In 1966, amidst race riots and related urban unrest in America’s poorest Black neighborhoods, one of Chicago’s “native sons”, a twenty-something African American named Ben Carter, received a visit from Angel Gabriel anointing him to lead God’s people out of the “wilderness” of 1960s America (Hagadol and Israel 1992)1. Heeding that celestial call, Carter began to prepare God’s flock for a new home in Liberia, a West African nation concocted in the early 19th century with help from the American Colonization Society (Johnston 1904 ; Landing 2002 ; Lounds 1981 ; Gerber 1977). This mid -1960s emigrationist move to West Africa proved, however, only a temporary sojourn for Carter and his fellow émigrés. That is because Carter, who had already been renamed Ben Ammi (Hebrew for “son of my people”) and Nasi Hashalom (“Prince of Peace”), was also part of a larger ethno-political organization (with documented institutionalized precursors throughout the United States as early as the 19th century) whose members believe that African Americans are actually descendcents of the Bible’s Ancient Hebrew Israelites (Fausett 1970; Landing 2002; Moses 1998). In this essay, I want to consider the extent to which this “Hebrew Israelite” community’s theology, ideology, and transatlantic journey fall within a larger tradition of Afrocentric thought, even as this emigrationist group is usually (and quite decidedly) not thematized as heirs of Afrocentrism in most scholarly or popular accounts. Ammi took up to 400 people with him to rural Liberia in 1967, far from the capital city of Monrovia. However, by 1968, almost three-quarters of those migrants had returned to the United States, unable and unwilling to hazard the physical and mental hardships of “bare life” in the Liberian jungle – beyond the bounds of the nation-state, left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of that nation’s legitimate body politic (Agamben 1998). Many of these African Americans were born in urban cities like Chicago, Detroit, Ohio, New York, and Atlanta, which means that they did not know the first thing about building their own homes from scratch, cooking food sans four-burner stoves, or preserving meat and other items without the comfort of reliable, electric refrigeration – all things they needed to perfect on the people-less, tree-filled land they occupied in Liberia.
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