Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan, one of the world’s most pre-eminent and prolific scholars of African history, passed away early morning march 19th in New York City at the stunning age of 97.
It was only fitting that one of the most courageous and inspiring scholars of our time would live for nearly a century, paying personal witness to dramatic transformations in the lives of Black people across the globe. But more than anyone, Dr. Ben—as he was affectionally called by generations of his devoted followers—knew that a world transformed was not a world complete. Black people might have lifted themselves from widespread subjugation, but they still suffered and were far from the glorious civilizations in Africa about which Dr. Ben taught millions of eager charges.
One of his many specialties was the ancient civilization of Kemet in Egypt. He was one of the first true Egyptologists, before that title had even come into vogue. Dr. Ben was always a controversial figure because he had no interest in trying to placate white scholars or writers who were threatened by his claims about Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Because generations of white orthodoxy had moved the Western world to accept as fact questionable scholarship about the preeminence of European rulers and thinkers, Dr. Ben was always willing to take down these Western myths, one by one.
He was like a library of African history onto himself, as if a wing of one of the world’s great research institutions had been poured into one brain and become ambulatory.
He often worked together with another legendary scholar, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, who died in 1998.
During his immense life, Dr. Ben journeyed from his birth in Ethiopia, to a Puerto Rican mother and an Ethiopian father, studying in institutions ranging from Puerto Rico to Cuba to Brazil to Spain. After earning a B.S. in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, he went on to earn a Master’s degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Havana, Cuba and then doctoral degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Moorish History from the University of Havana and the University of Barcelona, Spain.
He taught many years at such institutions as City College in New York City and Cornell University.
His authorship extended to 49 books, many focusing on Egypt and the civilizations of the Nile Valley.
In 2002, Dr. Ben—who lived in Harlem his later years—donated to the Nation of Islam his personal library of more than 35,000 volumes, manuscripts and ancient scrolls.
“Of all our greats, Dr. Ben physically took tens of thousands of scholars, activists, students and associations to the Nile Valley to make the pages of his book more authentic,” said his colleague, Reggie Mabry. “We saw our own experiences of what he wrote… For that the Black world is indebted to this Black man of the Nile and his family.”
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