of Chicago, but was denied admission because he did not possess the necessary high school credits. He had planned on studying to become an interior decorator, but when he became aware of the racist information and published literature pervasive in American society, as well as the racial violence, Rogers's outlook on life in the United States changed. …