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To fully understand the history, life, and times of Joel Augustus Rogers and his contributions to anti-racist historiography is to grasp how African Americans, as a "racial class and caste", are prisoners of their social existence. This social existence is set within a class relationship that has a dialectic of oppression, driven by domination and resistance to that domination. And it is revolutionary resistance that liberates the dominated class. The social relationship of oppression has its material basis, and that basis has its ideological manifestation. Joel A. Rogers' (1883-1966) life spanned the period in which the material basis of white oppression was solidified between the shadow of slavery and the plantation, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In this period, white capital kept black labor under its heel while refining the powerful ideology of white superiority and black inferiority in mass media, science, literature, theatre, film, and academic scholarship.
In their attempt to reject this ideology, Rogers and other historians wrote in direct response to what I term the "white supremacist school" of American history that was dominating the academy at the turn of the 20th Century. Commenting on this particular school in his 1968 presidential address at the Organization of American Historians, Thomas Bailey stated, "False historical beliefs are so essential to our culture.... How different our national history would be if countless millions of our citizens had not been brought up to believe in the manifestly destined superiority ... of the white race."
At the same meeting the following year, Comer Vann Woodward argued that "American history, the white man's version, could profit from an infusion of soul." (2) Probably unknown to Bailey and Woodward, many years earlier, Joel A. Rogers and his research did infuse history with a pinch of soul and instill in countless Americans an anti-racist version of historical events. Still, Bailey's and Woodward's comments did reference the suffocating social existence of white oppression, both material and ideological, that led Rogers to develop a social consciousness of resistance and prompted him to interpret African American history in an anti-racist manner, and with an "African-centered" paradigm. Rogers' approach, in its essence, placed individuals of African ancestry and blood at the center of the dialectics of history. It was premised on the notion that whenever change took place in history, whenever momentous events occurred, and whenever history had its "Waterloo," Black people were there acting, reacting, and most importantly, creating the historical moments and events that future historians would term "turning points" in the rise of civilization.
Joel Augustus Rogers was, as were his contemporaries, a man of his times. Like all humans, Rogers was a product of his social existence. This reality led him to a social consciousness peculiar to the historically specific social relationships in which he, as a result of his social class and "racial category," had lived and struggled. White versus Black was the social relationship that produced a disparity in social existence and, therefore, social and political thinking within each racial category. Historiography, as a mold of social thinking, developed its own dialectics of historical interpretation within the social relationship of American capitalist political economy. (3) Slavery, peonage, sharecropping, and Jim Crow produced a historical mindset within an antagonistic polarity between White and Black America. The historically defined social relationship that Joel Augustus Rogers struggled within was characterized by Rayford Logan's term "The Nadir." (4) This lowest point in African American history was indelibly stamped by what Allen Trelease termed "White Terror." (5)
The racial and class relationship of "White over Black" was fundamental to the domination of the recently freed ex-slave population during the period of Reconstruction and its aftermath-and White Terror was the basis of this domination. This terror was one of murder, rape, labor exploitation, segregation, the denial of political power, and, in W. E. B. DuBois's words, the "propaganda of history." (6) Professional historians rationalized and justified this domination of White over Black by producing this propaganda. The southern African American community responded to this dehumanizing social existence via armed and unarmed resistance, accommodationism, intellectual argumentation, and an almost biblical migration from the American South to the mythic northern land of milk and honey. Except for migration, the northern black communities responded in comparable ways. The period of the Nadir occurred during the years that encompassed the period of Reconstruction, the Compromise of 1877, and the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized this White Terror in numerous cases, epitomized by the infamous and singular separate but equal decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. (7) It is important to note that Joel Augustus Rogers' first attempt at writing anti-racist history is set within this "Nadir." (8)
It was this historical context and political milieu that would challenge Joel Augustus Rogers once he arrived in the United States. He became just one of many West Indians who made his imprint on African American history. (9) Rogers was born in 1883 in Negril, Jamaica. Rogers and a number of siblings were raised, after their mother passed, by their schoolteacher father, Samuel John Rogers. As a young man, Joel A. Rogers arrived in the United States in 1906, became a naturalized citizen in 1917, and lived in Chicago before eventually settling in New York City. Rogers worked in a variety of jobs including as a professional in a brokerage firm, a Pullman porter, and a teacher; however, he eventually found his niche as a reporter and journalist. In this capacity, he began to focus on combating white supremacist propaganda history and reclaiming the heroic heritage of the African presence throughout world history. (10) White propaganda history sought to justify the domination of White over Black by claiming that Africans and their descendants were inferior and hadn't contributed to the growth of human civilization. (11)
In 1911, while living in Chicago, a close colleague exposed him to scholarship that revealed to Rogers the great men of color within the history of civilization. It was this exposure that prompted Joel A. Rogers to dedicate his entire life to reclaim Africa's gift to the world through his researches. He began to write about the gifts of Black folk in 1917. That year is significant because Rogers became a naturalized United States citizen and, therefore, a part of the struggle by blacks against white supremacy. Moreover, that year marked the publishing of his seminal anti-propaganda work, From Superman to Man. (12) By the 1930s and 1940s Rogers was writing history columns in the Pittsburgh Courier, Messenger, Crisis, Mercury and in the New York Amsterdam News. Highlights of this journalistic phase were witnessing the coronation of Emperor Haile Salasie in 1930 and covering the Italo-Ethiopia conflict in 1935 as the Pittsburgh Courier war correspondent. (13) This international experience led Rogers to rethink his own assumptions about race, for he noted, "But, fortunately for me, I have traveled and read considerably.... I observed that, except for differences due entirely to environment, my people were essentially the same as whites.... I have failed to find [any differences] after ... thirty years of …