In 1985, the African Studies Center at UCLA was renamed the James S. Coleman African Studies Center in his honor.
James Smoot Coleman was born in Provo, Utah on February 4, 1919. He earned his bachelor's degree at Brigham Young University, his M.A. and Ph.D. at Harvard, and joined the UCLA faculty as an instructor in 1953. From there his career was meteoric. He died from a heart attack on April 20, 1985, at age 66, leaving behind, as one colleague described it, "a dazzling record of achievement."
His rise through the academic ranks was a reflection of his prolific scholarly contributions. Within seven years, he rose from Instructor to full Professor and Director of the University's African Studies Center. 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 International Studies and Overseas Programs in 1984.
Jim Coleman 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. Yet, he was a totally self-effacing man, less wedded to his ideas than most and swift to acknowledge and accept the challenge of criticism or the introduction of differing opinions by students and colleagues. As teacher and administrator, he built on success and recognized the potential for excellence everywhere and the quality of it in everyone.
Jim Coleman's capacity for work was legendary, his attention to detail meticulous, his vision boundless, and his style graceful. He was kind, some say avuncular, wise, and extraordinarily inventive. His writing style was an extension of his personality -- eloquent and profound with a unique panache, almost baroque, yet utterly understandable and thoroughly pleasurable.
Jim Coleman will long be recognized as a pioneering giant in the field of African Studies. His energy, his integrity, his vision, his dedication, and his selfless respect for others are elements of his character that have made UCLA's African Studies Center the model of excellence -- a standard for others to emulate.
A gentle man blessed with rare gifts of intellect and warmth, Jim Coleman will be quoted by graduate students and other scholars long into the future. The Weekly Review of May 3, 1985, stated most succinctly, "For those who share Jim Coleman's faith in the relevance of intellectual independence for national development, his life and work will remain an inspiration for the continuing task and a measure of what remains to be done."
Reprinted from the African Studies Center Newsletter (Spring 1985)
Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009
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