ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home   ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music)  


My embracing the ideas the students had about relevance did not lead to my abandoning

belief in standards of excellence in performance which transcend race or ethnicity or class;

it did not lead to minimizing my interests in the works of Plato, Kenneth Burke and Michel Foucault;

it led to demanding that students should digest Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Machiavelli



Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

*   *   *   *   *

A Meaningful Life: I Chose to Teach at HBCUs

By Jerry W. Ward Jr.


Whether I chose or was chosen to teach at HBCUs is an American knot, one that those who delight in philosophical problems might untie.  Near the end of my tour of duty in Vietnam in 1970, I received an invitation from Dr. N. J. Townsend, chairman of the Department of English at Tougaloo College, to join the faculty as an instructor.  I accepted it.  The opportunity to teach at my alma mater and give back four years of service in exchange for the four wonderful undergraduate years (1960-64) I spent there was more than merely attractive. Tougaloo College had instilled in its graduates a strong sense of obligation.  In the 1960s, as the 1960-61 catalogue informed us, “great social ferment and rapid change” was occurring worldwide and there was “growing need for young men and women with intellectual ability and breadth of vision, with Christian motivation and discipline and with a spirit of outgoing goodwill toward all men.”  In the 1970s, there still existed a need to help in “an awakening of people who have been denied the privilege and opportunity for the good life.”  I felt obligated to help.

Armed with a M.S. in English from the Illinois Institute of Technology, two years of courses at the State University of New York at Albany where I focused on the literature of the English Renaissance, and the discipline my serving in the United States Army provided, I began to teach courses in composition and literature.  My students, unlike those of my generation, were strongly influenced by what was left unfinished in the declining years of the Civil Rights Movement and by the assertiveness implicit in the idea of Black Power.  They boldly challenged me to make whatever I taught them relevant.  Many of them thought my regard for Edmund Spenser and Shakespeare was an act of treason or a sign of slavish deference to their enemies. I understood, more than they guessed that defiance was an integral and noble part of the learning process at Tougaloo, and I was beginning to understand the value of the pedagogy of the oppressed.  I quickly became the subversive instructor.  If my students rejected John Milton, I would teach them to write well and to think critically by close reading of LeRoi Jones’s essays in Home and his historical discourse in Blues People.  If The Scarlet Letter had nothing to say to them, Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland anchored them in the very heart of relevance and made them attentive.

My embracing the ideas the students had about relevance did not lead to my abandoning belief in standards of excellence in performance which transcend race or ethnicity or class; it did not lead to minimizing my interests in the works of Plato, Kenneth Burke and Michel Foucault; it led to demanding that students should digest Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Machiavelli.  Relevance changes as the conditions of American society change.  For teachers, the desire to truly empower students and the effort to devise effective way of doing so must remain constant. Change is inevitable, but it is not to be embraced without severe questioning.

My students knew that I had high expectations of them. As I grew as a teacher, I began to appreciate the importance of being at once demanding and compassionate. A good teacher does not love his students. He simply refuses to allow them not to love themselves.  It has been rumored that one of my students told another he would take my courses “… even if I earn a ‘D.’ At least I will learn something.”

From my thirty-two years of teaching at Tougaloo College and eight years of teaching at Dillard University I have learned much about American higher education, my colleagues in the profession of English, and the insidious idea that African American students who choose to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities are innately less intelligent than those students who opt to attend other kinds of institutions.  The fact that we speak rarely of Historically White Colleges and Universities is a clue about what has continued to develop in the total history of education in the United States.  In higher education in America, the hegemony of confirmative action prevails against any justice that might be discovered, through full disclosure, in affirmative action.

Two instances from my life history cast light on what is a central and continuing problem.  Once when I was driving him from Tougaloo College to the Jackson, Mississippi airport, A. Leon Higginbotham asked me where I wanted to be in ten years.  I replied that I wanted to still be teaching at Tougaloo.  He was much disappointed in my answer, because he said he thought I would at least want to be at Harvard or Yale. Some years later after I had earned my doctorate at the University of Virginia, a historian who had earned his degrees at Yale asked why anyone with a prestigious degree from UVA would want to teach at Tougaloo.  I retorted with signifying anger: “Why do you with your prestigious degrees teach at so third-rate a school as the University of Southern Mississippi?”  On the one hand, it seems I was betraying the race and insulting the aspirations of the integration-drunk black upper middle class.  On the other, I was squandering the investment Mr. Jefferson’s university had made in me by teaching niggers and untouchables.  Despite the promise contained in the election of Barack Obama, I am not convinced we should hastily conclude that the need for having HBCUs and exceptionally well-prepared scholars who desire to teach at such places has vanished from the American historical process.  Talk about a “post-race society” is only a clever and enslaving use of language. And all Americans have a pathological and patriotic love of being enslaved by the great God Capital in whom they trust.

I never thought of teaching as merely a matter of employment or as a launching pad for ascent into fame as a critic and scholar.  For me, teaching had to be a more profound investment.  Nor have I been a missionary in quite the sense we associate with those who labored and taught in the nineteenth century when many HBCUs were established.  Despite attractive offers to teach elsewhere, I chose to remain within the orbit of the HBCU.  Until I joined the Dillard faculty in 2002-2003, I never earned a salary commensurate with my years of teaching experience and the scholarly and creative contributions I produced despite heavy teaching duties.  Thanks to a regulation in the old Tougaloo College Faculty Handbook, I had to wait for fourteen years to be granted tenure; only 69% of the faculty members in any department could be tenured. As I near the end of my career as a teacher, I realize the rewards most worth having cannot be reduced to money and things. They can only be measured in terms of how deeply and how well a teacher has made a significant difference in the lives of others.

Whether I chose or was chosen to teach at HBCUs, I have no regrets about the choice. The choice was right. The students I have taught since 1970, particularly those I mentored in the UNCF/Mellon Program, have assured me time and again that I did the right thing. I was pragmatic. Obviously, many teachers and scholars in our country’s institutions of higher education have done and continue to do the right thing by way of helping young people to discover and maximize their intellectual capabilities and to become productive citizens of the world.  Nevertheless, HBCUs are unique sites for such work.  To be sure, the fate of educational institutions is determined, more than we often want to acknowledge, by irreversible changes in the world order. Few of them shall survive in the 21st century. So be it. It is sufficient that once in time HBCUs enabled me to use my “intellectual ability and breadth of vision” to become a better person as I remained, as some black folk might say, in the tradition. Sunday, July 24, 2011

Source: JerryWardBlog

posted 27 July 2011

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest.

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”

Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)







update 13 May 2012




Home   Jerry W. Ward Jr. Table and Bio