Prof. Don Ohadike, African history, passed away last Sunday at the age of 63. He was the director of the Africana Studies & Research Center, among many other prominent roles that he played at Cornell in his 16 years here.
Ohadike joined Cornell’s faculty at the Africana Center in 1989 as an assistant professor, then served as an associate professor since 1996 and became director of the Center in 2001. From 1998 to 2002, he was the faculty-in-residence for the Just About Music (JAM) program house, where he loved to play his guitar with students. He was also a campus faculty fellow from 1990 to 1998. As a professor, Ohadike taught African Cultures and Civilizations, one of Cornell’s most popular courses in recent years. In 2000, he received the outstanding Faculty of the Year Award from the Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Letter Council and Panhellenic Association.
“[Ohadike] was an impressive scholar,” said Prof. Salah Hassan, Africana studies, current director of the Center. “He was a very generous and a very kind human being.”
At Cornell, Ohadike focused on researching and teaching African history, in particular West African history. He has published five books including The Ekumeku Movement: Western Igbo Resistance to the British Conquest of Nigeria, Anioma: A Social History of the Western Igbo People, and Pan-African Culture of Resistance: A History of Liberation Movements in Africa and the Diaspora. He was invited to write the introduction for the 1996 edition of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which is this year’s new student reading project.
“Ohadike was an outstanding and exemplary teacher. His commitment to teaching and to bridging his scholarship and practice in the classroom was clearly illuminated in the record of highly innovative courses that he taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels,” stated an obituary written by Hassan.
Prof. Ayele Bekerie, Africana studies, co-taught the African cultures course with Ohadike last year. “He was the type of person who was willing to give himself to others, always willing to help others,” Bekerie said. “He had a great sense of humor and he’d make you feel so comfortable immediately.” At the same time, Bekerie observed, Ohadike was a “very serious scholar.” Bekerie said that Ohadike would frequently return to his office after dinner and continue to do research until as late as midnight.
“[Ohadike] would take his time from his work to talk to his colleagues in the department and open up his door and let everybody come in to have lighthearted discussions,” Bekerie added.
“He touched the lives of many people. … He was a faithful friend and very supportive of colleagues in his field,” Hassan said. “We [at the department] are moved by the outpouring of letters from former students and colleagues.”
Ohadike was born in Nigeria, earned degrees in history and archaeology at the University of Nigeria, and traveled to England to study at the University of Birmingham. He returned to Nigeria to earn a doctorate in history at the University of Jos and taught at that university before arriving in the U.S. as a visiting scholar for Northwestern and Stanford Universities.
When he arrived at Cornell, Ohadike studied topics of research including slavery in Africa, anti-slavery and anti-colonial resistance movements in Africa and the African Diaspora, disease, epidemiology and food security in Africa, as well as Nigerian history.
Both Hassan and Bekerie, however, remember Ohadike the best for his strong bond to his family. “What is also amazing about him is raising three children by himself,” Bekerie said. “He was a single father and all of them are now grown up and they’re very successful.”
Ohadike is survived by two daughters, Ophelia Ohadike and Sandra Ohadike, two sons, James Ohadike and Azuka Ohadike, and five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held this Saturday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
Archived article by Julie Geng
Sun Senior Writer