J.A. Rogers and Queen Charlotte Sophia: Let Us Not Forget History
"…no man living has revealed as many important facts about the Negro race as has Rogers." - W.E.B. DuBois
I was moved to write this blog post after watching the news and reading some excellent articles online about the recent engagement of Prince Harry of the British Royal Family to the Black American actress Meghan Markel. Internet chat rooms were abuzz with joy, indifference, as well as hate speech. Any notion that after the election of America's first Black President would some how bring about a racial utopia was sadly given a reality check. What soon would follow was the strategic racism of mastermind Steve Bannon which brought about the election of Donald Trump, which in turn led to the rise of the Alt-Right, Muslim bans, dismantling of DACA, and attacks on African-American NFL players for expressing their First Amendment rights. The post-racial Obama era was never to be, in fact it has only shined a spotlight on the fact that we still live in a very racist society; therefore, the news of a Black American marrying into the powerful "apparently" very white "blue blood" nobility of the British Royal Family would not surprisingly garnish much attention.
The Washington Post recently printed an article highlighting the fact that this would not be the first time a Black woman married into the British Royal Family. Queen Charlotte Sophia wife to King George III was also said to be part black. Yes this is the same Charlotte that Charlotte North Carolina is named after. Yes the same Queen Charlotte who ironically Charlottesville Virginia is named after. Yes that's the Charlottesville that witnessed the ugly display of hate as the Neo-Nazi Fascist of the Alt-Right marched through in order to protest the bringing down of Confederate Statues in public spaces. I wonder if they knew they marched for white nationalism in a town named after a Black queen? Indeed Queen Charlotte's contemporaries referred to her as a "mulatto." Clearly from the portraits painted of her from that time especially those by Sir Allan Ramsay she does look like a mixed woman, clearly a person of African descent, or a woman of color. By American standards and customs that are outdated but still seem to hold true, a person of mixed background is considered black under the one-drop rule, an example would be President Barack Obama who is the product of an interracial marriage, yet in still he is referred to and written of as the first Black President, as are celebrities like Alicia Keys and Halle Berry. Under that definition both Queen Charlotte Sophia as well as Meghan Markel would both be considered Black women.
A Washington Post article written by DeNeen Brown, as well as an excellent article written in The Guardian by Stuart Jefferies in 2009 both highlight the lesser known African ancestry of the British Royal Family, but for the most part all of the credit for unearthing this obscured black history is solely laid at the foot of one historian Mario De Valdes y Cocom who did a fantastic job tracing Charlotte's African roots to a Moorish noble family who once ruled over the Portuguese town of Faro, but the town was conquered by Alfonso III of Portugal. Alfonso would later have children with the daughter of the conquered Moorish governor. Their child Martin Alfonso would marry into the noble de Sousa family. The implications of a Black Queen Charlotte is astounding because this would mean that African blood flows through Queen Victoria as well as Queen Elizabeth II and even Prince Harry. The idea of white nobility with African ancestry turns the concept of black inferiority on its head.
All of these articles and documentaries are incredibly interesting but I was astonished that no one mentioned Harlem Renaissance writer Joel Augustus Rogers affectionately known as J.A. Rogers. It was Rogers who even before Mario De Valdes y Cocom who first mentioned that Queen Charlotte Sophia was black. Rogers was making these claims as early as the 1940s in his three volume book series Sex and Race. He would also mention Charlotte's Black ancestry again in his book Nature Knows No Color Line.
He even placed a picture of Queen Charlotte on the front cover of that book. Rogers was sort of dumbfounded by the concept of racism because he believed there was no such thing as a pure race. The point of many of his books as well as the provocative titles like "Sex and Race" was to show that different groups of people have been mixing for so long the idea of anything pure is ridiculous.
Little did Rogers know at the time that he was writing how right he was, both modern day anthropologist and geneticist working with DNA would prove Rogers correct by stating that the concept of race is completely unscientific. Rogers fascination with race probably had to do with the fact that he was a product of mixed race Jamaican parents. When Rogers immigrated to America he witnessed first hand how racism was used as a political tool to keep black people out of well paying jobs and prevent them from achieving upward mobility. When Rogers applied to the University of Chicago he was denied admission. Kept out of meaningful work he was forced to get a job on the trains serving whites as a Pullman Porter. The Pullman Porter job did afford him one opportunity that Rogers would take advantage of, and that was the ability to travel all over the country by rail. This opportunity would allow Rogers to do research in libraries, but the only caveat was racism would not allow Blacks to enter the front door of a library. Rogers would solve that problem by paying a white co-worker to go into the library and check out books for him. The white co-worker thought Rogers was a fool, but Rogers knew better.
With the knowledge that Rogers amassed he would become sort of a black Robert Ripley with his many black history facts he would soon discover. Rogers would soon write many books and pick up jobs working for many of the black newspapers of the time such as the Pittsburgh Courier, New York's Amsterdam News, and Marcus Garvey Negro World. Rogers wrote his own column in the Pittsburgh Courier called "Your History." One of his famous little books was called 100 Amazing Facts About The Negro.
Rogers would wonder his audiences with the history related in his books about unknown Black Pharaohs, Black Jews of Ethiopia, and the African ancestry of persons like Beethoven, Queen Charlotte Sophia, and even some of America's Presidents. Rogers actually wrote a book called The Five Negro Presidents, and here we thought Obama was the first. Rogers cleverly turned racism on its head, if the one drop rule would be used to keep blacks out of power for supposedly having inferior blood, then Rogers would use that very same argument to claim those very people as Black. By using the one-drop rule, America's very own criteria for blackness, Rogers could skillfully make a strong case for many of his claims. Rogers using their own arguments essentially turned the intellectual gun back on his oppressors.
Rogers and his many books became a fixture in many black barbershops and on the coffee tables in many black homes right along side Ebony and Jet magazines. He is also one of the very few figures in Black American History who unites many different personalities with opposing viewpoints and philosophies. Black nationalist like Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and John Henrik Clarke all read and respected Rogers, as well as more moderate and conservative voices like W.E.B. Dubois and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. We would be remiss not to acknowledge Rogers when discussing Queen Charlotte's African ancestry because it is most likely that Rogers was one of the first ones to mention this fact. I believe it is more than a coincidence that the historian Mario De Valdes y Cocom said that he first heard about the rumors of Black Queen Charlotte from his Jamaican nanny Etheralda "TeeTee" Cole. It just so happens that Rogers is Jamaican as well, just maybe she was reading a copy of Sex and Race, or Nature Knows No Color Line.
As a side note it is important to mention that the British Royal Familiy was not the only "Royals" J.A. Rogers was interested in. Rogers was quite aware of the many African Kings and Queens on the continent of Africa. While working for the Pittsburgh Courier Rogers covered the coronation of Ethiopian Royal Emperor Haile Selassie. Haile Selassie claimed to be even more Royal than the British Royal Family. Selassie claimed to be the 225th direct descendant of the Ethiopian Queen Sheba and the Jewish King Solomon. Ethiopia is often called Africa's Holy Land as it embraced Christianity, Judaism, and Islam at a very early date. Ethiopia was home to the three monotheistic faiths even before many Northern European countries who at that time were either still worshipping sacred groves like the Druids did in the British Isles, or worshipping the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Loki as was the case in Germany and Scandinavia.
Today we can almost become obsessed with the attention the Western media gives to the British Royal Family, and we can often forget that at a time before European colonialism kingship and queenship was just as prominent on the African continent as it was on the European continent, and it is most likely that monarchy and divine kingship have their origin in Africa long before Europe had its first kings and queens. J.A. Rogers highlighted this often forgotten African royalty from the Pharoahs of Egypt to the Queen Candances of Nubia, as well as the Ras of Ethiopia and the Mansas of Mali.
Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye
Mansa Musa King of Mali
Queen Nzinga of Angola
Nubian Pharoahs of the 25th Dynasty
J. A. Rogers. Nature Knows No Color-Line: Research into the Negro Ancestry in the White Race. New York. 1952.
J.A. Rogers. Sex and Race: Negro-Caucasian Mixing in All Ages and All Lands, Volume I: The Old World. New York. 1940.