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The people's professor Michael Thelwell, father of black studies at UMass-Amherst, thinks most of his academic peers have sold out the values of the '60s.
[City Edition 1]
Boston Globe - Boston, Mass.
Subjects: Cultural organizations; Race relations; Personal profiles; Blacks; Multiculturalism & pluralism
Author: French, Mary Ann
Date: Sep 12, 1999
Start Page: 14
Section: MAGAZINE
Abstract (Document Summary)

The brand of black studies that (Michael) Thelwell helped establish at UMass is as firmly rooted in reality as it is in scholarship. In the tradition of its namesake, the Du Bois Department set out to recruit "activist intellectuals" such as writers James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe and practical masters such as musicians Archie Shepp and Max Roach, rather than cloistered academics. "Almost all of our senior faculty were in the movement, so we have what some may call the curse of that perspective, and what others might call the gift," says William Strickland, a professor of political science and author of a Malcolm X biography. The department's three-year-old doctoral program is one of "scholarship for social change," Strickland says. "It's scholarship to make America America, as Langston {Hughes} once said. What begins as black studies can only end up as a redefinition of America."

Thelwell's biggest accomplishment as department chairman was the acquisition in 1973 of Du Bois's voluminous and previously unpublished papers from the legendary man's widow, Shirley Graham Du Bois, who was then teaching at UMass-Amherst. Howard University had longed for the papers but lacked the money. David Du Bois, the son of Shirley Du Bois, says that Harvard had the money and would have prevailed had it not balked at being affiliated with Herbert Aptheker, the historian and Communist Party member who had spent years gathering the papers at his own expense. So Thelwell says he found himself saying, "Look, Mrs. Du Bois, Harvard ain't the center of the universe." Randolph Bromery, who was then chancellor of UMass-Amherst, says he clinched the deal by promising to install the papers in a special room on the 25th floor of the school's library, from which "you can almost look across the Berkshires to Great Barrington," where Du Bois was born.

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