Robert N. Rhodes, Professor Emeritus of African American Studies, passed away on Dec. 4. He began his career as an activist and concluded it at Ohio University, where he inspired generations of students.
Ohio University alum Lyman A. Montgomery III ’91 writes in Shattered Masks: 7 Masks We Wear, “Unlike my earlier years of rejecting by African-American heritage, in college, I grew to love and appreciate my ancestry after taking the course, Black Political Thought, taught by Professor Robert Rhodes, a brilliant scholar. I learned so much about our contributions in building this great country that I minored in African-American Studies. My thirst for knowledge was insatiable.”
Greg Carr ’87 writes on Rhodes’ page at Cage Memorial Chapel: “Professor Bob Rhodes was a towering intellectual and a master teacher. His genius combined a prodigious memory and voracious appetite for knowledge with an uncanny ability to identify the heart of an issue and articulate it with piercing clarity. This was all delivered with a razor wit that kept everyone in his presence awash in their own laughter. Prof. Rhodes was a lilting, soothing and at once potent storyteller who lit up every space I was ever with him in. None of us ever left Bob Rhodes’s presence without feeling like there was everything left to learn and everything left to know. He was a once-in-a-lifetime intellectual force, and he knew and connected to so many others who shared his passions for music, art, scholarship and the uplift of our people….”
“The Department of African American Studies mourns the passing of Robert Rhodes, former faculty and chairperson,” says Dr. Robin Muhammad, Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Ohio University. “Bob Rhodes was an Associate Professor of AAS in the 1980s and 1990s. He developed several courses in African American history, economics, and government. Former students and colleagues recall his energetic support of critical discussions around historical and contemporary issues. A long-time jazz enthusiast, Bob Rhodes is fondly remembered for the breadth of his cultural and intellectual engagement. He retired to Chicago but visited Athens several times and was a welcome presence at the Black Alumni Reunions.”
An Early Activist
Rhodes was among the very early proponents of African American studies.
Before coming to Ohio University, Rhodes led the Black Studies program at Antioch College, where the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education wielded the 1964 Civil Rights Law to threaten Antioch with the loss of federal funding over development of the Afro-American Studies Institute, citing discrimination against white students, writes Stephen C. Ferguson II in the book Philosophy of African American Studies: Nothing Left of Blackness.
“Black Leftist activists were significant players during the early period of Black Studies,” writes Ferguson. He includes Rhodes among the significant players during this time, noting that Rhodes taught African American Studies courses at the Antioch College branch campus in Washington, D.C. Ferguson also cites Rhodes’ analysis of the African American National Conference on Africa, an article titled “Internationalism and Social Consequences in the Black Community” in Freedomways 12 (1972). Freedomways was a leading African American journal published from 1961-85.
Martha Biondi writes in her book The Black Revolution on Campus that Rhodes led study groups the University of Chicago in 1968, at a time of an emerging black liberation movement, and taught briefly in “Communiversity,” where he was a popular teacher of weekend courses on political economy.
Just a few months ago, Rhodes did a recorded interview with Jared A. Ball at imixwhatilike!
“Bob Rhodes is a legendary self-proclaimed (accurately) ‘idea man’ who prefers the background to the limelight. He is one of the most brilliant still-living true black leftists who has yet maintained strong ties with the black nationalist community,” writes Ball. I had a chance to capture this portion of a conversation we had in the office of Dr. Conrad Worrill at the Jacob Carruthers Institute for Inner City Studies in Chicago Feb. 21, 2015, as we set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination.”
Rhodes earned an M.A. at the University of Cincinnati and an M.S. at Atlanta University.