After 35 years of dedicated service to Cornell, Ithaca and the advancement of African studies, Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, was honored by the Ithaca Common Council, last night before a gathering of about 50 friends and supporters of the renowned educator.
In the unanimously-passed resolution honoring Turner, Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) and Michelle Berry ’92 (D-2nd Ward) noted that during Turner’s tenure he had “spoken out against racism, discrimination, oppression and injustice; and formed strong partnerships in research, the humanities, the sciences, literature, sociology and many other fields to educate leaders throughout the world about the invaluable role of history, particularly Africana history in our nation and world.”
After the honor was ratified by the Council, Turner spoke briefly about coming from New York City to Ithaca.
He said that, upon moving to Ithaca, his wife and he decided to reject the idea of a “division” between the Hill and the town below. That decision would have a deep impact on Turner’s life. Aside from the numerous on-campus programs that Turner spearheaded or supported, he also went down into the city.
There, along with other Africana faculty and students, he became involved with helping disadvantaged youths from the community.
He was a founding member of the Village at Ithaca, according to Townsend. He said that the center helps students by bringing in Cornellians to talk to and tutor kids.
The Council also noted Turner’s influence on Africana studies nationally, including his teachings on “the three primary global black communities” of Africa, North America and the Caribbean.
The Council said, in its resolution, that this was “a paradigm that has been adopted widely by educational programs as the epistemology for the field of black studies.”
The resolution also listed several of Turner’s many accomplishments including winning the Association of Sociologists’ Award of Distinction, being a founding member of Trans-Africa, a national organizer of the South African Liberation Support Committee, and a Schomburg Research Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research.
Townsend, who took Turner’s GOVT 210: Race in America and Cornell: An Introductory Course, said that Turner was a “great professor and a great orator.”
“I’d recommend anyone to take his class,” he said. “It opens your eyes to a different perspective on the subject. I think that’s the mark of a great professor.”
Berry said that, although she had not majored in Africana Studies, Turner had transformed the program into one that “students turn to … to find someone they truly relate to.”
Roslyn Cyrus ’07 said, “Prof. Turner’s class is one that I can honestly say I would never consider missing.”
“His lectures are more than just facts and concepts,” she added. “He encourages his students to analyze and form our own ideas about the struggles that African Americans have endured and the accomplishments that we have achieved.”
She is taking ASRC 231: African American Social and Political Thought.
Turner said that he found the ceremony “deeply moving,” especially as throughout the day his co-workers and associates congratulated him and expressed their pride in him. “I had no idea that these people in these different venues … would have had paid so much attention to this announcement,” he said.
Turner said that he was most proud of the fact that, during his tenure, the program had “developed consistently to a point where it is one of the top three to five programs in the country.”
Turner sees the Africana program as moving into a new phase over the next few years, with expansion planned throughout the program, including a possible doctoral program in the school.
Turner said that he was particularly interested in working with alumni who he had helped teach and whose children he was now beginning to teach.
“We’ll soon be in the third generation of students [to come through the program],” he said.
Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun Senior Writer