The Admiration and Complementary Africana Historical Scholarship of W.E.B. Du Bois and Joel Augustus Rogers.

Author:Asukile, Thabiti
Position:Critical essay

"Now Toynbee's word carries great weight. He's often called the world's greatest living historian. Yet there are numerous facts to disprove him." (1) Joel Augustus Rogers, Pittsburgh Courier, 1952 I am quite frank: I do not pretend to "love" white people. I think that as a race they are the most selfish of any on earth. I think that the history of the world for the last thousand years proves this beyond doubt, and it is more than proven today by the Salvation Army tactics of Toynbee and his school of history. Current history has tried desperately to ignore Africa and its contribution to civilization. Honesty and clarity in historical writing and research is certainly gaining, but it has not prevented the study of Negro history. (2) W. E. B. Du Bois, "Whites in Africa After Negro Autonomy" 1962 Introduction

This work provides an introduction to the Complementary Africana Historical Scholarship of W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) and Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966) via their mutual admiration. Du Bois was a sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor, while Rogers was an author, journalist, historian wherein his research spanned the fields of history, sociology, and anthropology. Hence, this work will illustrate why Du Bois praised Rogers for his research and popularizing the historic contributions of people of African descent in Africa and throughout the African world. Rogers expressed much respect for Du Bois' scholarship in World's Great Men of Color, Vol. II (1947) and Du Bois' validation of Rogers' writing in 1924 became a prolegomenon to what he wrote about Rogers in 1947.

Hence, Rogers was very grateful that Du Bois endorsed his scholarship; and during the early 1950s, when Du Bois was persecuted by the U.S. Government, Rogers through his Pittsburgh Courier column "Rogers Says" came to Du Bois' defense against charges of him being subversive and un-American; and much more. Specifically, in four themes, this work will engage Du Bois and Rogers in relationship to (1) Du Bois' eventual recognition of Rogers' novel From Superman to Man (1917) in 1924, (2) Rogers' courageous public defense of Du Bois against U.S. government harassment and persecution, (3) Du Bois and Rogers answer to Arnold J. Toynbee's falsification of African history, and (4) their collective effort to work against the lack of interest in Africa and belief in ingenuity of people of African descent. (3)


On July 20, 1946, The Chicago Defender reported that a number of writers had gathered in the library of Lewis H. Michaux's National Memorial Bookstore in Harlem, New York to honor the appearance of Shirley Graham's biography about Paul Robeson, entitled Paul Robeson: Citizen of the World (1946). At this invitation only event, the names of W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963), Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), Bucklin Moon (1911-1984), Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick (1910-1995) along with others lauded Graham for her new book about Robeson; which was timely because Robeson would soon be persecuted by the United States government for his support of the decolonization of Africa, and for being suspected of being a member of the Communist Party. At this gathering The Chicago Defender also mentioned that the Africana historian and Pittsburgh Courier journalist Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966) attended and congratulated Graham (in 1951 became Du Bois' second wife: Shirley Graham-Du Bois).

Rogers book World's Great Men of Color: 3000 B.C. to 1946 A.D Volume I appeared during the same year, and he had during his lifetime previously to Graham's celebration, traveled extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and North Africa to conduct historical and biographical Africana research. Prior to 1946, Rogers had conducted more personal international archival Africana historical based research than any other person of African descent during his lifetime; Rogers was able to uncover valuable obscure historical facts and popularizing Africana history from antiquity to the modern era (history covering Africa, Asia, and the Western hemisphere). Rogers without any research assistants or any institutional financial support, spent over forty years conducting research visiting famous museums, libraries, art galleries, antiquarian bookstores, cathedrals, and mosques. The tenacity Rogers showed in conducting research was impeccable and on par with any academic twentieth historians who had research assistants to help them with their scholarship. (4)

In looking back at Graham's celebration at the National Memorial Bookstore, it is quite interesting that two of the most celebrated twentieth century Africana historian-intellectuals to write pioneering and prominent history were brought together in celebration of a work about Robeson. Although Rogers or Du Bois appear to have never have mentioned publically in their own writings about if they had ever spoke to each other at the event, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they did not speak to each other considering that they both shared the same interest about the writing of Africana history that revealed how the different life experiences of people of Black African descent in Africa (especially Africa south of the Sahara) and throughout the African Diaspora were intertwined with Europe and Asia, from antiquity down through the modern era. It is amazing that both Du Bois and Rogers were present at the same event in 1946, because respectively, it was during that era that both worked on and produced some the most influential scholarship about people of African descent that has stood the test of time in the historiography of Africana history and biography. (5)

Du Bois' The World and Africa: An Inquiry Into The Part Which Africa Has Played In World History was published in January 1947, and is without a doubt one of the most important pieces of scholarship in re-conceptualizing the historical relationship and image of Africa in relation to world history produced in the twentieth century. Du Bois' work complemented Rogers' magnum opus two volume World's Great Men of Color: 3000 B.C. to 1946 A.D. (1946-47) which also does the same thing through the writing of biographical figures in Africa and throughout the African world. Du Bois wrote and revised The World and Africa between1945-1946, and it is in this work that he praised Rogers for his research and for popularizing the contributions of people of Black and Brown skinned people of African descent in Africa, and throughout world. (6)

I have learned much from James {sic} A. Rogers. Rogers is an untrained American Negro writer who has done his work under great difficulty without funds and at much personal sacrifice. But no man living has revealed so many important facts about the Negro race as has Rogers. His mistakes are many and background narrow, but he is a true historical student. (7) According to Rogers, after Du Bois made this statement, he was attacked by an unnamed African American scholar who was more than likely so Westernized in his conceptualization of history that he could not fathom that Du Bois would appreciated the tireless research Rogers did throughout his life in excavating unknown historical and biographical information about people of African descent in Africa, Europe, Asia, and throughout the Western Hemisphere. In reflecting back about conducting historical research, Rogers said, "When Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois said years ago that 'no man had revealed so many important facts about the Negro' as myself, he was attacked by a certain Negro scholar." This statement was made in reference to Du Bois in relation to explaining how careful and meticulous he tried to research and write Africana history. (8)

Thus, it is the contention of this Africana historian that many American intellectuals today really don't think about consciously or unconsciously; or try to understand the hardships that many African American historians had to endure in order to conduct archival research in the United States during the first part of the twentieth century. The frustration and hardship of being denied access to archival primary sources, or at best limited time if allowed at all in conducting research at leading repositories, museums, museum reading rooms, and libraries throughout America has not been given its due attention by past or present scholars. Furthermore, scholars such as Rogers, Du Bois, and other Black historians often did archival research without any institutional or very limited support that many leading American scholars receive today. The fact that due to virulent American racial segregation aimed at crippling African Americans aspirations, both men did not always have the privilege of unrestricted access to special collections at various prominent libraries at Ivy League universities or prestigious liberal arts colleges, and thus, it is amazing that they accomplished the type of pioneering quality research they did during their lifetime. (9)

What Du Bois admired about Rogers is his urgency to counter early twentieth century scholarly racism concerning the writing of history without any institutional financial support. The thought of waiting for outside funding was not a luxury or option for most African American historians or intellectuals committed to race advancement during the first part of the twentieth century. If Rogers waited around to get external funding for the type of Africana archival research he conducted about Black African descent world biography or race-mixing which was not in vogue in the academy, it would have never been accomplished.

In 1950, Rogers reflected back about the independence to write history; he believed that prestigious politics against the type of history he wrote, determined who received money from the Julius Rosenwald Fund in comparison to other prominent scholars who received funding:

The foundation replied (I have the letter somewhere), that it didn't give money for what I...

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