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The second volume of Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men is dedicated to the late Dr. William E. Nelson, Jr., to whom the members of the Department of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University owe a debt of gratitude. It is because of this and his role in the development of Africana Studies nationwide that we have elected to honor him in this way.
Written one hundred and ten years ago, The Souls of Black Folk is as relevant today as it was at the turn of the twentieth century. In what many consider Dr. W. E. B. DuBois’s seminal work, there are many issues with which he grapples, but there are few passages where education, race, and leadership do not jump off the pages. How to advance the Black race was DuBois’s life’s preoccupation. From his standpoint, a classical education was the way to go, not the industrial and vocational education promoted by Booker T. Washington. Of course, both men would ultimately prove to be right. In DuBois’s mind, with a classical liberal arts education, Blacks would learn to think critically and analytically about the world in which they lived. The slaying of oppression, poverty, and ignorance would be carried out by the cerebral among us. This cohort would be the teachers and leaders of the race. They would not be consumed with acquiring material possessions; rather they would be steadfast in their commitment to using their knowledge and skills to uplift the race.
Born March 19, 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee, William E. Nelson, Jr., or “Nick” as he was affectionately known was a product of DuBois’s thinking. A professor of African American and African Studies (formerly Black Studies) and Political Science at The Ohio State University for forty years, few modern-day [End Page vii] scholars exemplify DuBois’s position more than Nick. As a college student, he attended Arkansas AM&N in Pine Bluff (renamed the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff). From there he journeyed to Atlanta University (AU) where he earned a M.A. in Political Science; and in 1971, he completed a doctorate in that same field at the University of Illinois. Although he was never one of DuBois’s students, like DuBois, Nick was a devout member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; he also took a Master’s degree in political science at Atlanta University, a historically Black campus towered over by DuBois himself in previous decades. For forty years, Nick was a teacher and a mentor, shuttling undergraduates and shepherding graduate students through B.A., M.A., and PhD programs in both the humanities and the social sciences at OSU.
Off campus, Nick was immersed in community affairs. I know of few political scientists who were as widely known off campus as they were on it. Unlike DuBois, Nick was not a prolific scholar, but his work on Black mayors and Black Comparative Politics has left an important imprint on the academy. Over the years, his journal articles appeared in such venues as the Public Administration Review, Urban Affairs Quarterly, National Political Science Review, and the Review of Black Political Economy, to name a few. Said Paula McClain, professor of Political Science and dean of the Graduate School at Duke University, “with Nick’s passing, the discipline has lost a foundational scholar on the importance, influence and lasting outcomes of the election of Black mayors. Nick was [End Page viii] able to answer the question—‘What difference do Black mayors make?’” Robert Smith, professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University offered, “Nick was one of the great architects of Black Studies.” Charles P. Henry, former chair of African American Studies at UC Berkeley recalled, “William ‘Nick’ Nelson was a warrior for Black Studies in particular and Black Liberation generally. He was a pioneer scholar in researching Black mayors and later broadened his perspective to compare Black political progress in the U.S. and Great Britain. Through his leadership, OSU developed the largest department of Black Studies in the country...