Coined the “tree without roots” quote
note: this post is based on notes from the Marcus Garvey Papers Project which can be found here.
Charles Christopher Seifert (1880-1949) was born at Christ Church, Barbados. His father was a plantation overseer who was also renowned as a mathematician in Barbados. mother, Mary Elizabeth Green, his mother, raised Seifert, but the books that he read in his father’s library developed his lifelong interest: the study of Egyptian history. Seifert served his apprenticeship with a local architect and builder.
With the encouragement of a group of British colonial civil servants, he later joined the Plymouth Brethren sect and became a missionary lecturer on behalf of the order, traveling throughout South and Central America and supporting himself as a carpenter. After spending several years at Gatun, Panama, Seifert moved to Quebec, Canada, where he continued his work with the Brethren. In September 1910, he moved from Canada to the United States, and while lecturing for the Brethren, he worked as a rooming house operator in New York City. Seifert spent nineteen years in the cause of the Brethren. He resigned in 1914 and devoted the rest of his life, pursuing historical research and disseminating information about the ancient black civilizations of Egypt and Ethiopia.
Worked with Marcus Garvey
Seifert cooperated with Garvey in the early phase of the UNIA in 1917. Black bibliophile Arthur Arturo Schomburg (1874-1938), and , Hubert Henry Harrison were two of his close associates. He assembled his collection of rare books on Africa into a research library, known as the Ethiopian Historical Research Association, which later became the nucleus of his Ethiopian Research School of History. He invited as guest lecturers many noted authorities, such as the anthropologists Alexander A. Goldenweiser (1880-1940) and Franz Boas (1858-1942), and the distinguished Howard University Africanist William Leo Hansberry (1894-1965)l. The school held regular classes for adults and young people. The Ethiopian World Federation, Local 26 elected “Professor” Seifert, as he was popularly known, chairman of its educational department. He became a member of the African Students’ Association of the United States and Canada.
He wrote a number of booklets on ancient African history:
- The Negro’s or Ethiopian’s Contribution to Art (New York: Ethiopian Historical Publishing Co., 1938);
- The Three African Saviour Kings (New York: n.p., 1946); and
- The True Story of Aesop “the Negro” (New York: n.p., 1946).
Among Seifert’s unpublished works are “Genesis of Religion and Art,” “Bible Students and the Black Man’s Place in World History,” and Christianity Before Christ.” He was probably best known for coining the motto: “A race without the knowledge of its history is like a tree without roots.” He also acted as associate editor for the short-lived bimonthly Negro Illustrated News, edited by S.L. Logehom. (AFRC, RG 163, registration card 31-9-140-C; interview with Mrs. Goldie Seifert; Charles C. Seifert Papers; Elmer W. Dean. An Elephant Lives in Harlem [New York: Ethio[ian Press,. n.d.]).