John Bracey Jr.
University News

In Memoriam: John Bracey Jr.

John Bracey Jr., professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, and a prominent author, activist and pre-eminent scholar of Black history, who helped pioneer one of the nation’s first Afro-American studies department at UMass Amherst, has died at age 81.

NEWS John Bracey Jr.
John Bracey Jr.

Bracey played a pivotal role in creating one of the first departments of Afro-American Studies in the nation at UMass as well as a groundbreaking doctoral degree in the field. The combined reputation of the university and Bracey attracted luminaries such as author James Baldwin, who taught at UMass Amherst for several years, while Betty Shabazz, the activist and wife of Malcolm X, earned a doctorate in education. UMass Amherst is home to the archives of both Horace Mann Bond and W.E.B. Du Bois, for whom our Department of Afro-American studies and library are named. For more than half a century Bracey was a fixture of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American studies. He also served as co-director of the department’s graduate certificate in African Diaspora Studies.

In recent years, he was a leader in creating the UMass Black Presence Initiative, a major endeavor to honor and celebrate the historic contributions of UMass Amherst’s Black faculty, students, staff and alumni by creating a permanent archive. Bracey and his students conducted oral history interviews with dozens of past and present members of UMass Amherst's Black community. It serves as a living testament to the impact they have had throughout nearly 160-years of history. The archive is available at

A photo of John Bracey seated at a table and speaking during the 2015 Chinua Achebe Symposium
John Bracey Jr. at the 2015 Chinua Achebe Symposium

In June, Bracey participated in a wide-ranging interview on The Black Table by Dr. Greg Carr in which he talks about his life.

Born in Chicago in 1941, Bracey was raised in Washington D.C. and went on to attend Howard University where his passion for civil rights, Black history and activism blossomed. He leaves behind his long-time partner and long-time UWW leader Ingrid Bracey. A tribute to his legacy is being planned.

The campus is currently fundraising for a graduate fellowship in his honor, and donations can be made via the link found on the College of Humanities and Fine Arts website.

A screenshot of John Bracey's interview with Greg Carr on The Black Table

John Bracey Jr. discussed his life and career and the Black studies movement with Greg Carr for nearly an hour on “The Black Table” in June 2022.