Noted African American Studies Scholar Dies

Rudolph Byrd BA ’75, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies at Emory University

Rudolph Byrd BA ’75, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies at Emory University, died Oct. 21, 2011, at age 58, after a long battle with cancer. Byrd was the founder and director of Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, which fosters new scholarship, teaching, and public dialogue on the history and enduring legacy of the fight for civil and human rights. Most recently, he helped inaugurate a partnership with Emory, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and CNN, by formulating a community forum program on contemporary civic issues called CNN Dialogues.

Byrd was the founding cochair of the Alice Walker Literary Society, and helped bring the author’s archives to Emory. The author of numerous books, he published a new critical edition of Jean Toomer’s Cane, with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 2011. Byrd frequently commented on the modern civil rights movement, images of blacks in the media, politics, and intergenerational dialogues, as well as race, gender, sexuality, and politics.

“For many of us, Rudolph was not only a symbol of dignity, propriety, determination, elegance, and stamina, he embodied what it meant to live with purposefulness and grace, even to the very end,” said Earl Lewis, executive vice president of academic affairs and provost at Emory. “As others have said more than once … Rudolph remained the consummate teacher: he taught us to live and how to die.”