James Smoot Coleman
Published: Thursday, August 02, 2012
James Smoot Coleman was an Africanist scholar, Political Science professor and administrator at UCLA. Coleman was a pioneering giant in the field of African Studies and was among the first American scholars to recognize, understand, and give voice to the significance of the African perspective. His scholarly contributions are immense and enduring. They lay mostly in his pioneering work on nationalism, education and development theory. But he also wrote with flair and authority on such disparate topics as academic freedom and political economy. His books, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism and Education and Political Development, are classics in their field.
James Smooth Coleman was born in Provo, Utah on February 4, 1919. He graduated from Brigham Young High School and earned his bachelor's degree at Brigham Young University. He interrupted his college education to join the U.S. Army in 1941, and achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel before resigning in 1946 after the end of World War II. Coleman earned a Masters and Ph.D. from Harvard University where he was also a teaching fellow from 1949 to 1950 and joined the UCLA faculty as an instructor in 1953. From there his career was meteoric. At his death in 1985 at age 66, Coleman left behind, as one colleague described it, “a dazzling record of achievement.”
Coleman’s rise through the academic ranks was a reflection of his prolific scholarly contributions. Within seven years, he rose from Instructor to full Professor and was the first director of the UCLA African Studies Center from its founding in 1959 until 1965. He left UCLA in 1965 to become Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University College at the University of East Africa in Uganda. In 1967 he was named Director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi. During that time he served as an associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation and as its representative in East Africa and Zaire. He returned to UCLA in 1978 as Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Council on International and Comparative Studies. He was named Director of UCLA’s International Studies and Overseas Programs in 1984 (now known as UCLA's International Institute).