Mourning the Loss of Professor John H. Bracey, Jr.
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
We are sad to share the news that a pillar of our department and community, Professor John H. Bracey, Jr., recently joined the ancestors. Our community is shaken by this tremendous loss.
For a little more than fifty years, Professor John H. Bracey Jr. served as a faculty member in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He helped to create one of the nation’s first doctoral programs in Afro-American Studies and twice served as Chair of the department. He was also the co-director of the department’s graduate certificate in African Diaspora Studies. His major academic interests were in African American social history, radical ideologies and movements, and the history of African American Women and more recently the interactions between Native Americans and African Americans, and Afro-Latinos in the United States. Professor Bracey attended Howard University, Roosevelt University, and Northwestern University. During the 1960s, Professor Bracey was active in the Civil Rights, Black Liberation, and other radical movements in Chicago, including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Chicago Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and the Revolutionary Action Movement. He was also a leader in the Northwestern Takeover in 1968 (alongside Kathleen Ogletree and James Turner). He received a legacy award for this from Northwestern in 2018. Since his arrival at UMass, he has maintained those interests and commitments both on campus and in the wider world.
His publications include several co-edited volumes, such as Black Nationalism in America (1970); the prize winning African American Women and the Vote: 1837-1965 (1997); Strangers and Neighbors: Relations between Blacks and Jews in the United States (with Maurianne Adams, 1999); and, African American Mosaic: A Documentary History from the Slave Trade to the Twenty-First Century (with Manisha Sinha, 2004). Professor Bracey’s scholarship also includes editorial work on the microfilm series Black Studies Research Sources (LexisNexis), which includes the Papers of the NAACP, Amiri Baraka, the Revolutionary Action Movement, A. Phillip Randolph, Mary McLeod Bethune, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and the Papers of Horace Mann Bond. Professor Bracey is a co-editor with Professor James Smethurst and Professor Emerita Sonia Sanchez of SOS: Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader (2014).
Yet, his impact and influence went far beyond academic publications. He has mentored many and shaped the careers of innumerable students and faculty. His dedication to students was inspiring; he was known to reach into his own pockets to help students who needed financial assistance. He impacted so many lives across the span of his career, as evidenced by the many tributes that have been pouring into the department since the news was shared.
Professor Bracey also led many initiatives seeking to improve the experiences of marginalized groups on campus and beyond, including most recently co-chairing the Black Presence Project at UMass Amherst. He played a crucial role in helping UMass to secure the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois, leaving a significant imprint upon the identity of the special collections and archives, university library, and the larger university itself.
Professor Bracey has been recognized through numerous awards and honors, including the Zora Neale Hurston-Paul Robeson award for outstanding artistic and scholarly achievement from the National Council for Black Studies, and an award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), among others. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the College of Wooster.
A few words of remembrance from his current and former colleagues attest to his impact:
“John joined our fledgling department of Afro-American Studies in 1972, a time when even the idea for such a department – such a field of study – was being dismissed as heresy by most leaders in education throughout the country. It was our good fortune that John was not persuaded by the nay- sayers, but joined us, bringing with him a commitment and an energy that never waned. His many contributions to bringing about what acceptance the field enjoys today, and to the particular success of our department are monumental. Over the years, he served our department and the campus with distinction in various roles: —as Chair of our department, as representative to the Faculty Senate, as an official in the Faculty Union, as a member of the Five College Black Studies Consortium, to name a few— but from the beginning, his forte was his teaching. Over five decades, our students, as well as students from other departments and the nearby colleges eagerly enrolled in his classes and often sought him out as an advisor on academic and non- academic subjects alike. He was a brilliant teacher, with an exhaustive, wide-ranging knowledge of the Black experience in the Americas and an uncompromising advocate for justice and equality. We will miss John profoundly, but the pain of our loss is matched by our gratitude for his long productive tenure among us and our belief that some of his many students have indeed embraced John’s ideas about justice and his passion for truth.”- Esther Terry
“For a little more than fifty years, John H. Bracey Jr served as a faculty member in the collectivity known as the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His encyclopedic knowledge of African American history was essential to the formation of the department’s undergraduate as well as graduate curricula over the years. He mentored hundreds of students—not only among those who matriculated in the Du Bois Department but among many who entered the ranks of the History Department and other academic departments as well. He will be fondly remembered by all who experienced his unstinting love and respect for African American and related histories.”- Ernest Allen
“I was blessed to meet Professor John Bracey in 1994 when he was elected as the Secretary of the Faculty Senate where I worked as his secretary until he recruited me to the Afro-American Studies Department in 1997. It was only a few months into his three-year term and his office was already loaded with books and papers. He has been cleaning out his office for as long as I can remember but the piles never seem to go down. He just moved boxes from one office to the other. John was like a father to me, and he taught me everything I know about Black Studies and inspired me to keep on learning. His entire life has been about being an educator and he was a huge advocate for our students and to their success. Words cannot express what John means to me. My deepest sympathy to his family and all who love Professor Bracey. He will always be in our hearts. Rest in peace John.”-Tricia Loveland
“His impact will be enduring.” -A Yęmisi Jimoh
“John Bracey was a great scholar, teacher, activist, and colleague dedicated to Black liberation and human freedom generally. He was equally at home on the campus and in the community. He was absolutely fearless and would speak the truth as he saw it to whomever he thought needed to know it. Some of the best memories of my life are the times I spent with him and Sonia Sanchez travelling from Augusta, Georgia to Vermillion, South Dakota to talk about the Black Arts Movement. John’s knowledge, intelligence, passion, and humor were always amazing to me and to our audiences. Ashé and safe home, John.”- James Smethurst
“For John: Whence comes such another? He came, he saw, he acted, and he loved.” -Steve Tracy
“He was an inspiration to anyone seeking to have an impact upon the world. His legacy endures in his scholarship and in the hundreds, even thousands of lives he shaped over his career. Thank you for building such a solid foundation from which we can continue to build into the future.”- Yolanda Covington-Ward
Rest in peace and in power, Professor John H. Bracey, Jr.
Faculty and Staff in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies
February 6, 2023