African American Studies
One of the pioneering members of the African American Studies department at Fordham University, Dr. Quinton Wilkes was born in 1941 and raised in High Point, North Carolina. Living with his grandparents in the South, Wilkes would travel north every summer to stay with his mother and other family members residing in the Bronx, giving him a knowledge of the university at which he would later go on to have such a formidable role.
Wilkes remembrances of traveling by train every year from High Point to New York City provide interesting insight into Jim Crow segregation in the South toward its end in the 1950s and 1960s. Before a Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional in 1957, Wilkes found himself forced to wait in substandard “colored” waiting rooms and was forbidden to ride in the nicer “whites only” rail cars.
After attending segregated high school in North Carolina, Wilkes enrolled at Morgan State University, where he first became introduced to the academic disciplines of African American Studies. Despite partaking in Negro History Week (as it was called in the time) in high school, Morgan State gave Wilkes a heightened political and social awareness.
Having been a member of the ROTC at Morgan State, Dr. Wilkes graduated with a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army, which led him to Germany for two years to serve as the head of a military police unit. After returning from Germany, Wilkes decided to enter graduate school, arriving at Fordham in 1967 to pursue a PhD in psychology.
When Wilkes arrived on campus, he found that he was the only graduate student of color to go along with just nine African-American undergrads. As the number of blacks at the university increased and the late 1960s grew more political, Wilkes helped to form several black student union organizations, most notably the Society of Afro-American Liberation.
It was with this group, SAAL, in the spring of 1969 that Wilkes, although not one of the occupiers himself, proved integral in seizing the office of Dean of Students Dr. Martin Mann. As a direct result of the demands that accompanied this office seizure, the organization received its main goals of increased black presence on campus in both students and faculty, and, most notably, the formation of an Institute for Afro-American studies, in which Dr. Wilkes was one of the first full-time professors.
Speaking about the formation of the institute, Dr. Wilkes tells a fascinating story in which, prior to the institute’s formal founding, two black undergraduate students were given permission to teach Fordham’s first African American studies course for credit.
Wilkes, Quinton. 13 September 2007. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Wilkes, Quinton Pt 1.mp4 (252980 kB)
Wilkes, Quinton Pt 2.mp4 (664362 kB)