‘Rest In Power’: Dr. James Turner, Africana Studies Pioneer at Cornell University, Has Died

‘Rest In Power’: Dr. James Turner, Africana Studies Pioneer at Cornell University, Has Died

Dr. James Turner, a revolutionary activist and scholar, who integrated African-American history, life, culture, and literature to Cornell University, died last week.

The news was reported in Diverse Issues of Higher Education. A cause of death wasn’t given.

In 1969, Turner and his wife, Janice Turner, moved to Ithaca, New York. He was celebrated for initiating the term “Africana Studies” and serving as the founding director of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. The professor was entrusted to head the research center following protests by Black students who demanded academic programs and funding for African American studies during that same year.

“We got here at a very opportune moment in the history of Cornell, at a crossroads in the history of the country,” James said in a 2011 interview with Ithaca.com.

“At that moment, many took off school, left, and put their own ambitions on hold because of their commitment to the larger issue of human rights for black people, to continue the unfinished process of the civil war.”

Turner’s contributions addressed the alarming lack of Black teachers in the Ithaca City School District, Black tenured professors, and academic programs of the African diaspora and the three primary global Black communities–Africa, North America, and the Caribbean.

“We had to begin the process of changing that environment,” James continued. “People would say, ‘There is no Black culture, there is no Black literature,’ so how will you teach a course on it?” That argument, James Turner told Ithaca.com, was nonsense—nobody was teaching it.

Turner was a founding member of TransAfrica, an African American lobbying organization, and national organizer of the Southern Africa Liberation Support Committee, which worked to adopt sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

His was a Schomburg Research Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He researched the political philosophy of Malcolm X which was implemented on the multi-award-winning PBS series, Eyes on the Prize.

Scholars and students have paid tribute to Turner via social media.