This Issue of Afro-Americans in New York Life and History Is Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Ralph Watkins

By Fordham, Monroe | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2009 | Go to article overview

This Issue of Afro-Americans in New York Life and History Is Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Ralph Watkins


Fordham, Monroe, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


RALPH WATKINS, 1943-2007

Ralph R. Watkins passed away on September 18, 2007. He was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2005, was treated but had a recurrence in July of 2006. He was hospitalized at the end of August 2007 for the last time. Ralph died peacefully at home surrounded by his family.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Ralph Watkins received his bachelor's degree from Buffalo State College. After college, the Buffalo Public Schools employed him as a social studies teacher. In 1970 he entered a Ph.D. Program in history at SUNY Buffalo, where he received the doctoral degree in the mid 1970s. While a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo, Watkins was a teacher's assistant. He also taught an in-service course in African American History to teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools.

After receiving his doctoral degree, Watkins was hired by the history department at SUNY Oneonta. He taught African American History, Twentieth Century American History, Comparative Slavery, and Introductory Africana and Latino Studies. He was chair of Africana and Latino Studies for a decade. He served as a consultant to the New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Department; the Strong Museum of Rochester, N.Y; and the New York State Education Department. He was a longtime member of the SUNY Advisory Committee on African American Studies. Watkins was on the committee that wrote the proposal that led to the establishment of the New York State African American Institute. Watkins was also the recipient of three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Before leaving Buffalo, Watkins was a founding member of the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, and for 32 years he was an assistant editor of its journal-Afro-Americans in New York Life and History.

A Memorial Tribute to Dr. Ralph Watkins

Monroe Fordham

I met Ralph Watkins in the fall of 1970. We were both first year students in the history Ph.D. program at SUNY Buffalo. From the outset we became close friends. For one thing, we had come from similar backgrounds; we both came from public housing projects and poor neighborhoods of urban America, we were both the first in our families to go to college, and we both tended to see the world from the perspective of common and ordinary people. Those factors led both of us to have a strong attraction to community history. That is what I remember most about Ralph; his strong interest in community history and his tendency to see historical issues from the perspective of ordinary people.

One example comes to mind. During our graduate school years it was fashionable to view the historical conflict between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington from the perspective of DuBois and so called "progressive" blacks. Most academic types had a negative view of Washington's arguments. I think that because of Ralph's personal background, he was inclined to be more sympathetic to Washington's point of view. To the mass of ordinary blacks, Washington's program of trade schools and practical education was especially attractive; it offered them immediate and tangible benefits. …

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