Dr. Ben in His Own Words

By Boyd, Herb | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), February 2016 | Go to article overview

Dr. Ben in His Own Words


Boyd, Herb, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Toward the front of the headquarters of the National Action Network in Harlem, there is a chair-no, a throne-that was placed there for the venerable Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan (photo to left by Solwazi Afi Olusola). Every Saturday for more than a decade, "Dr. Ben," as he was affectionately and internationally known, would arrive there and take his place as part of the audience, primarily to hear the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"Dr. Ben came each week knowing I was going to preach about Jesus," Sharpton said last Saturday during NAN's action rally. "He told me he came despite what I believed, often saying, 'I raised that boy, but he went off on some other things.' He came to our rallies because he had a habit of being around Black people."

Sharpton said that chair, which no one is allowed to sit in, now with only a picture of Jochannan in the seat, "will be there as long as this organization exists. He taught us more about our history and culture than any other Black scholar."

A week after his death [March 19, 2015], a multitude of associates, colleagues, students and well-wishers have extended their condolences, shared their grief and sorrow and voiced their appreciation for his many years of scholarship, particularly to Kemetic studies, also known as Egyptology. Among his many books are "Africa: The Mother of Civilization" and "Black Man of the Nile," both currently in print by Black Classic Press.

Capturing the essence of historian Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, whose life stretched across nearly a century, more than matching the reach and influence of his scholarship, is not easy. His passing Thursday morning leaves an immeasurable chasm in the world of Kemetic studies. Perhaps the best way to present some idea of his majesty and what he has meant to a community of teachers, scholars and students is if we allow him here to speak for himself from a portion of his vast library of essays, lectures and interviews.

One of the reasons to resort to his own autobiographical reflections is the absence of his writings among other scholars. It is futile to search for his presence in the books of John Jackson, St. Clair Drake, Ivan Van Sertima, Drusillla Dunjee Houston, Molefi Asante, Joseph Harris, Ali Mazrui and other notable scholars in fields related to his studies. He is missing also from works by Wayne Chandler and Cheikh Anta Diop, and even in Dr. John Henrik Clarke's monumental book "African World Revolution," Jochannan is not mentioned.

Seemingly, Jochannan was best known and respected among those who attended his lectures, whether in the classroom or in the streets. Fortunately, from the London lectures, he conducted with Clarke in 1986, collected in "New Dimensions in African History" (Africa World Press), we can begin tracing his biographical trail, one that begins in a literary way in 1938.

"In 1938, I published my first book on Africa," he said, answering an audience member interested in knowing what he had done to alleviate some of the stresses Blacks had endured under colonialism. "Since 1938, I've published 32 books on Africa, and I write them in such a way that even a seventh-grader should be able to read them. I also have 14 other manuscripts and an encyclopedia of seven volumes. …

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