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historian, Egyptologist, educator, and Pan-Africanist, known popularly as “Dr. Ben,” was born in Gondar, Ethiopia, the son of Krstan ben Jochannan, a lawyer and diplomat, and Tulia Matta, a native of Puerto Rico, who was a homemaker and midwife. Both parents were Jewish: his father was a member of a Jewish Ethiopian people then called the “Falasha,” or Beta Israel, and his mother was descended from Spanish Sephardic Jews. The couple met in Madrid, Spain, where Matta was attending college and the elder ben Jochannan was a diplomatic attaché. Soon after their marriage, they traveled from Spain to Ethiopia where their son, Yosef, was born.

Ben Jochannan spent his earliest years in Ethiopia but after age five he was raised in the Americas He said in later interviews that in the 1920s the Ethiopian government sent his father to Brazil to help develop the coffee trade of that country ...