Tag Archives: Fisk University

Mentoring is Absolutely Essential for the Future of the Professoriate

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman-current-sittingYesterday as I was chatting on Facebook (yes, I do that) with a faculty member at a different institution than my own.  He’s brand new on the tenure-track at a research university.  In addition, he is African American at a traditionally White institution and as such, most likely has to contend with additional pressures.  I don’t know this man well, but had been introduced to him by a mutual friend.  As we were chatting, he expressed concern over balancing teaching and research.  I immediately switched into mentoring mode, offering advice on which journals to approach, how to limit the time spent on prepping classes, and how to carve out writing time during the academic year.  His response:  “You don’t even know me very well.  Why are you being so generous with your time?”

My immediate response was “Because someone mentored me; in fact several people mentored me.” One of these individuals was Asa Hilliard.  Asa was a larger than life figure, but never too large to spend time with young people.  I remember when I was a new, nervous faculty member with a small child in a strange city, Asa welcomed me to the department and welcomed my family.  He embraced me as a scholar and person.  This amazing intellectual would get down on the floor at eye level with my daughter and make her giggle — such humanity and care in someone who could have chosen to just go about his work or worse yet, bask in his ego.  Instead, Asa mentored and gave the best advice: stay out of office politics, rise above petty academic jealousy, and swallow your pride when necessary.  These are lessons that I think about daily and that I pass on to my own students and mentees.

All too often, once we reach a comfortable level of success in the academy, we forget about those who are coming after us into the profession.  I have been told countless stories by Ph.D. students about how they approached a faculty member and were rebuffed.  I have been told the same stories by young faculty members who approached those senior scholars they admire.  I know that people are busy, but there is always enough time to answer a quick question, to lend an ear, and to provide mentoring to future faculty members.  What is most disturbing to me about the rebuffs I mentioned is that quite often the person telling me about them is a student or faculty member of color.

My first book was a biography of Charles Spurgeon Johnson, sociologist, the architect of the Harlem Renaissance, and president of Fisk University.  While researching and writing the book, I became intensely familiar with Johnson’s approach to mentoring scholars and leaders.  Under his leadership, Fisk University became an incubator for talent, especially future faculty members. In fact, his students told me that he gave them “all the tools they needed to take on the world.”  This phrase stuck with me and I have striven to emulate Johnson’s approach.

I believe wholeheartedly that in order to have a productive, caring, empathetic, student-oriented future professoriate, we as current faculty members must invest the time in mentoring young scholars.  Of course, there are many ways to do this.  One can co-author publications, co-present at conferences, explain the book writing and grant proposal processes, share ways of simplifying class preparation, etc.  One of the ways that I take care for young scholars is by meeting with them for coffee or lunch at national conferences — providing a low stress way for them to ask for advice.  I never turn someone down who asked to meet with me (unless I run out of time!).  Why? Because I was rebuffed as a young scholar and I remember how it felt.  I was told by a senior scholar as I asked for a copy of one of her conference papers,  “I don’t have time for you.”  It stung!

I urge all scholars to think twice before ignoring a request from a young person.  In order to make sure that the academy is a healthy work environment for research and teaching, we need to provide the proper guidance and nurturing to future academics.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).


Remembering a Legend: John Hope Franklin

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman-current-sittingIn 1997, while I was doing my dissertation research, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview historian John Hope Franklin. As a doctoral student, I was nervous about the interview and lacked confidence in my knowledge of American history. Here I was about to interview one of the nation’s great historians. Within minutes, my nervousness went away as Dr. Franklin was incredibly kind and made me feel instantly at ease. He had a quick wit and used self-deprecating humor in a great way.

I remember feeling anxious because I was young and also, frankly, because I was White. I wondered what he would think about my doing research related to African American history. At the time I was writing my dissertation on Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the former president of Fisk University and Harlem Renaissance architect. Dr. Franklin was completely supportive, explaining how society had changed so much in his lifetime, how this change had been made by people of various racial backgrounds working together, how all of our histories were intertwined, and how he was grateful that young people were more accepting of differences.

What I remember most about the interview was that despite his broad knowledge, accomplishments and daunting intelligence, he had a sweet disposition. It reminded me of something my mother once told me, “You get more with sugar than you do with vinegar.” I was asking him questions that forced him to recall his actions in the 1950s. As he was 82, he had a bit of difficulty remembering everything. When I asked him to recall his actions in a controversial Fisk University board meeting, he said, “if you said I did that sweetie, I did it – I’m an old mad who knows he led an interesting life but can’t recall it all.” This interaction has stuck with me for years.

I hope all of the Diverse readers will take a few minutes to read the work of Dr. Franklin. He spent years uncovering the agency, actions and contributions African Americans and bringing them to the forefront of American history. Bravo!

‘His Genius Could Not Be Denied’

In Memoriam: Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009)

‘His Genius Could Not Be Denied’


By Hilary Hurd Anyaso


“Warm, generous, compassionate, a giant among American historians,” is how one University of Chicago colleague of Dr. John Hope Franklin remembers him.


Dr. Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor Emeritus at UChicago, where Franklin chaired the history department, said in a statement, “John Hope enjoyed people, and people enjoyed John Hope. Everything he did, from his cooking to his orchid growing, was extraordinary. Lucky indeed it was to know him and be put in touch with the energies and spirit of a great man.”


Ailing for some time, Franklin, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, died yesterday of congestive heart failure at the age of 94 in Durham, N.C.


Called “a towering historian” by Duke University President Richard Brodhead, Franklin’s scholarship influenced countless scholars and students, and his humble, unassuming nature touched everyone he came in contact with.


“If you’re very fortunate, you get a chance to meet and get to know a person like Dr. Franklin. I always heard that the truly great people are the most approachable and nice; he exemplified that,” says Frank Matthews, co-founder of Diverse: Issues In Higher Education magazine, who first met Franklin 25 years ago. “The amount of information that he accumulated and retained was truly astounding. His genius could not be denied.”


So impressed with Franklin’s accomplishments as well as his character, Cox, Matthews and Associates, which publishes Diverse, established the John Hope Franklin Awards in 2004 to honor those who have demonstrated the highest commitment to access and excellence in American education. Recipients have included Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Maya Angelou and fellow historian Dr. David Levering-Lewis.


“I can’t think of another person in the academy who was more deserving of having an award named after them than John Hope Franklin,” says Matthews. “He documented our history in a way that I don’t think can ever be replicated.”


Franklin’s scholarship is said to have increased the nation’s understanding and knowledge of African-Americans in its history. A prolific writer, Franklin’s numerous publications include the best-seller From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, The Emancipation Proclamation, The Militant South and most recently Mirror to America, which chronicles his life.


“His book, From Slavery to Freedom, remains a vital classic and primer as an introduction to African-American history,” says Dr. Peniel Joseph, associate professor of Africana Studies at Brandeis University. “His large corpus of scholarship and civic activism promoting diversity in the academy leaves a monumental legacy for other scholars to follow. Dr. Franklin was that rare combination of exemplary scholar and engaged citizen who sought to promote history and multiculturalism to a larger public.”


A native of Oklahoma, Franklin earned his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University, where he would meet his wife Aurelia. He would go on to earn a master’s and doctorate in history from Harvard University. Franklin taught at a number of institutions, including Fisk, St. Augustine’s College, North Carolina Central University, and Howard University. In 1956 he went to Brooklyn College where he would become the first Black historian to assume full professorship at a traditionally White institution. He also served as chairman of the Department of History. In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, serving as chairman of the Department of History from 1967 to 1970. At Chicago, he was the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982, when he became Professor Emeritus.


Franklin had long been a witness to and active participant in many historic events. From assisting Thurgood Marshall in his preparation for arguing Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to heading former President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race in 1997, Franklin was quoted in Emerge magazine in 1994 as saying, “I think knowing one’s history leads one to act in a more enlightened fashion. I can not imagine how knowing one’s history would not urge one to be an activist.”

In 2006, USA Today quoted Franklin expressing disappointment that to date there was no national monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But Diverse’s Matthews says he’s glad Franklin lived long enough to see the election of the new president. During an interview with Duke University television last fall, Franklin said Barack Obama’s election was “one of the most, if not the most, historic moment in this country’s history.” He said he knew “it would come sooner or later.”


Franklin’s contributions have been acknowledged with numerous awards and more than 130 honorary degrees. He treasured his students and the role of teacher.


Dr. Yohuru Williams, a history professor at Fairfield University and vice president for History Education at the American Institute for History Education, had the opportunity to meet Franklin in 1994 for the taping of a PBS special in his honor.


“He sat around with the mixed group of graduate and undergraduate students after the taping for nearly an hour answering questions and offering suggestions on our work,” recalls Williams. “He was a master teacher and his presence, guidance and scholarship will sorely be missed.”


To pay tribute, Duke University has created a Web page in Franklin’s honor. Visit www.duke.edu/johnhopefranklin


The Fisk Jubilee Singers — A Student’s Experience

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman and Jameel Scott

In this week’s blog entry, I want to share the words of one of my wonderful graduate students.  His name is Jameel Scott and he is in the masters program in higher education here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.  Jameel is a graduate of Morehouse College.  He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member.  He is currently enrolled in my History of American Higher Education course, which has an emphasis on underrepresented populations and institutions.  For one of his assignments, Jameel is focusing on the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  Unlike many students who are satisfied learning through a book, Jameel yearned to experience his research topic first hand.  Below he describes his visit to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  His experience is quite moving.


A Special Blessing


Two weeks ago I decided to purchase plane tickets to visit Nashville Tennessee’s historic Fisk University.  This University was having its Annual Jubilee Day, which pays homage to the original Jubilee Singers who went on tour to raise money and save the school from financial starvation.  This event, which elicits persons from around the world, including alumni and friends, was held on Monday October 6, 2008. . 

For the past two months I have engulfed myself in the study of this historic school. Today, I stood in front of Jubilee Hall with its colossal form looking down on me with mountains of history.  I heard the sounds of students speaking to each other and the breeze of the calm winds scratch my head.  The trees swayed as the small squirrels raced across the street.  Teachers were clasping hands with students while young ladies walked in a flowing motion across campus.  I was standing in the midst of history, where John Hope Franklin and W.E.B. Du Bois were students.  I felt the spirit of compassion and promise woven together with strength.  I walked into Jubilee Hall and viewed the paintings of the Jubilee Singers. 






 The 2008 Annual Jubilee Day Convocation was held at the Fisk Memorial Chapel located across from the historic Jubilee Hall.  As I entered the Fisk Chapel, I was met at the door by finely dressed students.  I was seated next to a man named Harry who was an alumnus of the school’s class of 1955.  We briefly talked about his experience at Fisk and the changes that he witnessed over time.  He was very proud of his school, and stated that his heart will always pump blue and gold (the school colors). 

All in attendance stood as the president and the other platform attendees processed to the podium.  The processional included: Dr. Anthony E. Williams, Professor of Music and University Organist; Reverend Gwendolyn Brown-Felder, Dean of the Chapel; Miss Karla Turner, Miss Fisk 2008-2009; Ms. Denise Billye Sanders, Chair- General Alumni Association; The Honorable Hazel R. O’Leary, the President; Mr. Vincent Stokes, President Student Government Association; Mr. Patrick Johnson, Alumnus; Reverend. Marcus D. Cosby, Keynote Speaker and Alumnus; and Mr. Paul T. Kwami, Music Director. 

As the program progressed, each individual stood at the podium to pay homage to the Jubilee Singers and up lift their school.  One by one, the speakers galvanized the audience, creating a splendid presentation of triumph, respect for heritage, and solidarity with tradition.  Interestingly, the young Student Government Association president provoked the most excitement and reflection on the school’s history.  He sat still all through the service, quietly waiting his turn to the microphone.  He first stood and gazed at the audience and then let loose an awesome presentation.  He said in a powerful voice, “…Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall, who stood on the shoulders of the NAACP, who stood on the shoulders of W.E.B. Du Bois, who stood on the shoulders of Fisk University, who stood and still stands on the shoulders of the Jubilee Singers!”  He continued to talk about the sacrifice that these singers undertook.  He spoke proudly of his school showcasing his knowledge of its history and how that history has influenced all of America. 

 Afterwards we heard the beautiful sounds of the Jubilee Singers.  I sat still listening intently as these young men and women followed in the traditions of the past.  All of the singers took great pride in the school with reverence to their history.  They appreciated the sacrifices that the singers made in the early days of the school. 

 Overall, the student body at Fisk University – a group of bright black and brown children – has a love for learning that is equal to students at any Ivy League institution and these students’ appreciation for their heritage runs deeper than an ocean.  These students say “I love Fisk University and will fight for her as she has fought for me.”

 After the Convocation everyone in attendance traveled to the grave site of the singers for deference.  A touching experience, which causes me to say I am blessed to have witnessed this wonderful event.  

As a professor, it is a pleasure to see a student dive into his research.  I hope that more young people will pursue research interests pertaining to Historically Black Colleges and Universities as these institutions are national treasures that play an important role in educating our country’s students.