port of harlem magazine
Urban Safari: Africa’s Influence on the Nation’s Capital
May 2000 – October 2000

what america "borrowed" from egypt - obelisks

Long before comedian Richard Pryor joked that D.C. - - as in Washington D.C. - - stood for “Dark Country,” the nation’s capital had a highly visible Black population with an illustrations past, but its African influence on its architecture has largely remained ignored.

My interest in exploring the city’s Africaness intensified after a trip to Egypt with renowned historian Dr. Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan. Since 1938, Doc Ben, as he is commonly known, has explored the Nile Valley.

His studies are documented in more than 40 books and unravel white supremacists’ interpretations of history that stole Egypt out of Africa, chained her to the Middle East, and branded her a White civilization. Since1957, he has inspired thousands of Africans in the Diaspora to witness Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia for themselves, including Washington-based historian Tony Browder.

Some students from Washington’s Hart Middle School and I joined Browder on a tour of Washington. Browder has conducted his own Nile Valley research and completed books and videos based on his research.

Our discoveries began on a blustery day at Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcom X Park, at 15th and Chapin Street, N.W. Looking south from the upper level of the worn, but magnificently landscaped urban greenery, we viewed the pinnacle of the Washington Monument.

“What is the Washington Monument?” quizzed the plainly dressed Browder. “The symbol of Washington,” shyly replied then 11-year-old Kevin Carter.

“Yes, but it is much more than a symbol of the city or a tribute to the first President,” Browder enlighten as he pointed toward the tall, tapered, plain, but majestic stone tower, “it is a copy of an Egyptian tekhen built over 3,000 years ago and many are still standing there.”

The caramel colored Browder went on to explain that ancient Egyptians built tekhenw, the plural form of tekhen, to honor the resurrection of the God Asaru.

Greeks, who conquered the northeastern African nation circa 332 B.C., renamed the memorials “obelisk” and the deity Osiris.

In ancient Egypt, tekhenw were carved in quarries and placed at the entrances of temples including the famous Temple of Karnak. Christians, who won the souls of Egyptians circa 61 A.D. only to lose them to Islamics circa 641 A.D., borrowed the African idea of building houses of worship in relationship to the heavens and the use of tekhenw on opposite sides of temple’s entrance. Some Christians placed tekhenw on top of churches and called them steeples.

From the 15th Street side of the city block wide park’s upper level, we viewed a neo-Gothic version of tekhenw at Saint Augustine Catholic Church, the oldest Black Catholic Church in Washington. The Church is at 15th and V Streets, N.W.

Also from the 12-acre, beautifully terraced garden, with its 13 working water fountains, and where much of the city’s flat skyline can be viewed, Browder pointed south along 16th and S Streets, N.W. toward the Step Pyramid that caps The House of the Temple Scottish Rite of Freemasonry building at 16th an S Streets, NW.

The original Step Pyramid of the broad nosed, full lipped pharaoh Djoser with its huge 227 feet wide rectangular base and five additions, each smaller than the one that precedes it, still stands in Sakkara, Egypt. Built circa 2630 B.C., the original Step Pyramid is the world’s oldest stone edifice. Its builder, Imhotep, the world’s first multi-genius, was renamed Aesculapius by Greeks and is considered the God of Medicine in The Hippocratic Oath.

At the Scottish Rite Temple, 16th and Harvard Streets, N.W., the acknowledgment of African ingenuity is written on plaques at the Masonic building’s entrances. Browder interpreted the first plaque, with its drawing of the sun rising in the East and words in Latin: “From the West comes the law.” Browder continued, “But, remember this because he will see this again at the Library of Congress.”

Further south at 16th and S Streets, N.W., we viewed The House of the Temple and the Heremakhet or stone statues of human-headed lions guarding the Masonic headquarters. The scholarly, but unassuming Browder revealed the meaning associated with the statues. The thinly built and balding Browder clarified, “In ancient Egypt, the face of the sculpture we now call the Sphinx bore the image of the God Heru, the son of Asaru and the virgin Aset. But, like Asaru, you probably know Aset and Heru by their Greek names, Isis and Horus.”

Formed during Europe’s Age of Enlightenment, the Masons borrowed Nile Valley symbolism via the Greeks and Romans and made it their own. “The brilliance of the Egyptian architecture is what attracted the Masons to Egyptian civilization,” said William Fox, archivist at the Scottish Rite Temple.

They also borrowed the Greek myth that an ancient Egyptian mystery system based at the Grand Lodge the Luxor provided the Africans with the knowledge to build pyramids and their civilization.
Africa’s influence on building the United States, via Freemasonry, is easily traced to the Presidency of the United States. Included in the ranks of Masonry are four of the first five Presidents.
Not so says Doc Ben. The Temple of Luxor and The Grand Lodge served as a school for boys who spent 40 years studying mathematics, architecture, astronomy, and other subjects. While touring the Lodge’s remains on the Nile’s east bank, Doc Ben had clarified, “The Greeks called this education program the Egyptian mystery system, because it was a mystery to them!”

Africa’s influence on building the United States, via Freemasonry, is easily traced to the Presidency of the United States. Included in the ranks of Masonry are four of the first five Presidents. “Freemasonry was one among several intellectual midwives to help deliver the rebirth of ancient Egypt into modernity,” added Fox.

Our intriguing urban safari continued as our bus trekked down Washington’s meridian, 16th Street, and toward the eastern end of the city’s 28 block, 309 acre, grassy open air tourist Mecca that includes The Mall and Lincoln Memorial.

The Memorial is modeled after a Greek Temple, but the Lincoln statue that is centered inside the structure is similar to the four 3,300-year-old statues of King Ramses II at his temple in Abu Simbel, Egypt. Both the President and King are depicted sitting in chairs.

An alternative design submitted by the famous architect of the House of the Temple and Jefferson Memorial, John Russell Pope, was dominated by a pyramid built to the scale of The Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. Ironically, it was rejected for “lacking in originality,” says Browder.

As we approached the Washington Monument, the students enthusiastically professed. “There’s another tekhen!”“Yes! quickly said Browder, “But, the significance of the structure is that it towers 555 feet from a base width of 55 feet. The number five represented man,” he continued, “hence you have the number five, five times and the Monument is a symbol built to honor a man named Washington.”

Browder then recalled the significance to the number five as we proceeded to pass the National Archives at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., where the United States Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation are kept. “The number five is also used symbolically in the Constitution, where African people were not considered fully human, but as three-fifths a person,” he clarified.

Our next stop was the Library of Congress’ original building. At the Thomas Jefferson building, Browder briefed us on the symbolism behind the five African heads adorning its back with those representing other races, except Europeans, on the building’s back and side. “The front was reserved for White busts and they face west toward the U.S. Capitol where laws are made,” explained Browder, “and akin to statements we saw on the plagues at the Scottish Rite Temple, they symbolize that ‘the light’ or knowledge comes from Africans in the East and laws from Europeans and their descendants in the West.”

Across the street from The Jefferson, we viewed the history of western civilization carved into stone that surrounds the heavy bronze doors of the John Adams Building. The carvings support Browder’s interpretations by beginning its story in Africa and the three pyramids of Giza.

On the bronze doors are reliefs of ancient Gods including Djhuiti, renamed Thoth by Greeks, the god of writing and speech. Navigating America’s undiscussed history is not an easy task; however, it is probably easier than finding one’s way around its capital city. As our bus pulled in front of Hart school, Browder admonished, “History is important. We took this tour of your city so that you can understand a part of your history that is seldom told and that you most likely won’t learn in that building.”

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