World in View: Academic tragedies

May 8, 2021

From the May-June 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

A wildfire that broke out April 18 forced the evacuation of the University of Cape Town, South Africa’s campus and destroyed a major part of the library. The Jagger Reading Room housed thousands of historic African films, letters, and manuscripts, many relating to the anti-apartheid struggle. Also lost were thousands of indigenous artworks and over 85,000 books.

Scholars around the world recognize this as a tragic loss for African studies and for all humanity.


The J.W. Jagger Library, now the Jagger Reading Room. The building was constructed in the 1930s, and served as the main library and most recently as the reading room of the African Studies Library. Photo:

Another kind of tragedy took place in April when Howard University announced the closing of its Classical history division, the only such department at one of the historically Black colleges. Students and scholars, including Cornel West, have objected.

It will be a loss. It is no accident that Aristotle appears in Chapter 1 of Marx’s Capital. And Nat Turner has rightly been called the Black Spartacus. The red thread of humanity’s struggle for freedom underlies rationality itself, and as a recent Nobel laureate wrote, “The Trojan women and children were sold into slavery long before the First Crusade, long before England or America was made.”

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