In the course of putting together an African American Elementary Curriculum for the Future I encountered some disturbing reviews of a book by noted historian J.A. Rogers. The book is entitled Your History and is made up of articles akin to Ripley's Believe It Or Not."
Each and every page is chock full of information that runs the gamut from disturbing to informative. The pictures are revealing studies in the various personalities and events, which have occurred involving the lives of Africans from the beginning of time to the present, which in this case would have been the original publication date of 1940.
In cases where pictures were available they were used by the artist to develop his sketches. But, in many cases there were no pictures and at that point George Lee, the artist, took the liberty to create what he thought were realistic depictions. This was meant to be a popular work that was accessible to the public via a network of Black newspapers and was put into national syndication. It was not meant to stand up to scholarly debate or scrutiny.
However, because of the sensitive nature of the topic the reviewers took offense to much of what was contained within these pages and skewered the author, when it was they, themselves that needed to be skewered for not placing the document into its proper framework. They in fact, commit some of the same types of error of fact in the process, delivering false charges that the author was also the illustrator, and noting the lack of references, without noting the source of the document, which I believe to be the Pittsburgh Courier.
I really appreciate the fact that the reviewers took some time to give a critical analysis of this important book. However, I would hope that in the future they would check their own facts before making brash statements, which themselves were off base.
Admittedly, as Black Classic Press clearly states, J.A. Rogers was a "race" man and was attempting to prove a point, so at times some of his facts may come into question.
J.A. Rogers is "the historian" that was most vociferous in bringing to light many of the stories we now accept as being the bedrock of Pan-African Studies, or Black Studies. He was also known for using photography in conjunction with his historiography. This is a real sore point when acquiring his works now being published by large companies like Macmillian & Co., where the literally hundreds of photos of people or statues of persons have been excised from his major work "The World's Great Men of Color." This really diminished the impact of his work, because, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.
In conclusion, I'll be the first one to admit that I just recently noted a discrepancy in a depiction of the 11 churches of Lalibela Ethiopia, which are monolithic structures carved out of the bedrock of the Ethiopian highlands. Mr. Lee made them look like large mudhuts, as opposed to the architectural masterpieces that they are in actuality.
Overall, I've noted the book is fairly accurate in it's portrayal of the personalities and events it depicts, but I wouldn't give it any more, or less credibility than "Ripley's Believe It Or Not," whose museum in Hollywood is a real eye-opener. So, while you're fact checking, why don't you check into the validity of "Ripley's Believe It Or Not."
Meanwhile, I think I'll keep supporting African American Museums and historical sites, who undoubtedly owe a great deal to J.A. Rogers, as one of the pioneers in the study of Pan-African history. By the way the newest museum of African American history will be opening soon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as a part of the Smithsonian, I wonder who they'll feature in their exhibits?