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Who Was Joel A. Rogers?

Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 100: Which journalist was among the first to bring black-history facts to the masses? 

If your family was black and in delivery range of Pittsburgh, Pa., in the middle of the 20th century, “Mr. Rogers” wasn’t a kindly white man you watched changing sweaters on TV. No, he was a black columnist for the legendary Pittsburgh Courier, and his pithy and always intriguing tidbits of African and African-American history armed you with facts about the black experience that seemed more like fantasies. Since we certainly weren’t being taught anything about black people at school, Joel A. Rogers was just about the only source of black history that a few generations of us had.

His aptly named Amazing Facts were just that—truly amazing and mind blowing, really, if you recall the vacuum of knowledge about the black world in which they were published. Remember how astonished you were when you first heard the following things: “You mean the author of The Three Musketeers was black?” “Wait!? Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave Sally Hemings? And Abraham Lincoln wanted to ship free black people back to Africa?” “There were African popes? Stop your lying!” “A black university in Timbuktu, 500 years ago? Get out of town.”

Reading Rogers’ columns was always an adventure in frying the Negro mind.

Of course, there was something of the showman in Joel Augustus Rogers. In fact, the first edition of his now legendary 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof was billed as “A Negro ‘Believe It or Not,’ ” with Rogers signifying on Robert Ripley’s brain-bending series that had premiered in the New York Globe in October 1919.

 

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