The African origin of heroes, super and otherwise


by J.D. Jackson

Historically, heroes – super-powered or not – come in all shapes and sizes. But what about colors? If we allow your standard history book and Hollywood small and silver screen productions to answer that question, the overall answer would be that the color is only one – white. Black heroes, it seems, do not exist.

But nothing could be further from the truth, especially for the sharp-witted student of world history or even popular culture. For such a person – though not without long-lived hard work and patience, intense study and research, and steel-spined dedication – would discover that throughout time immemorial, the Black hero – real and imagined – repeatedly appears and impacts culture as well as individuals who either welcome or disregard his or her heroic appearance, words and/or deeds.

Speaking of words, some scholars now agree that the very word “hero” comes from an African (Black) word and an African god. The 19th century scholar, Gerald Massey, states that the word “hero” comes from the Egyptian, “ma haru,” meaning “the typical warrior” or the “true hero.” Whereas another scholar states that the word “hero” is derived from the Latin name of a Greek word for the African god, Heru or Hor, who most Egyptologists call “Horus the hawk, the avenger.”

Interestingly enough, the hawk is an ancient and sacred bird of Africa, particularly Ethiopia, and what the late but legendary African world history scholar, Dr. Chancellor Williams, calls “Ethiopia’s oldest daughter, Egypt.”

Furthermore, based on the testimony of the Greek historian, Herodotus – often dubbed the “father of history” – and other scholars past and present, the very names – if not the very same gods, Greek then Roman, under different names – of the gods from Greek and Roman mythology came from, or were heavily influenced by, the ancient Egyptian and African mythology which predated them.

Those African-derived Greco-Roman gods would consequently serve as the backbone of today’s multi-billion dollar superhero comic book and movie industry.

But the unmatched impact of Black heroes, real and fictional, would not stop in Greek and Roman mythology or even in Western society today. It would encompass both Asia and the Far East too. Whereas there is little, if any, hardcore evidence that King Arthur truly lived, in the Asian country of Saudi Arabia, there is evidence that over 1,500 years ago, there lived a courageous, 6th century, Black or Afro-Arabic warrior-poet and lover named Antar.

History has dubbed him the “father of knighthood … [and] chivalry” and “the king of heroes.” Greatly admired by the founder and prophet of Islam, Muhammad, he is still widely celebrated for his poetry and warrior spirit throughout the Arab world today.

Those African-derived Greco-Roman gods would consequently serve as the backbone of today’s multi-billion dollar superhero comic book and movie industry.

Then, in the Far East – China, specifically – during the 9th century, there lived a writer named Pei Xing. Although there is virtually no proof that he was Black, during the Tang Dynasty of said century he wrote what some have called “China’s first martial arts short story,” entitled “Kunlun Nu.” It means the “Negrito,” “little Negro” or “little Black” slave and its hero is an enslaved Black man who can fly and has incomparable martial arts skills – just as in the traditional Chinese martial arts films of the 1960s and ‘70s, if not in earlier and even in modern-day movies.

Then there’s Japan, where this ancient but little-known proverb was found: “For a samurai [warrior] to be brave, he must have a bit of Black blood.” Another version says: “For a samurai to be brave, he must have half Black blood,” meaning one of his parents must be Black.

We also find in Japan a noted Black warrior who historians have called “the paragon of military virtue,” a Japanese general and the first person to bear the Japanese title of sei-i tai shogun – meaning “barbarian-subduing generalissimo.” His name was Sakanouye Tammamura Maro, sometimes spelled Sakanouye No Tamuramaro.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the only “thoroughly documented amazons in world history,” the women warriors of Dahomey, who were West African women often serving as the king’s bodyguards and who, unlike the Grecian “amazons” and the comic book “amazon,” Wonder Woman, truly lived.

And what about the beautiful, fictional or factual, Black warrior-queen, Califia – after whom the state of California is said to be named; or Nzinga, a lioness-hearted Angolan warrior-queen, who fought against the Portuguese for decades to keep them from enslaving her people? Nzinga lived. Xena, the warrior-princess, did not.

Nor let us ignore the Black steel-driving man, John Henry, who not only – according to legend – beat a steam-driving machine with his hammer in his hand, but – according to one scholar – serves as the model for both Superman and Captain America, who is called the “first avenger” in the trailer for the movie to be released July 22.

Then there’s the Black Frenchman, Alexandre Dumas père, who wrote both “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which both influenced fictional characters such as Mickey Spillane’s private eye, Mike Hammer, Ian Fleming’s super spy, James Bond, and characters created by the cowboy novelist, Zane Grey.

But what about the gun-slinging, outlaw-catching – catching between 3,000 and 4,000 outlaws – greatly feared, highly respected, often disguised, Black deputy marshal – serving for over 30 years – Bass Reeves? Says one scholar, Reeves may have served as the model for both the Lone Ranger and the Rooster Cogburn characters in the novel and movie, “True Grit.”

And let’s not fail to acknowledge the literal and literary hijacking, if not outright theft, by movie productions of African people’s centuries-long struggle against racial oppression, especially the Civil Rights Movement. Examples of such productions, if not parodies, are the “Planet of the Apes,” “Matrix” – an idea which allegedly was written by and stolen from a Black woman named Sophia Stewart – and “X-Men” movies.

And not one movie has been made about the late Henrietta Lacks, whose legendary cells are considered to be the world’s “first immortal cell lines,” reproducing on their own, adding billions to the coffers of medical researchers and research companies, and having been instrumental in the developments of the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping and the possible cure for cancer, if not AIDS. It’s her mutated cells – the He-La cells, if you will – that should be the subject of a major motion picture, or several of them.

Truly heroic, African-centered people should make movies about her, her poverty-stricken family and the other Black heroes and she-roes, real and imagined, that may or may not have been mentioned.

For they, like Robert F. Williams – the Black, Marine Corps trained weapons expert and stalwart, armed self-defense advocate and major but little-known Civil Rights Movement activist – clearly indicate that Black heroes do exist, should be studied and known and their lives should be written about and filmed for the small or silver screen by African people. It’s important for us to restore what the Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile, Arthur Schomburg, once said “slavery took away” – our sense of humanity, self-worth and undying willingness to work together and improve the overall dismal plight of the world’s 1 billion-plus African (Black) people – as crafted by anyone’s hand, mind or faith – come hell or high water. Such people are the real heroes – walking, talking and doing superheroes.

This is dedicated to Brother Obadela Williams, who suggested research on this topic over 20 years ago.

© 2011 by J.D. Jackson, better known as Hawk, a priest, poet, soloist, journalist, historian and African-centered lecturer who can be reached at



  1. Having grown up during the Super Friends era, I found the article to be very informative. I was glad it revealed that there are more than just one or two of us fighting against evil and injustice. The article was packed with both male and female gods, heroes, and warriors. Being female, I thought there was a good balance of material. It is important that we make our young, black generation aware of these images. Since Hollywood has focused its attention on heroes, I am glad Mr. Jackson took the time to spotlight ours.

    • Thank you for your very kind comments, Sister. As a life-long comic book fan myself, I thoroughly enjoyed both researching and writing the said article. And, most definitely, I agree with you about informing our youth about our boundless history–what my grandmaster teacher, world-renowned but late and legendary, Alabama-native historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke and other African-centered scholars call "African World History" (AWF).

      In short, I'm extremely glad to know that you enjoyed reading the article and most appreciative to the San Francisco Bay View for publishing/posting it. And, yes, hopefully, there's more to come on the above topic and other strands of boundless AWF.


      –HAWK (J. D. Jackson)

  2. Bravo Brotha Hawk! There are many things I want to add to this from my own research…I'll have to go into my files, but this reminds me of an extremely racist 'instructor' I eventually had a very forceful argument with who insisted that there were no AFRIKAN contributions to the comic book / super s/hero genre and persisted in drawing caricatures of l'l black sambo on the chalk board and saying that during his stay in Angola during the AFRIKAN Liberation struggles of the 70's, this was what he learned of 'African' art… We fought every day in class, because I kept proving him wrong – and he wouldn't ever say precisely what he was doing in Angola during that time … I eventually dropped the class, though the school administration refused to fire him…

  3. July 10, 2011–Sun.

    Greetings, Mr. Kambon and Mr. Mulligin. And thank you for your thoughts.

    As a life-long comic book reader and collector myself, Mr. Mulligun, I agree with you about the importance of comic book superheroes Spawn and Blade. But, with all due respect, they were not the focus of the article. As the title states, the subject was overall "African origin of heroes, super and otherwise", and my overall focus was on the more well-known or iconic superheroes, such as Superman and Captain America.

    Furthermore, neither time nor space would enable me to be all-inclusive. As I said in an earlier comment, maybe I'll be able to write a part-2 or so to the article. But thank you for your comments.

    As for you, Mr. Kambon, thank you again for your comments and keep up the righteous fight for truth. And let me know if I amy be able to help.

    HAWK (J. D. Jackson)

  4. Now logic, facts and common sense dictates that the original women and men were black. So that means their gods were black too. Especially if we’re made in their image. The concepts of superheros is based on the concept of Gods or men with God-like abilities. In that case the superheros should be black as well. The logo on his chest is not simply just a “S”. It’s a symbol of protection. That’s why its shaped like a snake. Peep how it thickens in the middle and tapers off at either end, making a head at the top and a curled tail at the end. That’s the symbolic reason why bullets bounce off his chest. Because of the protective serpent. The serpent is also on top of the crowns of kemets kings and pharaohs. Peep the curl on top of Supermans head. Heru/Horus had flight ability. Which explains why he is symbolized as a falcon. Look at Supermans uniform. Same colors on the Heru falcon. Science dictates that Superman should be black. Like Heru, Superman gets his power from the sun. Now the best color for man of steel to absorb the most amount of sunlight is… yep black. Think about it. You ever seen white solar panels? Nope. It’s important to have an open mind. If you do, then it’s not that hard to realize this stuff is not a coincidence. Also peep his symbol. It’s literally an upside down pyramid. This information was provided to me from brother Marcus.

    • Samuel D. Ewing

      The most fascinating portion of Black American History in regards to the idea of the Superman/Superhero; is that there was an actual concept within the African American Community of the Black Superman prior to the beginning of the comic books. This concept was based upon Black Folklore Heroes, more than a few who were based in actual history, such as John Henry. The most current information appears to indicate that their were multiple black men named John Henry or who chose to use that name when they competed in steel-driving competitions. Furthermore, there were other black men who using their actual names, who competed in the same manner and they too are part of the John Henry Superman conception.
      In addition, the history of the actual Black Supermen includes its origins in the aspects of the Black Moses and Black Messiahs who are historical figures of the African American Community. Harriet Tubman, Joe Louis the Brown Bomber, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are among this group. Bass Reeves as the prototype of the fictional Lone Ranger is another example of truth is stranger than fiction, and his seeming invulnerability to bullets is well-recorded as he has been identified as a type of the invincible Superman.
      Paul Robeson was identified numerous times as a Black Superman because of his extraordinary achievements under very difficult times, Harry Belafonte, Muhammed Ali, and Jesse Owens have also been recognized as Black Supermen. And among those African American who were part of the Harlem Renaissance for cultural and intellectual excellence; Tolson, Jean Toomer, Phillip Randolph, and others have been representatives of the Black Superman. Josephine Baker herself, was literally described by critics as being "infrahuman" and "superhuman" because of her great achievements.
      This hardly scratches the surface of the topic, Black Superman in America as history not fiction.

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