For Anderson Thompson [Weheme Peri Kush], Maa Kheru

[Prepared for Memorial Tribute to Dr. Anderson Thompson, August 17, 2019, DuSable Museum, Chicago, IL]

Anderson Thompson (Weheme Peri Kush) is a metronome by which we measure African rhythms in time and space.  His work on historical memory influences everyone he knew, taught and/or organized with. His reading, teaching and writing practices, delinked from vulgar careerism and shaped by often thankless work of connecting people and ideas, mapped pathways for so many of us.  From when we met until his transition, I imitated his practice more closely than anyone’s: Search. Collect. Read. See human experiences as connected, not fragmented. Curate. Teach. Connect others.  Move simply. Inject circumspectly. Learn. Defend the African way.

In the pre-digital era, securing a copy of Baba Andy’s 1975 article, Developing an African Historiographyfrom Black Books BulletinVolume 3 was a physical rite of passage.  He and the Kemetic Institute travelled to Columbus, Ohio for ASCAC’s Fall 1991 Midwest Regional, my first chance to meet the legendary collective that had so shaped our movement’s trajectory. His ubiquitous baseball cap pulled low on his head, Baba Andy had slipped into the room at Columbus Alternative High School as Valethia Watkins, Troy Allen (Maa Kheru) and I discussed African-Centered education. Afterward, I excitedly introduced myself and commented on the book he had under his arm, an original hardback copy of The Rebirth of African Civilizations. We fell into the rite-of-passage talk of dedicated men of print. That night, I got my first of a quarter century of intergenerational mouth-to-ear transmissions from his encyclopedic mind and, as I would learn later, my first cold blooded vetting to join his apogee circle of nationalist bibliomaniacs that included John Henrik Clarke, Yosef ben Jochannan, Larry Obadele Williams (Maa Kheru), Kweku Larry Crowe, Adisa Makilani, Conrad Worrill, Asa G. Hilliard III (Maa Kheru) and a few rabid others.

Baba Andy paused that Friday night to say “come with me: There’s someone I want you to meet,” introducing me to Nzinga Ratibisha Heru (Maa Kheru), then newly-elected second President of ASCAC. In fact, it was Anderson Thompson who literally led me by the hand to members of the Kemetic Institute, beginning with the towering Jacob Carruthers (Maa Kheru). We had joined the Association through Baba Moriba Kelsey and Columbus’ Afrikan Center for Study and Worship. Baba Andy had done what he always did: Expanded the network of Pan Africanists, Black Nationalists and African people, connecting us to common, collective liberation work. His name remains a shibboleth, a password: If you knew him, doors could open from Kemet to Sudan to Brazil, from the hardest core street level organizers and scholars to the doors of gymnasiums and gates of ball fields to the highest levels of the Library of Congress. Anderson Thompson, scribbled notes in hand, peripatetic purveyor of place, was highly respected among those who know.

 From that moment on, I tried my best to observe and model Baba Andy as much or more as anyone. To hear and learn the sources of his thinking and teaching practice, from his connection with educators such as Margaret Burroughs, Barbara Sizemore and so many others. To be tutored in watershed moments in what he, his lifelong Brother Harold Pates, his co-occurring comrade Jake Carruthers and their companions called “The Intellectual Warfare,” from establishing the Association of African Historians, the Afrocentric World Review and the Association of African Educators to feeding N’COBRA, the UNIA-ACL, the Nation of Islam, NPEPAA and so many other formations. You knew he was decamping a enervating libation from his living archive when, glint in eye, he shook his head, said “Brother” with a chuckle, and showed you the lesson. 

 Whenever we had gathered young people and he was around, I would ask him to join the intergenerational Mbongi, even if he didn’t speak much. As a result, more young people can now speak of hearing him outline and discuss, impromptu and without notes, long comparative intellectual genealogies, annotating as he went.  His model remains my model:  Never without  writing tools, a cache of books and ephemera, and the little slips of paper upon which, his close comrades would often tease, he had written down the history of the entire world. What he worked on worked on him. Steel sharpens steel. The affable and at once piercing command with which John Henrik Clarke discusses his life and work in Wesley Snipes’s A Great and Mighty Walkis made more understandable when we reflect that his intellectual kinsman Andy Thompson had shaped the questions he was being asked and was in the room as he answered.

 Like any Jegna, Baba Andy revealed his depth as his students acquired theirs. This had the effect of creating a sense of familiarity that resonated with all of us and likely had the unintended consequence of undervaluing his status as one of the finest thinkers produced during our long sojourn in what he and his comrades call “This Mess.” It is the central reason why I wanted to make sure that we with The Compass published his valedictory commentary on historiography. By then, he’d emptied the equivalent of a library of publications into communities he built with, colleagues he shared with, and the future in the form of his apprentices. We now breathe life into each other and into eternity, attentive and creative toolmakers from the sebayt he left us. 

 As he said during ASCAC’s historic 1987 Aswan conference and beyond, “all history is about the future.” His spoken and written words, like Monk solos, are masterful narrations of relationships of time and space. His phrases echo in our heads: “The Old Scrappers,” “Nomadic Historiography,” “The Decade of Truth,” and so many more. As non-combatants emerge from hiding places in the academy to pick though random archives to cobble sterile echoes of Black movements, they will eventually stumble upon Anderson Thompson and realize that everything they have written or will ever write is virtually useless. They are never able to capture the essence and purpose of a living tradition. They mistake the little slips of paper for the thing itself.  

 One of the great honors in my life was to present Baba Andy, the Champion of Kush, with the copy of The Compassthat features his article, lovingly and brilliantly edited by his Kemetic Institute comrades. He smiled as he thumbed the pages. Then for one more Saturday afternoon, he held forth at Communiversity. “We have to be serious now,” he said, “its time for you all to take the next leg.”  His room and his words were spare. His mind and spirit were not. I will repeat that glossed repetition of the timeless Sebayt of Ptah Hotep to everyone, as long as I live.

 Anderson Thompson will forever be our model for intellectual work. Those few of his annotated books with which I have been entrusted sit here on my desk, fertile and furious physical placeholders signaling his perpetual charge to read, think, teach and connect our people.  We have obeyed divine instruction that he physically reside forever in our beloved Nile Valley. His soul, his lifework being found Maa Kheru, rises, eternally, like Ra. Amun is satisfied. Hotep.

Summer Study Abroad Kemet, Day Fourteen

  • If I ruled the world
  • I’d free all my sons
  • Black diamonds and pearls
  • If I ruled the world
  • And then we’ll walk right up to the sun
  • Hand in hand
  • We’ll walk right up to the sun
  • We won’t land
  • We’ll walk right
  • up to the sun
  • Hand in hand
  • We’ll walk right up to the sun
  • We Won't land...
  •        Nas (Featuring Lauryn Hill), If I Ruled the World

I'm never ready to return to the United States.

I never am after traveling to Africa, especially with students and what Baba Ayi Kwei Armah would call the "companions" of common purpose. 

I never am when reflecting on the fact that our best thinkers have increasingly been siphoned off to the intellectual and cultural cul-de-sac of explaining our African humanity to societies set up on the premise that we lacked humanity. That our best thinkers have increasingly been trained, especially after desegregation, to create brilliant analyses of "blackness" that empty into individual praise and advancement, leaving more and more of their kindred to suffer unchanging oppression.

We prepare to return to America tomorrow, to a country run by a White Supremacist cabal supported by millions of terrified, xenophobic enablers, resisted by millions more and still an ongoing hostage situation for still millions more Aboriginals (First Nations people which includes the Spanish-speaking original inhabitants of the settler state's southwest) and Africans.

There is nowhere in the world that is free of human problems. Here on Elephantine Island, home of the original center of Ancient Kemet's trade with inner Africa, we have talked at length with the modern Nubian descendant's of those who maintained and renewed the Kemetic state from what is now the Sudan and Ethiopia. They face racism here in ways both familiar and unfamiliar to their cousins in the United States. As Du Bois once wrote, "the color line belts the world."

With a moleskine full of jotted notes, I'll be posting more thoughts on the days we have been here in the days ahead. In the interim, I've been reading through some of my blog posts from previous journeys. We initiated Howard's Summer Study Abroad in Kemet in 2008, the year after Asa G. Hillard III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia II) made transition here in the Nile Valley during our Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations conference. We have returned many times since, and will continue this journey annually.  We are part of a genealogy and a practice that demands it. One that Asa, Yosef ben Jochannan, Jacob Carruthers, William Leo Hansberry, Alain Locke and so many others undertook, inherited and renewed. We will not be the weak link in the chain, one that extends backward to far antiquity and forward to our complete liberation.

Below is a post from 2009 and the second Study Abroad Kemet journey. The students who travelled that year are now professors, lawyers, farmers, community activists and many other things besides.  The fullness of our collective efforts has not been communicated. Coming back to the deteriorating racial politics of a re-forming settler state, we have a renewed purpose. Part of that purpose is to remind ourselves that we work to create the world we wish to live in. 


[Aswan, Upper Kemet, Sunday, August 9, 2009]: As our bus hurtled back toward Elephantine Island and the hotel Saturday afternoon, we still had miles (kilometers here) to go before we slept, though we had met a 2:30 a.m. wake up call and departed by ferry for the bus caravan to Abu Simbel at 3:30 a.m. Since the beginning of our journey, and without sacrificing punctuality, we have emancipated time from the tyranny of the clock, and are the better for it intellectually and emotionally. Who has classes, after all, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights after a dozen hours spent travelling to, climbing into, through, over and around ancient temples and tombs in African summer weather? We do, it seems.

 Abu Simbel. Barely twenty miles from the border between Egypt and the Sudan. Ramses IIs’s single most impressive monument: two temples, one to the primary Netcher of his era, Amun Ra, and the other built on behalf of his wife, Nefertari, to the glory of Het-Heru. A love story set in stone, and at once a commentary on how to unify a state around a single shared idea: the Great House. In the wake of the 40 year old Black Power/Black Studies movement and the study tours of Egypt by African-Americans that it sparked, the country should have by now rendered the sight of two dozen Black folk with cameras, pens, pads and studious expressions commonplace. Still, we arrest the attention of tourists and temple guards alike.

 Ramses has emerged, with The Memphite Theology, as a particularly helpful subject informing our consideration of “The Politics of Translation” and “The Challenge of Intellectual Integrity.” Friday night we spent a spirited class session examining the parallels between the account of Ramses’s struggle with the Hittites and their allies during the epic Battle of Kadesh and Christian allegory in the Bible. The uber-Pharaoh is frequently saddled with the speculative label of being “The Pharaoh of the Exodus.” If there was an Exodus and if it happened under Ramses, all the more evidence that the Abrahammic religions are extended riffs on a Kemetic melody. As we read passages from Ramses’s plea to his father Amun to assist him and examined his dogged reproaches for seemingly being abandoned, the light in several students’ eyes shone: it was, after all, the Gethsemane and Golgotha pleas of Christ, two thousand years before, not to mention David and Goliath, Joshua at Jericho and Gideon, just for starters.

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Howard University Study Abroad Kemet, Abu Simbel, 2009


 The next day, we stood in the innermost chamber ofthe temple, (called the “holy of holies”). This chamber is the inspiration for the pulpits that mark the sacred center of churches around the world. There are no guides allowed in the temple: in peak season (October through February), the thousands of people visiting daily would make the presence of guides in each temple proffering detailed explanations literally impossible. Still, we manage to discuss the most important scenes on the walls, columns and ceilings while absorbing the impatient urging-ons of the patrolling police and temple guards.

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Nijel and Angi at the Nubian Museum. 

Having finished examining Ramses’s temple, we moved quickly to the temple for Het-Heru (the Greek Hathor) built for Nefertari (Ramses's temple is on the right, Nefertari's on the left). We entered, examining an exquisite relief of Ramses in battle, with Heru arming him with a mace of strength and, behind him, Nefertari, arms raised in protection, giving him something to return home to after fighting. The unifying concept of the Per-Uah restoring Ma’at has emerged as a constant theme as well, appearing in the well-documented efforts of Piankhy, Shabaka and Taharqua mounted at the Nubian Museum of Aswan, which actually allows visitors to get "up close and personal" with the classical artifacts.

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Angi, Brittany and Robert with Shabaka and Taharqa, Nubian Pharaohs of the 25th Kemetic Dynasty, Nubian Museum, Aswan

There are two reliefs in the back chamber of Nefertari’s temple, opposite the walls that framed her holy of holies. To the left, Ramses II worships his wife, with lotus flowers and Het-Heru behind him, sistrum in hand, coaching and urging him on. On the right, one of my favorite scenes, Het-Heru and Auset flanking Nefertari, breathing life into her. The royal epithet at the top of the first column of Mdw Ntr above Nefertari’s head, “Hemetch Nsw,” [King’s Wife]. The determinative for wife is a well full of water, the single most important element of creation and the thing that a human being—and a man needing a wife—cannot live without.

Friday morning, we had stood astride the Nile’s life-giving water on the bridge overlooking the Aswan High Dam. Looking downriver toward Abydos, Memphis, Saqqara and the Giza Plateau, we were reminded of the majesty and beauty of the land that thirty centuries of Black women and men had come together to create and share with the world. We surveyed the dry granite outcroppings that form the Nile’s final and northernmost of its six cataracts. Seized by the need for a mnemonic unguent, I scrolled through my Ipod’s playlist for a sufficiently powerful performance to lash the moment fast against the hard backbone of my mind’s long-term memory.

My eyes widened as the thumbwheel alit upon an Ancestral choice. I imagined Amenemhat, Ahmose, Hatchepsut, Piankhy and Ramses standing astride, along and upon the Nile, looking down the expanses of time and space and envisioning their successful efforts to realize Sma Tawi, Nsw Bity and Neb Tawi, the United Two Lands. As the dulcet harmonies of Lauryn Hill eased through my ears, the sudden turntable scratch emptied into the existential question that our children raise in the wake of perpetual challenges to their potential and doubts about their abilities, a question that evaporates when raised against the memory and vision of Kemetic serenity, permanence and relentless, unceasing movement: “Life…I wonder…Will it take me under?”

For fully three minutes, an eternity in hip hop timespace, I stood, motionless, before the Nile and the memory of the great African past, allowing Nasir Jones to resolve the seeming hopelessness of a puny and contemporary racescape against a hungry if as-yet underfed vision of what will and must be as he opined what he would do “If I Ruled the World.” His words and Lauryn’s melody catalyzed a comingling and bonding with my own mind’s eye as it played images of Pharaonic command and mass public effort, teeming all along the river’s four-thousand mile expanse over the three millennia of Kemet’s unbroken command.

“If I ruled the word/I’d free all my sons/Black diamonds and pearls/If I ruled the world…”

Our band seeps with contemplative deliberateness out of the busses and takes in each new site’s wonder: the steppes that frame the Tombs of the Nobles on Awsan’s west bank, including the tomb of Hardjuf, known as “the world’s first explorer” for his survey of inner Africa; the mirth of children in an Elephantine Island village that has been adopted by wave after wave of African-American visitors.

“Open they eyes to the lies/history’s told foul/but I’m as wise as the old owl/plus the gold child/seein things like I was controllin’/clique rollin’/truggers six digits on kicks and still holdin’/trips to Paris/I civilized every savage/give me one shot/I’ll turn trife life to lavish/political prisoners set free/stress free/no work release/purple jet skis/and M 3s…”

Saturday morning, as our little boat neared the island where the Philae Temple of Auset (Isis) has been preserved, we scanned the cliffs and foliage for the white birds whose craning necks indicated that we were looking at the descendants of Djehuty. The egret, of the ibis family were further proof that the people of Kemet were Africans. The symbols for intellectual work: the noble and silent baboon and the elegant, aloof ibis—were animals found only inside Africa, deeply beyond the reach or influence of Europe. The temple, built during the Late Period of Greek and Roman authority by Kemetic architects and designers, became the last temple where Kemetic spiritual systems were openly observed, by the Nubians. It was closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian, but not before Auset had transformed into Mary and written the “Cult of the Black Virgin” on the religious DNA of Christianity, from the re-inscribed portraits of Madonna and Child to the re-inscription of the largest single shrine to Isis in Western Europe to the Cathedral of Notre Dame (Our Lady) in Paris.

In the U.S., we have battled against the dim and vacant gaze of absence in the eyes and souls of children who have been pulled away from the excellent practice of study by distractions, real and imagined. As my mind’s eye framed image after image of our students drinking in inextricable sets of life-altering images, Nas and Lauryn’s declaration evoked the answer to the seemingly intractable question, “why?” They do not do better because they do not know. They have not seen. And, after all, we need not question what we would do if we ruled the world. In fact, the lessons of Kemet remind us that we rule the worlds our imagination and deliberate, excellent effort allow us to create.

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Catherine Carr and Sawdayah Brownlee with a New Kingdom Scribe at the Nubian Museum, Aswan. Elder Mother Carr took the journey as a gift from her family to celebrate her 80th birth year, and accompanied by her daughter, Gussie, named for her mother's mother. Her grandson, Ellington Fuller, Gussie's son, completed his first journey to Africa and to Kemet with HU Study Abroad Kemet in 2018.

Summer Study Abroad, Kemet: Day Three

“Feelings came over me far different from those which I have felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius.  I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built…by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I descended. The blood seemed to flow faster through my veins.  I seemed to hear the echo of those illustrious Africans.  I seemed to feel the impulse from those stirring characters who sent civilization to Greece—the teachers of the father of poetry, history and mathematics—Homer, Herodotus, and Euclid.  I seemed to catch the sound of the “stately steppings” of Jupiter, as, with his brilliant celestial retinue, he perambulates the land on a visit to my ancestors, the ‘blameless Ethiopians.’  I felt lifted out of the commonplace grandeur of modern times; and, could my voice have reached every African in the world, I would have earnestly addressed him in the words of the Liberian poet Hillary Teague: “From Pyramidal Hall; From Thebes, they loudly call; Retake your Fame.”  

–      Edward Wilmot Blyden, From West Africa to Palestine (Freetown: T.J. Sawyer, 1873)

Like echoes of visitors in the limestone burial chambers of Maidum’s “Bent Pyramid” or Dashur’s “Red” (or North) Pyramid, Old Kingdom Kemetic cosmology and philosophy of governance is amplified by the expansive national program of monumental architecture of the world’s first nation-builders. The Red Pyramid, one of several constructed by the Master Builder of Antiquity, Per Uah [Pharaoh] Sneferu, is Kemet’s third largest, after his son Khufu’s “Great Pyramid” and grandson Khafre’s pyramid, both miles away in Giza. 

In the space of two days, we completed the taxing physical and rejuvenating spiritual work of traveling to, climbing and descending into burial chambers of five of them. Ahead lie processing what the so-called “Pyramid Age” meant in Egyptian and world history, the moment when the template for human architecture was forever advanced from rudimentary survival to soaring refashioning of nature to suit human purpose.

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Before entering Seneferu's pyramid at Maidum

Entering and exiting pyramids is no easy task. Over the years, however, I have seen very few Africans not be able to successfully complete it, regardless of age or physical condition. Whatever pulls them first down and then back up through the narrow passages, it is clear that one key to passing this momentary test of will and stamina is the company of fellow travelers of common mind and purpose. As I once again climbed down through the Red Pyramid’s narrow passage, our students had already descended, calling encouragements to each other as the single file string expanded, body by tentatively entering body. 

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Preparing to enter the Red Pyramid, Dashur

Midway down to Seneferu’s burial chamber, a man straining to return through the shaft to the surface drew closer on my left. Moving through the shafts of pyramids requires an average sized adult to approximate variations of a duck walk, gripping guide rails as she navigates the sharp descent angle of an escalator of thin wooden gangplank, punctuated by narrow metal strip “steps.” Even when Egypt was flush with visitors, Maidum and Dashur were not crowded, each requiring a journey of over an hour from Cairo and specific interest of those determined to trace the arc of Old Kingdom periodization. Now, as in recent post-revolution journeys, we had both sites virtually to ourselves, making anyone not from our group emerging from the beveled ceilinged burial chamber both a welcome sight and, given the shaft’s narrow dimensions, a quick and friendly blending of personal space as we squeezed past each other.

Though I couldn’t see his face, as the approaching man grew larger in the dim light I made out a familiar pattern on his t-shirt. It was a print in the pattern of Bogolanfini, the Malian cotton fabric commonly known as “Mud Cloth.” “You okay, brother?” I called to him as he ascended laboriously. “Yes, brother…” he said. As we got closer, I saw that he was another African. “Where are you from?” he asked?  “America,” I said. “Those are our students you passed on the way up!  And you?”  He said, “I live in Spain but I am from Sierra Leone!”  By then, we were within a few yards of each other. “Long live Africa!” he exclaimed, his sonorous tenor bouncing off the diorite in the shaft.  “Long live Africa, long live!” I replied, equally loudly, in a well-known reply among Pan Africanists, especially those from the days of solidarity anti-colonial struggles across the continent and in the African Diaspora. Moments later, we squeezed past each other in a brush of salutation, solidarity and brotherhood. 

The encounter gave me renewed purpose. After leaving Maidum and Dashur, we spent the early afternoon at a site devoted to the early administrative capital of Kemet, a place known to the ancients as Min Nefter (the beautiful place) and Hwt Ka Ptah (Place of the Soul of God (Ptah)). Min Nefer (or “Memphis”) so impressed the Greeks that visited it many centuries after its founding and rise to permanent importance in Kemetic governance that the awed visitors took to calling the entire country one of the names of this one city. Hwt Ka Ptah became “Aiguptios,” which, eventually, became “Egypt.” This name, of course, survives in the name of the modern country. The name “Memphis” marks a southern U.S. city that sits on the Mississippi river, a testament to the misinformed “Neo Greek Revival” dreams of a cobbled white southern aristocracy who invented a past as bogus as its slavery-fueled ambitions.

At the Memphis “open air” museum, we saw a partial statue of the New Kingdom empire-builder Ramses II, long ago toppled by nature and now the centerpiece of the site. New Kingdom rulers often evoked the rituals, sebaytand rulers of the Old Kingdom for inspiration and sanction. And, from Memphis and points south, re-unifiers of Kemet, from the Middle Kingdom’s Mentuhotep II to Late Period Nubians Piankhy, Taharqa and Shabaka, projected their power all the way down the Nile to the shores of the Mediterranean. Kemet always renewed itself by 

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With a fallen partial statue of Ramses II at Memphis.

Our students are cementing their learning with physical experiences, integrating new information in our nightly classes and life-long interests in the Nile Valley and guided study that they undertook in preparation for the journey. It is the collective undertaking that binds our learning to permanent memory and expanded horizons. 

Tomorrow, we will spend the day in the Cairo Museum fastening more sinew and muscle to the narrative skeleton of the Nile Valley’s three millennium history as a civilizational nation. Today, a great deal of our nightly class and debrief discussions was devoted to how Egyptian heads-of-state organized the sprawling nation. How Africans created, expanded and maintained a country of many different people over thousands of miles for three millennium remains one of the great stories of world history. Kemet is the primary society of the classical world, the fountainhead for much of what endures today in religion, science, government and culture.

Kemet's Africans carried ideas toward the Mediterranean from inner Africa and resemble their kin across the continent in how they viewed the world and how they articulated ideas of time, space and human relationships to each other and the cosmos. Our students's reactions to the monumental remains of the society so far have not been unlike that of Edward Blyden, an African son of St. Thomas in the Caribbean who spent a great deal of his life in Liberia and passed away in nearby Sierra Leone. We should join Blyden and the Liberian poet Hillary Teague in not only "retaking the fame" of African people, but renewing and extending the best contributions of human society that we have made. We must see and interact with the world on our terms.