September 21, 2011

Symposium honors legacy of Delores P. Aldridge

Delores Aldridge

Colleagues, students and friends gathered Sept. 16 to pay tribute to Delores P. Aldridge, who recently retired as the Grace Towns Hamilton Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Emory.

The Grace Towns Hamilton Symposium on the Life and Legacy of Delores P. Aldridge celebrated the career and impact of Aldridge, who participated at the center of change at the University for 40 years.

Commencing the celebration was a musical tribute to Aldridge on Sept. 15, a jazz vespers service by music professor Dwight D. Andrews and his band.

Including reflections from her former students, longtime colleagues, and founding directors of the discipline, the symposium traced Emory's – and the nation's – history, from the early years of African American Studies at Emory, which she led as founding director for 20 years.

Program pioneer

Emory's African American Studies program was created in 1971 in response to student demand. As Emory's first African American female faculty member, Aldridge pioneered the first degree-granting black studies program in the South. The task seemed daunting: she was the first black woman faculty member at a primarily white, male-dominated institution in one of the most conservative regions in the nation; and there were few black studies programs in the United States on which to model the program.

But she persevered with undaunted courage and her trademark energy and passion.

"I celebrate your determination that African American Studies would become a stronger department here at Emory," said Gloria Wade Gayles '81PhD, a former student. "You wanted this program to be legitimate, respected, serious, celebrated. It is that today because you fought for it to be."

Others spoke about her determination, grace and confidence, and considered the deep impact of her wide-ranging career.

As a colleague and mentor, "Delores taught us that hard work, perseverance and sacrifice were ideals larger than ourselves and our individual careers," said professor Mark A. Sanders, the current chair of African American Studies. "She set an example of academic excellence and social responsibility that we all aspire."

Aldridge is the recipient of more than 100 awards, and author or editor of more than 165 works on topics including race, gender, diversity and cultural democracy.

She has led numerous committees, boards and organizations, including an unprecedented two-term presidency of the National Council for Black Studies where she has helped advance the discipline. She has received several teaching and service awards, and the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services' annual Delores P. Aldridge Excellence Awards embody Aldridge's tireless efforts to confront issues of race, gender, social justice and human rights.

Graduate fellowship established

In honor of Aldridge's commitment to graduate education, the departments of African American studies, sociology, women's studies and the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts are establishing a fellowship in her name.  With a goal of raising $50,000, the Delores P. Aldridge Graduate Fellowship for Graduate Research in African American Studies and Related Fields will honor of Aldridge's pioneering scholarship and transforming instruction.

Aldridge will return to campus in December for Emory's special anniversary convocation to be honored yet again – this time as one of Emory's 175 History Makers, as one of the individuals who have had a lasting impact on the University.

"As I depart from day-to-day life at Emory, I look forward to challenges and opportunities in other arenas," said Aldridge. "I won't stop working, I'll just do it a little bit differently, and at my own pace."

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