An African-born writer and historian better known as "Dr. Ben," he became one of the most prominent Afrocentric scholars of the Twentieth Century. His nearly fifty published works focus on the ancient civilizations of the Nile Valley.
He began serving as chairman of UNESCO's African Studies Committee in 1945 and held the post until 1970.
He was criticized for his Afrocentric re-working of history and, at one lecture, was chastised by scholar Mary Lefkowitz for asserting that Aristotle had visited the Library of Alexandria.
He was born in Ethiopia to an Afro-Puerto Rican, Jewish mother and an Ethiopian father. After studying civil engineering at the University of Puerto Rico and architectural engineering at the University of Havana, he immigrated to the United States.
He was a contemporary of Ephraim Isaac, a fellow Ethiopian-born scholar.