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Ancestor Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers: Intellectual Warrior, African-Centered Scholar, Part 1

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

"An African-centered education can only be built on the foundations of traditional African concepts of education. These traditions must be modified to reflect contemporary concerns and issues, but the return to the African view of the universe is imperative…The African view of the universe is based upon the truth that man, nature, the universe, and God are in harmony. There is no alienation. The basic mode of human action is cooperation, Peace, and building great projects."[1] Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers

Although Dr. Jacob Hudson Carruthers, Jr., Jedi Shemsu Jehewty, joined the Ancestors on January 4, 2004, he was - and still remains -a very remarkable Presence, an educator and scholar who was instrumental in establishing what has come to be known as the Chicago School of African-centered Thought. He was an authority on the history of Africa, which also included Nile Valley civilizations, an author, and a professor at Northeastern Illinois University's Center for Inner City Studies for 32 years. He was one of the greatest teachers I have ever known as well as a mentor and friend. The history of Dr. Carruthers that I will share is based on many conversations I had with him over more than thirty years. He liked to tell his life story or, as he would put it, "passing on the elder’s staff," to his closest students. I was fortunate to have been one of them.

Dr. Carruthers grew up in Texas and graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston. He received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Samuel Houston College in Austin. In 1950, he and three other African American students integrated the University of Texas Law School, however, not without serious difficulty. They faced significant discrimination from the White students and faculty. This led to one of the landmark civil rights cases in the history of jurisprudence, i.e. Sweatt v. Painter.

He was one of the plaintiffs in the famous Sweatt v. Painter case which struck down racial discrimination in admissions at the University of Texas School of Law in Houston. In 1950, Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 was a Supreme Court case that challenged the "separate but equal" doctrine of racial segregation recognized in the 1896 case of Plessey v. Ferguson (Medley, 2003). That case, which was argued before the Supreme Court by Ancestor Thurgood Marshall when he was head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and later Supreme Court Justice, was a precursor to the historic Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas case only four years later.

Sweatt v. Painter was a case involving a young African American man, Heman Marion Sweatt, who was also a close friend of Dr. Carruthers. Neither of them was allowed to fulfill their desire to become lawyers by attending the University of Texas Law School. The President of the University, Theophilus Painter, argued that the Texas Constitution prohibited integrated classrooms.

At that time, no law school in Texas would admit African American students or, in the language of the period, "Negro" students. There were no African Americans in law school at that point in the state of Texas. In order to avoid any lawsuits, a separate law school for African Americans was created in Houston, Texas rather than in Austin, Texas where the University of Texas was located. Through this method the Texas legislature was able to make the case that they had followed the law by providing separate but equal facilities. This separate law school later became known as the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. However, at that time it was known as the Texas State University for Negroes.

After his first year, he dropped out of law school because of the constant insults and disrespect he received on a daily basis, from the White students and faculty. Subsequently, he gave up his ambition of becoming a lawyer and joined the Air Force where, for two years during the Korean Conflict,, he was a successful code-breaker. According to Dr. Carruthers, he was so good at code-breaking that the F.B.I. wanted to recruit him for Intelligence work, which he refused. After his time in the service, he went on to Graduate school and received a Master's degree in Government from Texas Southern University in Houston.

In 1961, during his first job teaching Political Science at Prairie View A&M College in Texas, he realized that teaching was his true calling. In 1966, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Colorado, in Boulder. After teaching Political Science at Kansas State College in Pittsburg, Kansas for two years, he was recruited to teach at Northeastern Illinois University. In 1968, he joined the faculty of NEIU's Center for Inner City Studies and was instrumental in developing the school's Inner-City Studies Education (ICSE) Department and shaping the curriculum to reflect the impact that history, politics, and government had on African Americans.

Meeting Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop at the University of Dakar, Senegal

It was Dr. Carruthers' meeting with Ancestor Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal that led to his pioneering efforts as a leading light in the African-centered movement and philosophy of education. It was through the influence of Ancestor Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Professor Emeritus at Hunter College in New York, and Dean of African-centered scholars in America; that Dr. Carruthers' intellectual focus was changed when he met Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop in 1975.

Accompanied by a letter of introduction from Dr. Clarke; Dr. Carruthers traveled to Dakar, Senegal on the coast of West Africa to meet with Dr. Diop at the then Universite de Dakar, which is now known as the Universite Cheikh Anta Diop. He found Dr. Diop in his radiocarbon laboratory which was hidden behind the Institute Fundamental Afrique Noir (Fundamental Institute of Black Africa). Through the French translation skills of his former wife, Dr. Iva Carruthers, and later with the assistance of a Cuban exile from Fidel Castor's regime, Carlos Moore, who was fluent in Wolof, the language of Dr. Diop's national group, as well as Spanish and French, they were able to engage in what became, for Dr. Carruthers, a life-altering experience.

After various wide-ranging discussions, it was Dr. Diop who set Dr. Carruthers' sights on a larger picture of mutual support for their respective research interests that would eventually turn into an international collaborative effort. That effort would involve having grounding in the history, culture, and languages of Nile Valley civilizations based on a pluridisciplinary research approach involving what Dr. Diop called "the three factors: historical, linguistic, and psychological."

According to Dr. Diop:

"Admittedly three factors compete to form the collective personality of a people: a psychic factor, susceptible of a literary approach; this is the factor that would elsewhere be called national temperament, and what the Negritude poets have overstressed. In addition, there are the historical factor and the linguistic factor, both susceptible of being approached scientifically. These last two factors have been subject to studies; we have endeavored to remain strictly on scientific grounds. Have foreign intellectuals, who challenge our intentions and accuse us of all kinds of hidden motives or rediculous ideas, proceeded any differently? When they explain their own historical pasts or study their languages, that seems normal. Yet, when an African does likewise to help reconstruct the national personality of his people, distorted by colonialism, that is considered backward or alarming" (Diop, 1974, p. xiii).

He suggested the formation of research teams that would ground themselves in the necessary tools to engage in this research emphasizing the importance of studying the language of Egyptian antiquity, i.e. Medew Netcher.

Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers' Five Essential Reasons for an African-Centered Curriculum

In 1993, Ancestor Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers expounded five reasons why an African-centered curriculum was essential to providing equal educational results and opportunities for African American students.

The evolutionary cultural hierarchy that emerged placed African culture firmly at the bottom and European or Western civilization at the top. Thus, while all cultures other than the Western European one was degraded, Africa occupied a unique position. Africans were removed from history through this worldview. Africa, as Hegel put it, "is no historical part of the world" (Hegel, 1899/1956, p. 99). Indeed, the differences between the civilizations originating on the Eurasian continent and Africa are mostly depicted as qualitative and not merely attributed to a stage of development.

In view of the Western philosophical project of historical and cultural genocide against African peoples, the African-centered curriculum is essential. The first and most important reason is to restore truth to the curriculum. The falsification of the role of Africa in world history and civilization results not only in a deformation of African history but the history of the world, especially since Africa has played such a decisive part in the events that comprise world history. The correction of this mutilation is surely in the interest of humanity if the truth is at all relevant to human development.

A second reason is the necessity of developing a framework for cultural equality as we move into the twenty-first century. The next century which marks the beginning of a new millennium will doubtless witness the transition of world power from one center of gravity (the Western one) to another (the Eastern one). Such a transition is perhaps destined to be even more dramatic than that of the sixteenth century which witnessed the reverse. The children now in school will live their lives in the twenty-first century which will be characterized by multicultural challenges not faced in previous centuries. Even today the multicultural world is exploding as long suppressed cultures are now demanding dignity and power in the world arena. The road to multicultural equality and respect cannot even begin until Africa is restored to its proper historical and cultural position.

A third reason for the necessity of the African-centered curriculum is the fact that any culture (especially one which has been suppressed) needs its own apparatus for its restoration, maintenance, and development. The main reason Western culture has been dominant is because Europeans have controlled political, economic, and social power including educational policy for the last several centuries (Johnson, 2006). Even so, some cultures have fared better in this regard because the West was not able to gain complete educational hegemony; Japan is a good example.

A fourth reason for the African-centered curriculum is the peculiar capability of the African-centered education movement to provide leadership in educational reform. The African-centered education project and its predecessor, the Black Studies movement, is a necessary aspect in the reform of education. These movements have also spawned the organizational bases to effectively work toward the implementation of the changes. Without this critique and the organizational pressure, multiculturalism would remain an abstraction capable of being used to perpetuate the Eurocentric and anti-African curriculum. Indeed, many so-called proponents of multiculturalism are demonstrating such contradictions today. Dianne Ravitch is a prime example of this problem (Ravitch, 1992).

The fifth and final reason for the African-centered curriculum is the nature of the population composition in the United States. This country is composed of a variety of ethnic and racial groups. As such the country should properly be conceived of as the United States of various ethnic, national, and racial groups. The Eurocentric curriculum, more or less, serves the cultural interests of most European ethnic groups. It does not serve the cultural interests of most people of African descent. Since the population patterns are such that most African Americans live in predominantly African American communities and attend predominantly African American schools, it is logical that they should be taught from an African perspective if they so choose (Carruthers, 1994).

To be continued in Part 2… 

Recommended Viewing:

“Spiritual Traditions: The Temple of the African Community of Chicago “ Featuring: Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Recommended Readings:

Carruthers, J.H. Intellectual Warfare. Third World Press. Chicago

--"Science and Oppression".

Wright, Bobby E. The Psychopathic Racial Personality. Third World Press. Chicago

Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. The Associated Publishers. Washington, D.C.

Rashid, Kamau."Slavery of the Mind: Carter G.Woodson and Jacob H. Carruthers- Intergenerational Discouse on African Education and Social Change." Western Journal of Black Studies. Spring, 2005. Vol. 29, Issue 1.

"Black History in the Diaspora: Bookman and Jean Jaques Dessalines", Parts 1 &2, an H3O Art of Life Blog by Charles A.Grantham

"My Sip from the "African Deep Well: A Cultural, Spiritual, and Historical Journey", by Yvonne R. Jones, an H3O Art of Life Blog.

*Recommended Readings and Recommended Viewings by Omni-U Virtual University


[1] Carruthers, J.H. African-centered Education. In Carruthers, J.H. Intellectual Warfare. Third World Press. Chicago (1999).


Bauval, R. & Brophy, T. (2011). Black Genesis: The prehistoric origins of ancient Egypt. Toronto: Bear & Company.

Carruthers, J.H. (1994). Black intellectuals and the crisis in black education. In Mwalimu J. Shujaa. Ed. (1994). Too much schooling, too little education: A paradox of black life in white societies. Trenton: Africa World Press.

Carruthers, J.H. (1995). Mdw Ntr divine speech: A historiographical reflection of African deep thought from the time of the pharaohs to the present. London: Karnak House.

Carruthers, J.H. (1995). Reflections of the history of African education. Illinois School Journal, 75 (1), 25-39.

Carruthers, J.H. (1984). Essays in ancient Egyptian studies. Los Angeles: Timbuktu Publishers.

Carruthers, J.H. (1985). The irritated genie: An essay on the Haitian revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute.

Carruthers, J.H. & Karenga, M. (1986). Kemet and the African Worldview: Research, rescue, and restoration. Los Angeles: University of Sankofa Press.

Carruthers, J.H. (1977). Writing for eternity, Black Books Bulletin, 5 (2), 32-35.

Carruthers, J.H. (2002). Diop's instruction. Unpublished manuscript, Kemetic Institute, Chicago, Illinois.

Diop, C.A. (1974). The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. Westport: Lawrence Hill and Company.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1899/1956). The philosophy of history. Mineola: Dover Philosophical Classics.

Johnson, A.G. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Medley, K.W. (2003). We as freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.

Ravitch, D. (1992). E pluribus plures, Debating P.C. New York: Dell.

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