"Man, God, and Civilization: An Interview With Historian John G. Jackson" By Runoko Rashidi and James E. Brunson
By James E. Brunson
We concentrated on “Man, God, and Civilization,” his epic history of the planet. He began with the scientific evidence of the planet’s formation, traced the beginnings of the Ice Age which yielded to the Ages of Stone, Bronze and Iron. He followed with the peopling of the planet, identifying eastward and westward African migrations spanning tens of thousands of years, finding them in Europe and as far away as Australia. Modern scientific evidence merely confirmed what Jackson already knew. It is, in my opinion, his best work.
- James E. Brunson
While attending college in 1976, I was introduced to the work of historian John G. Jackson. History professor William “Bill” Pitts invited some students to his home. Here, we learned the archival importance of the library.
As I scanned the book’s pages it became clear that theauthor’s knowledge embraced a wide range of disciplines: geology, geography, archaeology, anthropology, economics, religion, politics, ethics, philosophy, history, architecture, and culture.
I begged Professor Pitts to borrow the book. He humbly agreed. No deadline on returning the volume was given. Guilt overtook me. Within three days, I ordered a copy of Jackson’s book and quickly returned Pitt’s prized possession.
I was lucky enough to find a hard-back still available. Jackson’s “Man, God, and Civilization” marked the beginning of my personal black history library.It is a stunner.
Fast forward: in 1986, my friend and colleague Runoko Rashidi and I scheduled an interview with John G. Jackson on Chicago’s Southside. Rashidi, a Los Angeles, California-native, relied on my Chicago connection to navigate the terrain. It was a beautiful summer day.
Rashidi called Jackson and asked if he wanted anything. The reply: “chocolate ice cream.”
We purchase a half-gallon. Jackson resided on Indiana Avenue at an old Y.M.C.A. building. After signing in, we took the elevator to his floor. The venerable historian answered the door and greeted us with a reserved expression.
Having never seen Jackson, his appearance surprised me: white-complexioned, gray eyes, and a shock of straight, white hair; Jackson’s pug nose and fleshy lips enhanced my confusion.
Unsurprisingly, he was an older man, worn by time, but seemingly at peace with the world. We shook hands. Rashidi asked Jackson what to do with the ice cream. Mincing no words, he responded: “get me a spoon and bowl from the cabinet, and fill it.” I was amused.
Jackson’s one-room apartment, which recalled the old kitchenettes of the 1950s, said much about him. His worldly possessions surrounded him. His few bookcases filled, and innumerable other books and old jazz albums (from the 1940s and 1950s) stacked high on the floor gave the impression of a bibliophile.
Here was the sanctuary of a recluse, a scholar, a solitary figure that, perhaps sadly, time had forgotten; that was, until we appeared. We interviewed “Professor Jackson” for nearly four hours. I took several photographs as well.
Our questions focused on many topics. As we posed them, Jackson quietly enjoyed spoonfuls of ice cream. We concentrated on “Man, God, and Civilization,” his epic history of the planet. He began with the scientific evidence of the planet’s formation, traced the beginnings of the Ice Age which yielded to the Ages of Stone, Bronze and Iron.
He followed with the peopling of the planet, identifying eastward and westward African migrations spanning tens of thousands of years, finding them in Europe and as far away as Australia. Modern scientific evidence merely confirmed what Jackson already knew.
It is, in my opinion, his best work. It is elegant, detailed, and well written. Its style recalls the best European historians of his period, among them, the British historian Arnold Toynbee (1899-1975)--Toynbee being one of his favorite authors. The other works are simply riffs on this magnum opus. As Jackson recounted his narrative, his mind remained laser sharp.
While Eurocentric historians had paid little attention to Africa’s contribution to world history, and still do, Jackson’s work followed a road that had been previously paved by black scholars and public intellectuals since the nineteenth century.
Its innovation: the work linked the most ancient civilizations of Africa (modern Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Khartoum) and Western Asia (modern Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Russia), and Europe (Greece, Italy, and Crete) to a nation of people known throughout history as “Ethiopians” or “Kushites.”
According to Jackson, the connecting link between the long-forgotten hoary past of humanity (discussed by ancient Roman writer, Diodorus Siculus) and ancient historical records was the Ethiopians. The fabled continent of Atlantis, argued Jackson, was peopled by the Ethiopians.
The Ethiopians, in turn, were Atlanteans. Note: The ancient Greek and Roman writers referred to the northernmost geographic region of Africa, that region facing Spain, as the “Pillars of Hercules.” Here, on the continent, were to be found the “Atlantic Ethiopians.” Jackson was the first black scholar to drive this point home.
While he didn’t definitively state the historical existence of Atlantis, Jackson emphasized that the remnants of this lost civilization—if it existed—were to be found in the histories of the Ethiopians or Kushites.
He argued that the cyclopean or megalithic (large stone) architectural structures found throughout the world should be credited to them.
At the dawn of history, that recognized by traditional accounts, Ethiopian socio-political structures appeared fundamental to the myths and histories of the most ancient world civilizations: from ancient Kemet (Egypt) to Sumer to Colchis (southern Russia) to Crete to India and beyond.
Wherever one finds megalithic architecture and the cyclopean ruins of ancient cities, one invariably finds large statues and other artifacts of Negroid-looking people.
“Man, God, and Civilization” if read carefully and put within the historical context of its time, is a tour de force. I was amused to discover that Jackson had been an atheist since the 1940s, which made the title of this volume all the more provocative. Towards the end of the
interview, Jackson smiled a few times. And once, I laughed at a remark made, he chuckled.
Perhaps the "God" we imagine is Us.
James E. Brunson