William H. L. Dorsey: An Interview and Lesson in Deliberate Protracted Activism.

Author:Zulu, Itibari M.
Position:Interview
 
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William H. L. Dorsey [at the left] (whldorsey@gmail.com) is a board member (treasurer) of the African Heritage Studies Association; co-editor of Dream and Legacy: Dr. Martin Luther King in the Post-Civil Rights Era (University of Mississippi Press); and copy- layout editor of Higher Learning: Hip Hop in the Ivory Tower and Out of the Fire: Readings in Africana Studies (Black Classic Press). He is principal editor of Out of the Fire: Readings in Africana Studies (Black Classic Press, forthcoming). In May 2017, he retired from Atlanta Metropolitan State College. He has been professionally associated with Georgia State University, Atlanta University, University of Indiana, University of California at Berkeley, Shaw University, the Atlanta Board of Education, the Stanford Research Institute, Spelman College, Morris Brown College, and Morehouse College. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania). He lives in East Point, Georgia.

Note: The following questions were presented November 18, 2017, and answered November 24-29, 2017. In the interview, the interviewee responds to the above mention of his time at the University of California at Berkeley, and thus offers a correction, a correction acknowledged, but left in this presentation to provide a context to the wit and humor of the interviewee.

IMZ (Itibari M. Zulu): Thank you Professor Dorsey for this interview, I have seen your name throughout the years, but I only had the opportunity to talk to you at the 48th annual conference of the African Heritage Studies Association conference held in Long Beach, California at the Queen Mary in November 2017 in a meaningfully way, although, after reading your CV, I see that we have attended some of the same conferences, namely the National Council for Black Studies, and the African Heritage Studies Association meetings.

WHLD (William H. L. Dorsey): Thank you.

Before I begin I need to make a correction. I am "ABD" (all but dissertation) from Berkeley, so I sometimes point out that I am not certified as intelligent. My research intent was much too ambitious--a study of gender role expectations and fulfillment on the part of African American men--largely because I've always been interested more in learning than in "achieving." It also turned out that there was no salary incentive to acquire that terminal degree, so I devoted my time to other pursuits. Now that I am retired, however, I will write the paper because I do have a number of things to contribute to the world of ideas, and with the long view of advanced age, I have a much more comprehensive understanding that will necessarily be a part of the long-delayed study.

It was good to meet you. I've been following your online project since discovering it in 2008 when it was just The Journal of Pan African Studies. Two or three years ago a friend of mine, Prof. James Turner, founder of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell, urged me to write up something about my life, so your interest in conducting this interview also helps me begin that production.

My college and grad school years fit very nicely into the "interesting times" that are wished upon in the Chinese curse ("May you live in interesting times"), but I never experienced them as a burden. I graduated from Jack Yates (Colored) High School in Houston just as the civil rights movement was ramping up, eventually spending a total of ten years in "whiteland." I started grad school at Berkeley in the most interesting year of 1968, with the strike that led to Black Studies just starting up across the Bay at San Francisco State, and with hippies and Reagan and the burgeoning anti-Vietnam war movement, as well as the beginnings of the environmental movement and the contemporary women's movement. Not to mention the Panthers down the street on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland as well as the intense intellectual and activist crucible that was Berkeley at that time. My activities and interests are definitely a product of my times; not only the high, focused energy due to the intensification of the movement from civil rights to black power, but the path I had taken up to then, led me to recognize the salience of self-determination, even before I was aware of Du Bois and his ideas for the Talented Tenth.

IMZ: Since you have spent a considerable time in Atlanta, I will begin with a question concerning the city. I recently read a synopsis of a book titled The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta by Maurice J. Hobson, an assistant professor of African American Studies and History at Georgia State University that argues that the city has been associated with Black achievement, earning it the nickname "the Black Mecca," however, it has "mishandled the Black poor" as the authors draw on primary sources and oral histories of working-class people and hip-hop artists from Atlanta's underbelly to suggest that Atlanta's political leadership has governed by bargaining with white business interests to the detriment of ordinary Black folk in Atlanta. Have you found that to be true in your experiences living and working in the city of Atlanta; and if so, why do you think it is a phenomenon we should concerned about?

WHLD: My own observations had quickly led me to the same conclusions when I moved here, long before the 1970s were over. Actually, I was quite aware of the class divide in African America before I ever left Houston for school.

The most effective tool of exploitation is the mind of the oppressed, and through the denial of full humanity by the mythology of race, coupled with divide-and-conquer manipulations, goes very, very far toward explaining the degree of disorganization and in far too many situations, antipathy among sections of the community. It turns out that Atlanta is an especially, even stunningly relevant example, for the highs and lows and the egos and resentments and successes and pitfalls that necessarily arise from the harsh contradictions that Professor Hobson cites.

As one whose academic career is centered on the social and behavioral sciences, it has for decades been plain to me that certain issues have to be resolved from "the ground up" in order for African Americans to attain true autonomy over the lives of persons and communities. We won't get anywhere until, first, individuals get themselves emotionally mature--not perfect, just "adult"--at which point they can form stable families and communities and institutions that advance psychological, social, mental, and economic health, which in turn would provide the base for a unified African American nation. I mean "nation" in the anthropological, not political, sense.

IMZ: In reading your CV, I read that you were involved with the Institute of the Black World (IBW) between 1974 and 1982 wherein you were: an adjunct Assistant Professor of the Atlanta Cluster of the University Without Walls Program of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina; a mailing supervisor (maintaining files and organizing mailings), editor of the IBW journal...

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