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The room was covered in mementos from a life spent between continents, weaving together the threads of the African diaspora: honors and awards, photos of Egyptian statues, kente cloth, a mug decorated with hieroglyphs and piles of letters from admirers and acolytes.
Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan seemed unaware of the shrine that had accumulated around him. His eyes were barely open. He sat hunched in his wheelchair, dressed in baggy pants, a faded purple sweatshirt and a kufi. One of his daughters held his hand; a granddaughter showed him photos of her own child on a cellphone.
Though he now had difficulty speaking, exhausted by even the smallest effort, Mr. Ben-Jochannan was once a powerful orator and a prolific author, one of the most vital and radical Afrocentric voices of his generation. And he may have been the last.
On March 19, Mr. Ben-Jochannan died, leaving behind 13 children from three marriages and a generation of intellectuals and activists who looked to him for guidance. His life spanned eras. When Mr. Ben-Jochannan was born, Africa was largely under colonial rule, the Voting Rights Act was a half-century away and the lynching of black Americans was at its peak.
To some, Mr. Ben-Jochannan was a sage, a self-taught scholar who dedicated his life to uncovering the suppressed history of a people, challenging narratives that had written Africa out of world history. In the s, Mr. Ben-Jochannan emerged as prominent figure in Harlem, pushing his anticolonial message to its limit, claiming that the very foundations of Western civilization, including Greek philosophy, Judaism and Christianity, were African in origin. I was blessed to study at his feet.
And yet to others Mr. Ben-Jochannan was an impostor and a historical revisionist. But Mr. As part of his enterprise, he took thousands of black Americans on tours of the Nile Valley, to visit the pyramids and temples of ancient Egypt, where he always took special care to point out the faces on statues and shapes of the figures in hieroglyphs.
Asked in the weeks before his death what drove him to make these repeated pilgrimages to Egypt, Mr. Ben-Jochannan cleared his throat and answered very slowly. But there is little evidence for that other than his own word; some peers, and even a family member, have privately expressed doubts.
Most accounts agree that wherever he was born, Mr. Harlem at that time was swirling with various strains of black nationalism in the wake of Mr. This is where Mr. Ben-Jochannan found his voice, holding impromptu lectures in city squares and talks at community centers. Ignored by academia, they became staples in Afrocentric libraries.
Having already established a reputation among African-Americans, in Mr. He was a distinguished figure at the Africana Center, eventually becoming an adjunct over his year affiliation with Cornell. A painted portrait of Mr. Ben-Jochannan still hangs at the school.
During that period, Mr. They typically ran three times a summer, shuttling as many as people to Africa per season. Browder , who traveled with Mr. Ben-Jochannan in the s. But in southern Egypt, Mr. Browder saw a statue of a pharaoh that left him speechless. In accounts of his own life, some of Mr. Others appear to be mere falsehoods or plain deceit. According to Fred Lewsey, a communications officer at Cambridge, however, the school has no record of his ever attending, let alone earning any degree.
Though beyond reproach to most acolytes, Mr. Ben-Jochannan was challenged publicly by classical scholars like Mary Lefkowitz, now a retired professor at Wellesley College.
While Mr. Lefkowitz said, he was simply offering pseudohistory as an alternative. Lefkowitz said. In the next decades, as most of his peers died, Mr.
Ben-Jochannan emerged as the elder statesman of Afrocentrism. But like any vanguard, he may have been a victim of his own success, eclipsed by the younger intellectuals he influenced. Coates wrote. It runs through everything I do. New York Contested Legacy of Dr.
Ben, a Father of African Studies. As a sign of respect, many would also bend down on one knee. Ben-Jochannan seemed unfazed by criticism. Home Page World U.
Titles by Yosef ben-Jochannan
Born in Gondar, Ethiopia, Dr. By profession, he is a trained lawyer, engineer, historian and Egyptologist. Ben knew Malcolm X personally, and was a student and colleague of George G. He was exceptionally close to the late Dr.
Contested Legacy of Dr. Ben, a Father of African Studies
Ben ", was an American writer and historian. He was considered to be one of the more prominent Afrocentric scholars by some Black Nationalists , while most mainstream scholars [ who? A New York Times article published after Ben-Jochannan's death discussed the lifelong inconsistencies in his reported academic record:. Documents from Cornell University show Mr. Ben-Jochannan holding a doctorate from Cambridge University in England while, conversely, catalogs from Malcolm-King College list him as holding two master's degrees from Cambridge University. According to Fred Lewsey, a communications officer at Cambridge, however, the school has no record of his ever attending, let alone earning any degree.