The H3O/Art of Life Blog

Search
  • The H3O/Art of Life Blog

From the Trinity River to the Nile: Journeying with Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, Jr.

An Historical, Intellectual, and Spiritual Journey

by Ifé Carruthers

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University


“...the liberation of the deep thought of Africa…has been the often implicit purpose of the tradition of the champions of African thought. In this light, the present effort is merely an extension of the tradition that extends from David Walker through Cheikh Anta Diop.”[1]


My late husband, Jacob Hudson Carruthers, Jr., maa kherew,[2] made extending the path that our ancestors laid his life's work.In the months leading up to ASCAC’s 24th annual Ancient Kemetic Studies “Return to the Black Land” Conference, I spoke to the then president of the organization, Queen Nzinga, maa kherew, about doing a paper. Her response was “Excellent! I would like for you to do something on Jake’s journey.” I came up with the title: “The Historical, Intellectual and Spiritual Journey of Jacob H. Carruthers, Jedi Shemsu Jehewty” and shared it with Yvonne Jones, Director of the Kemetic Institute. She said “That’s a good title but, you should tie it to the Nile River.” While doing research, I found that the Trinity River runs along the western edge of Dallas,Texas, the birthplace of Jacob H. Carruthers. Both the Trinity and the Nile rivers became the source of his historical, intellectual and spiritual journey. Thus, the full title of my paper was born.


In this essay, I share some little-known information about his life and examine the route he took that led him to Kemet, the Black Land, and in so doing, helped to shape the foundations for his African worldview.


Despite its name, The Trinity River is a four-forked river, 550 miles long, that runs along the western edge of Dallas, Texas,[3] the birthplace of Jacob Hudson Carruthers, Jr. who was born February 15, 1930 to Marguerite and Jacob H. Carruthers, Sr. He was affectionately called "Jake' or "Jakie" by family and friends. Jacob Carruthers spent the entire first half of his life in the state of Texas. The son of a United Methodist minister, he moved often and lived throughout the state in cities from north to south and east to west. His first voyage out of Texas was not until the age of thirty-four. Thus, his values and belief system were shaped by his environment—the biological, historical, political, economic, social and geographical setting in which he was raised.


Born into an unjust, unequal, white supremacist society that devalued the humanity of African people and promoted the myth of Black inferiority and white superiority, Jacob Carruthers -as did countless others-defied the myth and lies and the place that had been assigned to him in segregated America. Instead, he chose to join the intergenerational ranks of those African warriors who dedicated their lives to the uplifting of the Black race.


Jake’s core values were shaped by the strong Black family into which he was born. His father, grandfather, Great- grandfather, and Great- Great- grandfather were all institution-builders. Henry Carruthers, his Great-great grandfather, founded an all-Black community in Pelham, Texas, after the Civil War.[4] This farming community was self-sustaining. They raised their own food as well as cash crops to sell on the open market to sustain themselves economically. In 1866, they established a church and a school ,institutions which were necessary for the educational and spiritual growth of their community.[5] Jake spent summers with his grandparents in this small rural community throughout his childhood. It was here, while playing and working in the fields among the plants and animals, that he came to love and appreciate nature. Whether on the farm or in the small towns and large cities where he lived, he was nurtured by a strong Black community. He witnessed many positive examples of Black people doing all of the things necessary to run a nation. He grew up believing that Black people could provide for themselves.


Jake was educated in the Texas public schools and was instructed by Black teachers throughout elementary school, high school, undergraduate and graduate school at the Master’s level. His first encounter with a white teacher was at the University of Texas Law School, followed by white professors at the University of Colorado where he entered the Ph.D. program in Political Science. During his formative years, he had Black teachers who were not only excellent instructors but, who also instilled a strong sense of self-confidence in him. When talking about his educational development, he never failed to mention the names of three teachers who had a great impact on his life. One was Ms. Bailey, a music teacher at B.F. Darrell Junior High School, who told him the story of the Haitian Revolution. This important historical moment in African history was etched in his heart and mind forever. Many years later, it would lead him to write his profound “Essays on the Haitian Revolution.” For Jacob Carruthers, the Haitian Revolution was one of the pillars of the African worldview, just as it was for our historical ancestors who were champions of the African worldview over the past two-and-a half centuries.


The second influential teacher was Ms. Brooks, his high school biology teacher, who reinforced his love of nature. In 1991, after some forty years, he was reunited with Ms. Brooks In upstate New York. She had seen a flyer advertising a conference on Black manhood in which he was being honored. She traveled from New York City to greet her student. She acknowledged that just as she had been his favorite teacher, he was her favorite student. Mrs. Rachel Pendleton, who taught American Literature, was the third teacher whom he highly praised. He said, “She taught me more than any other teacher that I encountered until I reached the PhD level.”[6]


Jake's love for books and learning was firmly planted in him by his parents and was reinforced by loving, caring and competent teachers. As a child, he tended to be sickly and could do little else except read. His father was also an avid reader and encouraged the practice in his son. His mother took great pleasure in purchasing books for him. He fondly remembered his first Black book, Dusk of Dawn by W. E. B. Du Bois.[7] He excelled as a student and graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School at the age of sixteen.


Although he had been sheltered by a loving Black family and community, no amount of love and support could protect a Black child ,growing up in the 1930s and 40s in the segregated South, from the negative impact of this oppressive system. Segregation was the order of the day: Housing was segregated; schools were segregated; all public facilities were segregated. It was a time when the civil and human rights of [American born] Africans were severely violated. Jake not only witnessed the mistreatment and exploitation of his people by white supremacists, he personally experienced their brutality. He often spoke of three personal experiences he had -as a young child and teenager- that left lasting impressions on him and, undoubtedly, helped to shape his African-centered consciousness .


When he was about twelve years old, he was picked up and thrown off a bus by a white bus driver because he refused to move to the rear of the bus when a white woman sat down beside him. He suffered this abuse despite the fact that he was on the bus first and sitting in the section reserved for “colored.” At around the age of thirteen, another experience involved being humiliated at the hands of a white policeman. His father had given him a beautiful miniature pocket- knife with a blade less than two inches long- the type of knife that might be carried by a Boy Scout. The policeman walked up to him and demanded, “Boy, give me that knife out of your pocket.” Jake pulled the knife from his pocket and gave it to the policeman. The policeman said, “Boy, let me show you the only kind of knife we allow niggers to carry.” He stuck it into a utility pole, broke the blade off, and gave the knife back to Jake.[8] This wounded Jake deeply because he loved his father dearly and he loved the knife his father had given him. The third incident occurred, during his high school years, when he was almost suspended from school for challenging a white substitute teacher. He had written an essay in his Civics class denouncing absentee landlords for the condition of the dilapidated housing in which Black people were forced to live. After having him read the essay aloud, the substitute teacher told him that Blacks should be grateful to the Jews for building those houses because, otherwise, Blacks would freeze to death. Jake disagreed with him and ,because of the insults being heaped on him,became so angry that he used a curse word. He was sent to the disciplinarian and, had it not been for his stellar school record,he would have been suspended.


In the fall of 1946, Jacob Carruthers entered Sam Huston College, a small historically Black liberal arts college in Austin, Texas. His heart had been set on attending Howard University where he had been awarded a full scholarship. But, his father, a Methodist minister, preferred that he attend Sam Huston, a Methodist school established and operated by the West Texas Methodist Conference. Jake received a high quality of instruction during his tenure at Sam Huston. Two Black men left a lasting impression on him: Karl E. Downs, the President of the College and the J. Leonard Farmer, his philosophy professor.[9] Dr. Farmer was the father of civil rights activist, James Farmer, the first national chairman and one of the organizers of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He also established lasting bonds of friendship with a group of six young men.Together, the seven became known as the "Gas House Gang". The other members were George Washington, William Moore, Robert Gray, J. Leonard Smith, Joe Howard, and Ira Wimberly. Their friendship endured throughout their lifetimes. As of this writing, Ira Wimberly is the only surviving member. Jacob Carruthers had an outstanding academic career at Sam Huston, graduating Cum Laude on May 28, 1950, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.


Since eighth grade, he had wanted to become a lawyer. But, by his junior year in college, he had abandoned law as a career and had decided that he wanted to pursue a Doctorate in political science. He applied to the University of Texas graduate school and was accepted under the condition that he would attend and receive instruction in a segregated off-campus facility. However, within seven days of receiving his BA degree, the United States Supreme Court handed down the Sweatt V. Painter decision, ending segregation at the University of Texas Law School. Because he had previously applied and been accepted to the University of Texas graduate school, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked him to be among those to join Heman Marion Sweatt at the Law School.


On September 5, 1950, Jacob Carruthers, along with Herman Marion Sweatt and four others: Virgil C. Lott, Dudley D. Redd, George Washington, Jr., his fellow “Gas House Gang" member, and Elwin Franklin Jarmon entered the University of Texas Law School surrounded by a hostile Ku Klux Klan and a heckling, name-calling mob of hate mongers. The group experienced daily indignities from their fellow students, professors, and the outside community. Unwilling to submit to the humiliating, dehumanizing, daily torture -as well as firmly convinced that law was not for him- he left the UT Law School in the middle of his second semester. It is ironic that upon his death, Jacob Carruthers would be praised and called a patriot by the University of Texas public relations arm. Dean Bill Powers of the UT Law School said:


“We have worked for decades to create a diverse student body and alumni, and this work started with Jacob Carruthers, Jr., Heman Marion Sweatt, and the other men…who integrated our law school. Jacob challenged the status quo and made our world a better place. We thank him for his courage…”[10] Keith Smith; the president of the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society at UT called him “a scholar, patriot and pioneer.” Smith further stated, “His bravery in 1950 would mean that future generations of African Americans could enjoy the benefits of attending one of the country’s top law schools. We are forever indebted to him for his dedication to the cause of advancing civil rights.”[11] The Austin American-Statesman called his time at UT a “landmark year.”[12]


The Korean War, said by historians to be one of the “bloodiest in history” had been raging for almost a year when Jake left the University of Texas Law School. African Americans, who had been forced to fight in a segregated World War II military, were now being given “freedom to serve”[13] and freedom to die in the Korean War. Within a three-month period in 1951, “the extent of integration in Korea jumped from 9 percent to 30 percent of troops in the field.”[14] In 1951, Jake volunteered for a four-year tour of duty in the United States Air Force. He served as a code- breaker and was so good at his job that he was offered a job by the Federal Bureau of Investigations- which he promptly rejected. However, because of a serious illness, he was given a medical discharge from the Air Force after one year.


When he was well enough to return to work, Jake took a job working as a general reporter for the Houston Informer. He worked the police blotter and became a specialist in writing stories on police brutality. He was simultaneously hired by the NAACP as a police brutality investigator. His most famous headline story was “Who’s Going to Protect Us from the Protectors?” The two years spent at the Houston Informer, from 1951-1953, were years well spent. The job gave him another up-close and personal look at the racial injustice and daily brutality Blacks endured at the hands of racist policemen. These experiences added another layer to his growing African consciousness.


In 1956, Jake was employed by the United States Postal Service as a distribution clerk, a job he would keep for the next five years. He joined the ranks of thousands of African American men and women, many with college credentials, who could pass the civil service examination and qualify for government employment but, who could not get professional jobs in other areas. During the 1940s and 50s, an entire class of college-educated Black men and women worked in the U S Post Office. Conversations and discussions on “Black Talk”[15] and other issues confronting the race, we're carried on while "throwing mail" and doing other assignments. In 1958, while working nights at the Post Office, Jake earned his Master of Arts degree from Texas Southern University. He stayed at the Post Office for two years afterwards and would have been content to remain there had he not been recruited for a teaching position at an historically Black college, Prairie View University, in Prairie View, Texas.


A vacancy in the Political Science Department had been created when a professor at the College, who was an Army reservist, was sent to Europe during the 1961 Berlin Crisis. After much negotiation, Jake took the position. This would become a life-changing decision for him. It was there that he fell in love with teaching and decided that he wanted to dedicate the rest of his life to educating African people.


Another milestone in Jake's life was reached as he honed his skills as a major organizer while working at Prairie View College. Prior to this time, he had only organized bid-whist and bridge games, the Great Books club, and brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha—but nothing on the level of the boycott of the town of Hempstead, Texas. Tired of the segregated facilities, unequal and unjust laws, and general disrespect of Black people, Jake and eight other core faculty members led a one-year boycott of the town. Several businesses were forced to close, and the boycott resulted in the desegregation of the city. During one point in the negotiations, a white businessman asked Jake where he had gone to high school and college. Upon learning that Jake had gone to school in Texas and had never traveled outside the state, he said, “What makes me so angry is that men like your college president promised me that negras like you would never come into existence.”[16] In other words, Jake did not fit the model of the Black man trained in a segregated college by Black teachers under the Negro education system laid out at the Lake Mohonk Conferences in 1890 and 1891.[17]


In 1964, Jake began a PhD program at the University of Colorado that he completed in two years, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate in political science at that University. During his tenure there, he continued his activism and, for a short time, was a member of Friends of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). However, shortly after joining, he disagreed with their tactics and methodology and withdrew from the organization. He never fully embraced nonviolence as a viable methodology for African people in this country. He stated that “he believed in the objective of civil rights but not the method.”[18] His search for viable methods to bring about change for oppressed people led him to write his dissertation on the “Theory of Nonviolent Disobedience.”


Having been “white-listed” at all the Black colleges -or what Jake referred to as the “Booker T. Network” -because of his role in the boycott of Hempstead, Texas, he knew that it would be virtually impossible to get a job at a Black college. He took a job at Kansas State College- a small, practically all white school- located in Pittsburg, Kansas, a small Midwestern town with very few Blacks. There, he was literally, the “spook who sat by the door.” He was the only Black professor in the school and the only Black professional in the town. The town’s only other Black professional had been murdered before he arrived..


His two years at Kansas State College - from his first day to his last - were marked by constant struggles with the administration. His very first battle was over the positioning of his desk in the front of the office by the door, so that everyone could pass by and see that Kansas State College had a “Negro.” He was admired as a professor by both Black and white students and served as an advisor to both the Black Student Organization and the White Student Organization, i.e., Students for a Democratic Society. [19] However, his support of these groups got him into further trouble with the administration who denied him tenure. This caused him to resign from Kansas State and seek employment elsewhere. This is the path that would would lead him to Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies (CICS), now known as the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS).


While attending a conference in Chicago, Jake was told by his life-long friend, William Moore, that the Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University was looking for new teachers. He applied, interviewed, and got the job. Employment at CICS and immersion into the African community of Chicago would become a life- changing experience for this “country boy” from Texas. All of his experiences- from childhood to this point in his life- had helped to shape his racial identity and consciousness and put him in a state of readiness for the education he was about to receive.


At CICS in 1968, he began working with a faculty that initially included: Dr. Donald Smith, Dr. Nancy Arnez, Dr. Sonja Stone and Dr. Anderson Thompson. He subsequently worked with Dr. Donn Bailey, Dr. Carol Adams, Dr. Elkin Sithole, Dr. Gloria Latimore-Peace, Dr. William Smith, Dr. Conrad Worrill, Dr. Ann Whitaker and Prof. Robert Starks, among others. But, it was Dr. Anderson Thompson who would have the most profound influence on him. Jake credits Dr. Thompson with taking him under his wing and teaching him “the way things were in the north.”[20] Further, it was Dr. Thompson’s influence that put him on the road to Pan-African nationalism. Jake said that Anderson Thompson had one of the “most creative minds” of anyone involved in the African Centered Movement.


The Center for Inner City Studies had been founded in 1966 and was initially funded by the US Office of Education for the purpose of training [non-inner city] teachers to effectively respond to the needs of students in the inner city. The initial curriculum assumed the pathology of the students and the deprivations of their families, community, and culture. Typical courses included courses such as: "Idiom of the Negro Ghetto"; “Methods of Teaching in the Inner City"; "Graduate Study in Disadvantagement” and “ The Culture of Poverty.”, etc.


Shortly after joining the faculty, Jake was appointed the Department Chair of, Inner City Studies Education ( ICSE), charged with the responsibility for developing a new curriculum. Working with Dr. Anderson Thompson and other colleagues, they began to develop a more suitable, African-centered curriculum. In 1972,as an outgrowth of this collective project, he published a pamphlet entitled "Science and Oppression", which was a critique on the European scientific method.[21] A few years later, in 1978, Jake wrote a definitive paper, “Reflecting on the Discipline of Inner City Studiesthat laid out the need for the new discipline and defined the methodology of the curriculum. He identified the problems of the traditional study of the inner city as being based on the Western worldview, “its relationship to the process of world domination…and the impact of this syndrome on present day inner city populations, and the scholarship/research enterprise” related to the study of the Inner city. [22] The Inner City curriculum that he and his colleagues developed is a unique program, the only one of its kind in the United States or the world. While its foci are African history and culture, it is designed, from an African centered perspective, to study the European founders of the academic disciplines which justify the European project of world hegemony and exploitation.


The search for “an appropriate curriculum philosophy and relevant content for [the] academic program” [23] at CICS set the stage for Jake’s historical, intellectual and spiritual journey to the Nile River and the founding of the institutions to which he dedicated his life: The Kemetic Institute (KI), Temple of the African Community of Chicago (TACC), and the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC).


BlogNotes


[1] Jacob H. Carruthers, Mdw Ntr Divine Speech, A Historiographical Reflection on the African Deep Thought from the Time of Pharaohs to the Present (London: Karnak House, 1995), xvii.


[2] maa kherew (true of voice) a Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) epithet for our ancestors


[3] Handbook of Texas Online, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/trinity-river.


[4] Bertha Fuller, “Henry Carruthers, Sr.,” in Navarro County History, Volume 2, Corsicana: the Navarro County Historical Society, 1978, 352.


[5] Ibid, 352.


[6] Historymakers Interview, 2000.


[7] Ibid.


[8] Ibid.


[9] Ibid.


[10] The University of Texas at Austin, http://.utexas.edu/law/news/2004/010904_carruthers,html.


[11] Ibid.


[12] Austin American-Statesman, Saturday, January 10, 2004.


[13] Franklin, John Hope, From Slavery to Freedom (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967), p.609.


[14] Ibid. p.609


[15] For more on “Black Talk,” see Jacob Carruthers, “Black Talk and the White Question,” in African or American: A Question of Intellectual Allegiance, (Chicago, IL: Kemetic Institute, 1995).


[16] The History Makers Interview


[17] I. G. Barrows, ed., Mohonk Conference on the Negro Question (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969).


[18] History Makers Interview


[19] History Makers Interview


[20] Ibid.


[21] Jacob H. Carruthers, Science and Oppression, (Chicago, IL: Kemetic Institute, 2013).


[22] Jacob H. Carruthers, Reflecting on the Discipline of Inner city Studies, 1978. Unpublished paper.


[23] Kemetic Voice, Vol. 2, Number. 4 March 1994


Author’s Note


The first version of this essay was presented by the author, Ife Carruthers, in 2007 at the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations’ (ASCAC) International Conference in Aswan, Egypt. A later version was published in the Kemetic Voice, the Journal of the Kemetic Institute of Chicago in 2014. This is an edited version of the essay.


Recommended Readings


David Walker. David Walker's Appeal To the Coloured Citizens of the World but in particular and very expressly to those of the United States or America. Black Classic Press.


Cheikh Anta Diop. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality?. Lawrence Hill Books


Recommended Viewing


"Teach Me About Africa", an H3O Art of Life Show, Featuring: Ife Carruthers and Prof. Yvonne Jones


About the Author


Ifé Carruthers has been a member of the Kemetic Institute (KI) since 1984. She is coordinator of the "Issues in Contemporary Africa Film and Forum" series, member of the Editorial and Publishing Committee, the Council of Historians, and the Education Committee, which she chaired for more than twenty years. A frequent contributor to the "Kemetic Voice", she was also published in "Kemet and the African Worldview" and is one of the authors of the KI’s Language Arts Curriculum. Her BA is from Tennessee State University, and her MA from Northeastern Illinois University’s (now) Carruthers Center for Inner Studies. She is a retired Chicago Public Schools history teacher. A member of the Temple of the African Community of Chicago, she is also a charter member of ASCAC, where she serves as a member of the Executive Committee. Ifé Carruthers has lectured at Temple meetings, at ASCAC International and Midwest conferences, including in 2007 in Egypt, and at various community venues in Chicago, Seattle, and Kenya. As the widow of Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, she regularly speaks and accepts awards in his honor. She has begun the project of cataloging Dr. Carruthers’ manuscripts and unpublished papers.

526 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Please Log in / Sign up to comment.