Celebrating Your History
The Museum Of UnCut Funk presents historian Joel Augustus Rogers and artist Ahmed Samuel Milai, both of whom brought to life a historical collaboration in illustrated form.
Joel Augustus Rogers was born on September 6, 1880. He was a Jamaican-American author, journalist, and historian who contributed to the history of Africa and the African diaspora, especially the history of Black Americans in the United States. His research covered areas of history, sociology and anthropology. He challenged ideas about race and demonstrated the connections between civilizations, and traced African achievements.
Rogers emigrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1906, where he settled in Harlem, New York. There he lived most of his life. He was there during the Harlem Renaissance, a Black artistic and intellectual life in numerous fields. Rogers became a close personal friend of the Harlem-based intellectual and activist Hubert Harrison.
While living in Chicago for a time in the 1920s, Rogers worked as a Pullman porter and as a reporter for the Chicago Enterprise. His job of Pullman porter allowed Rogers to travel and observe a wide range of people. Through this travel, Rogers was able to feed his appetite for knowledge, by using various libraries in the cities which he visited. Rogers self-published the results of his research in several books.
In the 1920s, Rogers worked as a journalist on the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Enterprise. He was a sub-editor of Marcus Garvey’s short-lived Daily Negro Times. As a newspaper correspondent, he covered such events as the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia for the New York Amsterdam News. He wrote for a variety of black newspapers and journals: Crisis, American Mercury, The Messenger Magazine, the Negro World and Survey Graphic. One of his interviews was with Marcus Garvey in prison. Rogers served as the only Black US war correspondent during World War II.
Rogers also contributed the writing to a syndicated newspaper cartoon feature titled Your History. Patterned after the look of Robert Ripley’s popular Believe It or Not cartoons, multiple vignettes in each cartoon episode recounted short items from Rogers’ research. The feature began in the Pittsburgh Courier in November 1934, with art by George L. Lee. In 1940, the art chores were handed over to Samuel Milai, who stayed with the feature through the rest of its run. In 1962, the title was changed to Facts About The Negro. The feature outlived its author, and continued appearing regularly until 1971, presumably in reprints at the end of the run. Two collections were published, Your History in 1940 and Facts About The Negro c. 1960.
Ahmed Samuel Milai was born on March 23, 1908. He was an artist and cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier for thirty-three years. He won the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association Russwurm trophy for the best cartoon eight times during his career. In addition to his editorial cartoons, Sam Milai created a cartoon series titled Facts about the Negro that celebrated the accomplishments of people of color. During the late 1930s, he also contributed a comic strip to the newspaper. He taught part time at Pittsburgh’s Ivey School of Professional Art from 1964-1967 and was teaching full-time at the Pittsburgh Art Institute at the time of his death.
Most of Milai’s work was not returned to him after publication. The cartoons in this exhibition were found by his granddaughter stored in a suitcase in her mother’s attic. Sam Milai was a centrist who disdained all forms of extremism. He was loyal to Lyndon Johnson, and some of his pro-Johnson cartoons are housed in the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
Sources: The Best of Black History, Wikipedia, The Strippers Guide and The Black Past