Dunbar on Black Books
December 1999    


Humanitarian Scholar

Edmund W. Gordon is a developmental psychologist with a distinguished record of publications and substantial experience in the academy and in the field. He was one of the founders and the first research director for Head Start. He designed the prototype of the National Educational Resources Information Centers (ERIC). He helped write the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, commonly known as Title I or Compensatory Education. He has designed and conducted education experiments in New York City and a half-dozen of the major cities of the U.S.A. His experience in the field has informed his scholarship in material ways. So it is for example that, in speaking of persons who are "at risk," he says that at risk status is a function of the inappropriateness of developmental environments to the needs of the person and that a focus on these deficient environments may be more productive than a focus on the characteristics of the persons.

Gordon's preparation for his profession began at Howard University, where he took a Bachelor of Science degree in 1942 and a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1945. In 1950 he received an M.A. degree from American University. He began his career as a parish minister, then for five years was assistant dean of men at Howard University. He earned the Ed.D. degree at Teachers College Columbia University in 1957.

From 1960-68 Professor Gordon held appointment as professor of psychology and education at Yeshiva University in New York, where he was also professor of pediatric psychology in its Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In the late 1960s he moved to Teachers College Columbia University where he taught psychology and guidance and assumed several administrative responsibilities. While at Teachers College Dr. Gordon became editor of the Annual Review of Research in Education and editor of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. He was appointed to what was then the most prestigious endowed professorship in educational psychology - The Richard March Hoe Professor of Education and Psychology. It was also at Teachers College where he founded and directed the Institute for Urban and Minority Education.

Along the way he became active in national professional associations related to his discipline. As a result of his outstanding scholarship he was elected to membership in other organizations where membership is extended by invitation only based on demonstrated achievement. In 1978 Professor Gordon was elected to the National Academy of Education, in which membership is limited to the 100 most accomplished educational research scientists in the world. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and fellow of the American Psychological Society. He is a life member of the Association of Black Psychologists. He was twice nominated as president of the American Educational Research Association and is a life member and fellow of the American Orthopsychiatric Association.

In 1979 Professor Gordon accepted appointment as professor of psychology at Yale University, where he taught in Yale College, the Graduate School and in the College of Medicine. At Yale Dr. Gordon also held appointments as professor of African American studies, professor of epidemiology and professor of pediatric psychology. Yale University honored him with his second appointment to an endowed professorship - The John M. Musser Professor of Psychology. With that appointment Professor Gordon became one of the very few people in the world to hold endowed professorships at two ivy-league universities. Retiring in 1991, he is the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology Emeritus and continues his work as an independent scholar.

His most recent book, (Education and Justice: A View From the Back of the Bus, Teachers College Press, ISBN 0-8077-3844-1) demonstrates his continuing interest in and contribution to pedagogical theory and the practice of education of the low status populations. It also provides insight into the empathy which Edmund W. Gordon has for the poor and the bypassed. This book demonstrates his commitment, not only to the conceptualization of strategies for improving the education that they receive, but for developing modalities for implementing effective educational programs for the purpose.

The book title and cover photo constitute a metaphor for the point which Professor Gordon makes in this book. The children, black and white go to school on the same bus, arriving there at the same time. But once the bus gets there the children often go to separate classes where the development of their teachers has not been given priority. As he says, "Teachers who, often within their first year of teaching, fall below a certain threshold of performance seldom reach a level of success in the classroom that would enable them to learn from interaction with their students." The students of these teachers end up at the symbolic back of the class, which is more lastingly hurtful than was their ride to school at the back of the bus. The book is replete with insightful metaphors and observations such as this.

The record shows that as far back as 1957 Professor Gordon published on the subject of equalizing educational opportunity for the disadvantaged. Certainly, he began his study of the problem long before that year. Indeed, the case could be made that Professor Gordon was one of the first, if not the first in mainstream academe to stake out a claim in the frontier land of the education of the disadvantaged. Moreover, it can be demonstrated that he did so from some of the most prestigious chairs in the academy at Teachers College, Columbia University, Harvard University and at Yale University.

Eight of his assistants worked with Professor Gordon in fleshing out several chapters of this book. It is his practice to give credit in his publications to the young people who work with him. In addition, he acknowledges the contributions of his pediatrician wife, Dr. Susan G. Gordon, as not only cogenitor of their four children, but of many of their ideas. Readers who know of her work as a member of the East Ramapo Board of Education, which is of the largest non-city school district in New York State, can appreciate the level of contribution by this partnership in Gordon and Gordon Associates.

Gordon's assessment of the failings of the 1989 study A Common Destiny is a tangible demonstration of his commitment to applying his knowledge of theoretical constructs to the reality of the world of the black community. His views regarding this Jaynes & Williams' study constitute a case in point. Without oversimplifying, Gordon has three criticisms of this study. First, he says, the dimensions of status and the conditions of black people are not adequately addressed. Second, and this is an important consideration, Gordon says that the information is reported in the "objective," almost sterile tradition of the "scientific" community, which leaves this treatment of one of the nation's most recalcitrant problems devoid of passion and any sense of urgency. Finally, he says, after more than two years of study, of reviewing and organizing information, this group of some of the nation's most talented scholars, did not also analyze the information critically and contemplate solutions.

The author of Education and Justice: A View from the Back of the Bus is no isolated ivory tower academic. His work for the Head Start Project and at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education, to mention but two, make this clear. Perhaps the greatest contribution that he made to black higher education was that which he made to the Black Studies department at the City College of New York.

In July 1992 the Black Studies Department at CCNY was in disarray. Dr. Leonard Jeffries, its chairman, was stepping down. Dr. Bernard Harleston, the black president of CCNY had "resigned" under conditions that many associated with differences that he had with Dr. Jeffries. Dr. Gordon, who had recently retired from Yale University, agreed to head the Black Studies department at CCNY on an interim basis . The sniping began immediately.

James Smalls, an associate of Dr. Jeffries, took to the air waves and launched a campaign to discredit, and perhaps even to frighten, Dr. Gordon. First, Smalls suggested that at his advanced age of 70 Dr. Gordon should not be taking this position at CCNY. Moreover, "being independently wealthy," Smalls argued, "Gordon didn't need a job." Further, Smalls said, Dr. Gordon "should be heading for the ancestral resting place." His taking the position here might anger the Gods, "and the ancestors might strike him down." Others spread a rumor that the Black Studies department at City College would soon be dismantled or merged with other departments.

Professor Gordon responded with clarity. He said that the department was not to be dismantled, but rather was to be expanded. He announced that he was seeking new faculty positions in African-American women's history, philosophy, ethnomusicology, sociology and literature. He delivered on his promise by appointing David Levering Lewis (Du Bois biographer) as Visiting Professor of History and Black Studies; Bell Hooks as Distinguished Professor of English and Black Studies; Colin Palmer as Distinguished Professor of History and Black Studies; Deborah L. Coates as Professor of Psychology and Black Studies; and Frederick Dunn as Assistant Professor of Education and Black Studies. Furthermore, he outlined his plans for a council of elders, fellows, and visiting scholars and said that he was awaiting word from the Ford Foundation on a research institute he had proposed. The following year he founded the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. To his critics who said he was too old, he replied that he was old, but that his mind was still sharp. To those who said that coming from the ivy league he would not fit in, he replied that this was just what was needed around CCNY. To those who said that he had no background in Afrocentric thought or black studies Edmund W. Gordon replied that his bibliography was stocked with pertinent books and articles. He cited his critique of A Common Destiny which had just been published in Psychological Science and his book Compensatory Education.

Three years later, in July of 1995, Dr. Myoibi J. Amoda was selected as the chairperson of the Black Studies department at CCNY. During the period that Dr. Gordon administered it, no race-charged rhetoric emanated from it. It was strengthened and set on a scholarly course. The Gods were not angered. The ancestors did not strike down Edmund W. Gordon. In June 1999, Professor Gordon celebrated his 78th birthday. He continues to study the problem of educating the poor. Currently he is working on three books to be entitled Defiers of Negative Prediction: Success Against the Odds; Teaching and Learning in Urban Societies; and Supplementary Education: Learning beyond the School House. On Sunday, July 4, 1999, Professor Gordon's current research was the subject of the lead article on the front page of The New York Times. It involves a study which he is chairing which seeks to find an explanation for the gap in the academic achievement of black middle-class and upper-income students and that of whites of comparable socioeconomic status. "Dunbar on Black Books" will revisit Dr. Gordon and this subject in a subsequent issue.

Note: This review is adapted from that which this reviewer published in African American & Caribbean Voices, Pomona, N.Y.


    0834 The Way of the Bootstrapper: Nine Action Steps for Achieving Your Dreams. by Floyd Flake and Donna Marie Williams. Harper San Franciso. ISBN 0-06-251595-0
    The former New York Congressman and pastor of Allen A.M.E. Church in Queens has teamed up with Donna Marie Williams to co-author a book which, in the words of economist Julianne Malveaux, "mines our history and his own life to propose an uplifting 'you can do it' message." However, Malveaux is troubled by the book's "tilt to the right (with one foot planted firmly in the black church)" which the forward [sic] by conservative values guru William Bennet has provided. She is nevertheless left with an appreciation for the apparent strength that exists in the African American community. [Source: Black Issues Book Review, May-June 1999]

    0835 Better than Good: A Black Sailor's War, 1943-1945. by Adolph Newton. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557506493
    Like many young men, Adolph Newton forged his parents' signature at seventeen to join the Navy and fight the Japanese in the Pacific. But, unlike others, Newton was black and became one of the very few general enlisted sailors. His memoir gives a fresh, bold voice to thousands of enlisted men black and white who served in the Navy during the 1940s and breaks new ground with its vivid depiction of the Navy's awkward first steps toward integration. [Source: Naval Institute Press advt. in Black Issues Book Review, March-April 1999]

    0836 Respect: An Exploration. by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Perseus/Merloyd Lawrence. ISBN 0-382-0093-X.
    From Aretha's plaintive but powerful musical demand to current complaints about lack of civility, respect and lack of respect hold a central position in our value systems: the values we think we remember, those we now practice, and those we wish everyone else would practice. In examining respect, Harvard Graduate School of Education sociologist Lawrence-Lightfoot - author of Balm in Gilead (1988) and I've Known Rivers (1994) - shifts from a traditional, static, impersonal notion of respect as a duty owed within a hierarchy to a dynamic one stressing how "respect creates symmetry, empathy, and connection," especially in unequal relationships. In addition to her own and her family's stories, Lawrence-Lightfoot narrates the stories of six individuals (a midwife, a pediatrician, a middle- and high-school teacher, an artist/photographer, a law school professor, and an activist Episcopal priest), tracing the growth of respect in specific relationships and exploring respect's major dimensions: empowerment, healing, dialogue, curiosity, self-respect, and attention. Involving and provocative storytelling that itself constitutes one step in a respectful dialogue with the reader. - Mary Carroll (Booklist/March 1, 1999)

    0837 Freedom's Odyssey: African-American History Essays from Phylon. Edited by Alex Benson Henderson and Janice Sumler-Edmond. Clark Atlanta Univ. ISBN 0-9668555-0-7.
    This is the first book to be published by the newly established Clark Atlanta University press. It is a collection of scholarly essays on topics in African-American history which were first published in Phylon: A Review of Race and Culture which was founded by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1940. The selections are organized chronologically and thematically. They focus on resistance to slavery, economic and political advancement after the Civil War, migration, the establishment of black townships in the West, the black press, racial integration of the military and major league baseball, and, "origins of Diaspora consciousness" among African-Americans. As Publishers Weekly has observed, the collection seems dated since 4 of the 29 essays were written before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, only 9 during the 1980s, and none since. [Source, PW 6/7/99]

    0838 Louis Farrakhan: Made in America. by A. Marshall. BSB Publishing. ISBN:0-9655729-00
    This book chronicles Louis Farrakhan's odyssey from the streets of Roxbury to become America's most outspoken black leader. It traces his controversial relationship with Malcolm X and examines how Farrakhan rebuilt the Nation of Islam and established himself as the spokesperson for millions of disgruntled African-Americans. Americans. It culminates with the historic Million Man March and Farrakhan's subsequent World Friendship Tour. This biography will interest anyone wanting to understand the circumstances that have made Louis Farrakhan who he is today.

    0839 Pulpit Confessions: Exposing the Black Church. by N. Moore. Exodus Books; ISBN: 0965829928
    Pulpit Confessions: Exposing The Black Church is an honest, behind the scenes look at the African-American church. The author spent a decade as a preacher and pastor in the black church and is actually betraying an unofficial code of silence by writing this book. The author began ministry in his teens and was pastoring by his early twenties. He speaks frankly about his and other ministers' odysseys from sincere, well-intentioned prodigies to cynical, sinful, showman. He soon discovered that things in the church were not as they seemed. In this ground-breaking book, he describes a secular and often profane ministerial community that is often shrouded in pseudo holiness. He exposes the thoughts and motivations of both ministers and congregations and their degenerate power struggles which often turn violent. He pulls no punches when he untangles the myths, unravels the mystique and reveals the secrets of the black church.

    0840 Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race. by Eugene Robinson. Free Press. ISBN 0-684-5722-7
    Frustrated by American racial politics, Robinson, a seasoned journalist at the Washington Post, took a position as a foreign correspondent in its South American bureau. In this book he compares color, class and racial identity in the U.S. with that in South America. Despite its flaws the book is full of provocative and worthy insights. [Source: PW 7/5/99]

    0841 Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City. by Elijah Anderson. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04023-2.
    The author, a journalist and professor of social sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, looks at the complex issues surrounding respect, social etiquette and family values in the multicultural neighborhoods along Philadelphia's Germantown Avenue. Anderson uncovers the confrontation between hard-working families strugglng against tremendous odds to preserve their dreams of a better life for their children and the code of the street. [Source: PW 7/5/99]

    0842 Wynton Marsalis: Skain's Domain, a Biography. by Leslie Gourse. Schirmer. ISBN 0-02-864863-3.
    This biography by the Ella Fitzgerald biographer treats Marsalis' career and controversies and musical development in detail. It offers brief glimpses into his personal life. But, says PW, "Gourse relies so heavily on quotations from Marsalis, his brother Branford and their fellow musicians that her story never gains any of the the improvisatory momentum that so distinguishes her brilliant protagonist." [Source: PW, 7/26/99]

    0843 Denmark Vesey: The Buried History of America's Largest Slave Rebellion and the Man Who Led It. by David Robertson. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-44288-X.
    The central question of this book is, Why were individual freedom and prosperity not enough for Denmark Vesey? The author's persuasive answer, says PW, links Vesey's dissatisfaction to the spiritual autonomy he achieved through the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Moreover, Robertson sees Vesey as a spiritual and political leader whose views were a precursor to modern black theology. The book is reportedly well researched, smooth in style and provides an intelligent analysis. This appears to be an important book. [Source: PW, 6/7/99]

    0844 The Talented Tenth: The Founders and Presidents of Alpha. (with a foreword by Andrew Young) by Herman Mason, Jr. Four-G Publishers, Inc. ISBN 185066635.
    This book by the former archivist of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., is informed by author's access to documents not heretofore available. However, there is at least one void which puzzles this reviewer. There is no bibliography for some of the chapters on the former General Presidents, including that on the late Charles Harris Wesley, the eminent historian of the Fraternity, for whom the author obviously has a most profound regard. It would have been useful to have documentation of the sources of some of the information provided on Dr. Wesley. However, the book is a useful source document for serious students of the history of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

    0845 The History of Sigma Pi Phi: First of the African-American Greek-Letter Fraternities. Volume II. by Hobart Sidney Jarrett. Quantum Leap Publisher, Inc. ISBN 0-9627161-8-9
    "It is the first revelation of America's Black elite planning and debating strategies to assist the underprivileged, as they convert a graduate-professional fraternity into a social-action organization. A distillation of the thoughts of Black leaders spanning the last thirty-five years is reported in the context of a century by a gifted writer of extraordinary breadth." - Christopher E. Edley, Sr. (from the dust jacket)

    0846 Something Within: Religion in African American Political Activism. by Frederick C. Harris. Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0195120337.

    0847 Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit 1960-1995. by Julius E. Thompson. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786403608
    "Thompson has meticulously researched virtually every aspect of Randall's involvement with Broadside Press. . . . This painstaking account helps to fill a significant gap in the literature about African American writers, and it belongs on the shelves of all major academic and public libraries." [Source: "Choice," as cited in Amazon.com]

    0848 A White Preacher's Memoir: The Montgomery Bus Boycott. by Robert S. Graetz. Black Belt. ISBN 1-57966-015-0
    A white minister assigned as pastor to Trinity Lutheran Church in the black community of Montgomery, Ala writes a "riveting account of the civil rights movement, looking outward from the eye of the storm." [Source: PW, 6/28/99]

    0849 Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. by Timothy B. Tyson. Univ of North Carolina. ISBN 0-8078- 2502-6
    With the cooperation of Williams and his family, Tyson, an assistant professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has written "firecracker text [which] crackles with brilliant and lasting images of black life in the Carolinas and across the South in the '40s, '50s and '60s." The book contains many quotes from Williams's unpublished autobiography "While God Lay Sleeping" and from interviews and radio tapes. [Source: PW, 9/27/99]

    0850 Blue vs. Black: Blacks and Cops in Conflict and What We Can Do about It. by John L. Burris, with Catherine Whitney. St. Martin's ISBN 0-312-20392-6.
    Noted civil rights lawyer Burris represented Rodney King in the suit against the LAPD, and brought the issue of police brutality into America's consciousness. In this sane and practical book Burris "calmly spells out the details of several headline-grabbing incidents of police violence. . . . The book provides a promising call to action in the ongoing debate about this persistent societal blight." [Source: PW, 9/6/99]

    0851 Civil Rights Childhood. by Jordana Y. Shakoor. Univ. of Mississippi. ISBN 1-578-06192-X.
    This book by the daughter of a former executive director of the NAACP in Greenwood, Miss., is based on a diary kept by her father. Drawing on the reminiscences of Andrew L. Jordan, Shakoor frames the diary entries with her own insights and depicts the harsh traditions of Jim Crow and the evil fury of the Ku Klux Klan. "Readers . . . will find this account by a pair of survivors engrossing and vital." [Source: PW, 8/2/99]

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
--Mark Twain     

Copyright © 1999 by Harry B. Dunbar. All rights reserved.
Dunbar on Black Books