100 Amazing Facts About The Negro by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.” — H.L. Gates, Jr.

Jackie Robinson and Louise Beavers, scene from The Jackie Robinson Story. Photo: New York Public Library.

For an entertaining and informative kickoff to Black History Month (February 1–29), Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s book 100 Amazing Facts About The Negro is an excellent place to begin. It’s a history told through the age-old catechism method of asking questions and providing answers.

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Photo by the author.

Who was the first black president in North America? (It wasn’t Barak Obama.)
Did black people own slaves? If so, why?
Were there any successful slavery escapes by sea?
Who was history’s wealthiest person? (No, not Jeff Bezos.)
What were the largest slave rebellions in America?
Who was the first African-American fighter pilot?
Which massacre resulted in a Supreme Court decision limiting the federal government’s ability to protect black Americans from racial targeting?

Every chapter is a conversation starter. Some stories are shocking, many enlightening, most surprising and all well-researched, painting a fuller portrait of a much neglected portion of our human history.

The title of this 400+ page book is borrowed, or resurrected, from Joel Augustus Rogers’s legendary 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof. Rogers’ work was purposely designed to correct a narrative obscured by neglect. Published in 1934, it was billed as “A Negro ‘Believe It or Not.’”

Gates’ book uses the concept as a springboard, devoting his first chapter to the work of this black Mr. Rogers and calling his book an homage to Rogers’s work.

Just as Robert Ripley began his career via the newspapers (his findings were presented in cartoon form), so did Joel S. Rogers begin as a journalist, later developing a column called “Your History” in the Pittsburgh Courier.

Rogers’ research did indeed unearth some amazing facts. At times he also embellished, but for the most part he discovered and shared countless startling finds. More amazing than the facts is probably the man’s dedication to his task, and the rewards it brought to his readers. It wasn’t, however, for sheer entertainment. He was a man with a mission.

Gates writes, Rogers was especially devoted to debunking the false religion of racial purity then being expounded in such racist texts as Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Klansman, later adapted for the screen by DW Griffith in the 1915 Birth of a Nation. The whole legal apparatus of segregation hinged on the illusion that whites and blacks could easily be identified, then rigidly categorized, so that any advantages in life were doled out only for those free of any (obvious) “drops” of African blood.

Like all the other chapters in the book, the first is written in answer to a question. Which journalist was among the first to bring black history facts to the masses?

Joel Rogers’ first book was a novel titled From “Superman” to Man. Wikipedia summarizes the book in this manner:

Rogers’ first book From “Superman” to Man, self-published in 1917, attacked notions of African inferiority. From “Superman” to Man is a polemic against the ignorance that fuels racism. The central plot revolves around a debate between a Pullman porter and a white racist Southern politician. Rogers used this debate to air many of his personal philosophies and to debunk stereotypes about black people and white racial superiority.

According to the eminent anthropologist and sociologist J.G. St. Clair Drake:

“No discussion of comparative race relations would be complete without consideration of the work of the highly motivated, self-trained historian Joel A. Rogers. Endowed with unusual talent, Rogers rose to become one of the best-informed individuals in the world on Black history, writing and publishing his own books without any kind of organizational or foundation support.”

You can read more about this remarkable researcher and writer at the website of Dr. Runoko Rashidi. How is it so few of us have even heard of J. A. Rogers? Hopefully this blog post will in some small way contribute to correcting the narrative.

Thank you, Mr. Gates for this introduction.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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