Remembering Edward Robinson, Philadelphia’s Great Champion of African Consciousness
A version of this article was published shortly after Robinson’s death in 2012.
The birth of Edward Wesley Robinson Jr. on April 24, 1918, in Philadelphia laid the foundation for the birth of African consciousness — and the academic excellence of black students — in Philadelphia’s school district. Robinson, who died at age 94 on June 13, 2012, was a historian, educator, professor, author, documentarian, filmmaker, and curriculum specialist who attended Central High School, Virginia State College for Negroes (now Virginia State University), Temple University School of Law, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Robinson said that “Never during all my years in America’s best elementary schools, middle schools, junior high schools, high schools, colleges, and post-graduate schools was I ever taught anything about the huge body of information concerning the beauty, grandeur, and sophistication of Kemet (i.e., ancient Egypt) or the Songhai Empire. I was mis-educated. Fortunately, though, I was later rescued from cultural and intellectual oblivion by the intervention of my ancestors.” That rescue is quite obvious, and he wrote such books as Journey of the Songhai People and Twas the Night Before Kwanzaa.
Finding a “Lost” African History
Thanks to his prolific, synthesized research, many people of African descent in Philadelphia now know about Africa’s essential contributions to the world. Because of him, we now know that the Father of Medicine is Imhotep, an Egyptian, from circa 2650 BC and not Hippocrates, a Greek who wasn’t born until 2,200 years later.
We now know that calculus, algebra and geometry were invented in Egypt pre-1820 BC by Tishome, prior to 1650 BC by Ahmes, and circa 1500 BC by Tacokoma respectively. We now know that Herodotus, the Greek so-called Father of History, was wrong when he claimed that the Babylonians in 430 BC were the first to divide the day into 24 temporal hours. Instead, it was the Egyptians who did it about 3,000 years earlier with their sundial and later their shadow clock.
We now know that monotheism, despite being based on the Greek words “single” and “god” was actually created by Akenaten, an Egyptian from circa 1379 BC. And despite the western world’s use of BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, meaning “In the year of the Lord”) as the yardstick by which years are measured, that yardstick wasn’t created until 708 years after the founding of Rome when it was referred to as 46 BC only after Pope Gregory XIII superseded the Julian Calendar 1582 years following the birth of Jesus. But all of that is quite strange since the word “Christ” is actually from the Egyptian phrase “kher sesheta,” which means “he who watches over the mysteries” and which was used approximately 3,000 years before Julius and the Pope. In fact, it wasn’t until 300 AD that the man who had been known as Jesus was, for the first time, being referred to as “Christ.”
And we now know that the first human beings on the planet lived in the Nile Valley region of East Africa 200,000 years ago. Also, we now know that even more recently during the pre-colonial era, Africa excelled — beginning in the ninth century, but primarily from the 15th century through the 16th century. This occurred in West Africa, particularly in the Songhai Empire — the largest empire in African history. As Robinson always proudly pointed out, it was filled with magnificent homes that housed scholars, physicians, judges, craftsmen, farmers, miners, and soldiers. It was a vital international commercial hub where gold, salt, textiles, beans, rice and fish were traded. But most important, Timbuktu was its great intellectual center of the world that served as the repository for massively voluminous libraries. Timbuktu had more than 150 schools and a major university at Sankore with more than 25,000 students who were expertly taught science, math, grammar, logic, law and theology. Throughout the empire, books were such a valuable commodity that they were traded for gold.
How did all of this enlightening African history get lost? Racist European arrogance is the answer. But thanks to Robinson, we now know the truth. And hopefully, our Philadelphia public school children will one day know it, too.
Fixing the Philadelphia School District
An impressively well-researched book, The World of Africans and Afro-Americans, was written in 1971 by the “Ad Hoc Administrative Committee for the Infusion of African and Afro-American History into the Curricula.” This blue-ribbon committee included 24 prominent principals and teachers headed by Robinson and another preeminent scholar, John Henrik Clarke. Immediately after this book was officially approved, 13,000 copies were published by the district. But, inexplicably, not one single copy was ever distributed to any student. And to make matters worse, it was later discovered that the educationally essential information contained in that book was never infused into the general K-8 grade science, math, history and social studies textbooks used by all the city’s school children.
The easy solution now, therefore, is to simply infuse that same, similar, and updated information in connection with the previously approved 1971 book, as well as the aforementioned Journey of the Songhai People, into the new textbooks. As Robinson repeatedly made clear, effective infusion must include “continual updates by the textbook authors, relevant teacher and community training, and uniform implementation not only for grades K-8 but also as a requirement for high school graduation.”
Many people would be surprised to discover that Robinson’s infusion courses are already complete and were already officially approved. They were requested by the school superintendent most recently in 2004 but were never effectively implemented upon that superintendent’s departure. And four decades ago, Robinson headed the district’s faculty team that taught these kinds of courses to hundreds of teachers in 10-week sessions. Also, those courses had a proven track record of quantifiable and qualitative educational success as determined by the district’s Department of Assessment and Accessibility.
Black students have been and are at the bottom of every academic category. Is it because they’re stupid as a result of a genetic defect? Obviously not, when you consider their impressive African roots as revealed by Robinson. So it must be something else. It must be the result of America’s plan that kept black children (and adults) in the dark about education in general and African history in particular. This began when reading and writing were outlawed during slavery. In response to this resulting “psychic trauma,” as Dr. Robinson described it, and in the spirit of Sankofa, he proclaimed that his life goal was “to effect a positive change of attitude toward the ancestral value of people of African descent by … society through dramatically exposing the beauty, grandeur, and sophistication of ancient Egypt and the Songhai Empire.”
Support his goal and his legacy by demanding the immediate effective infusion of his courses of study into the official school district curriculum. For more information, call Avenging the Ancestors Coalition at 215-552-8751.