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Tue, 12.31.1918

Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan, Historian born

Yosef Ben-Jochannan

*Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan was born on this date in 1918. He was a Black writer and historian.

Ben-Jochannan was the only child of an Afro Puerto Rican Jewish mother named Julia Matta and an Ethiopian father named Kriston Ben-Jochannan, in a Falasha community in Ethiopia.  Known as Dr. Ben, in 1938 earned a BS in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico and a Master's degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Havana, Cuba in 1939.  He received doctoral degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Moorish History from the University of Havana and the University of Barcelona, Spain.  Ben-Jochannan immigrated to the United States in the early 1940s.  He worked as a draftsman and continued his studies.

He claims that in 1945, he was appointed chairman of the African Studies Committee at the headquarters of the newly founded UNESCO, a position from which he stepped down in 1970.  During that time he taught Egyptology at Malcolm King College, then at City College in New York City. From 1976 to 1987, he was an adjunct professor at Cornell University.     Ben-Jochannan, authored 49 books, primarily on ancient Nile Valley civilizations and their impact on Western cultures.  In his writings, he argues that the original Jews were from Ethiopia and were Black Africans, while the white Jews later adopted the Jewish faith and its customs, statement that have been widely criticized.

In 1993, Wellesley College European classics professor Mary Lefkowitz publicly confronted Ben-Jochannan about his teachings.  Ben-Jochannan taught that Aristotle visited the Library of Alexandria.  During the question and answer session following the lecture, Lefkowitz asked Ben-Jochannan, "How would that have been possible, when the library was not built until after his death?"  Ben-Jochannan replied that the dates were uncertain. Lefkowitz wrote that Ben-Jochannan proceeded to tell those present that "they could and should believe what black instructors told them" and "that although they might think that Jews were all 'hook-nosed and sallow faced,' there were other Jews who looked like himself.   He also appeared on Gil Noble's WABC-TV weekly public affairs series Like It Is.

In 2002, Ben-Jochannan donated his personal library of more than 35,000 volumes, manuscripts and ancient scrolls to the Nation of Islam. Ben-Jochannan was married three times and had a total of 13 children.  He died on March 19, 2015, at the age of 96 at the Bay Park Nursing Home in the Bronx.

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