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University Relations

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Feb. 8, 2008
Contact: Mike Krings, University Relations, (785) 864-8860.

Historian named Langston Hughes Visiting Professor for spring 2008

Randall Jelks

LAWRENCE — Randall Jelks, a professor of history at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas this semester. He will present a public lecture, “Rediscovering the Life of a Black Religious Intellectual: Benjamin Elijah Mays in the Making of the American Civil Rights Movement,” at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Dole Institute of Politics.

Jelks is teaching two classes in the American Studies Program this semester. One, an undergraduate course, focuses on African-Americans and the African continent, and a graduate course examines African-American religion and the civil rights movement in the United States.

Jelks has been a professor of history at Calvin College since 1992. During his tenure there, he has been director of the school’s Semester in Ghana and Multicultural Affairs programs. He holds a doctorate in history from Michigan State University, a master’s of divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s in history from the University of Michigan. Jelks is the author of “African-Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids” and is putting the finishing touches on a second book, “Benjamin Elijah Mays: A Religious Rebel in the Jim Crow South.”

Mays, the topic of Jelks’ second book, is also the focus of his lecture. He was the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1940 to 1967. The school, founded by the Georgia Black Baptist Association, was one of the few in the south dedicated to educating young black men to become clergy members and teachers. Among his many accomplished students was Martin Luther King Jr., who referred to Mays as his “spiritual and intellectual father.” As an educator as well as a clergyman, Mays was at the intersection of two important aspects of African-American life, Jelks said.

Jelks said he became interested in KU when he made the acquaintance of one of the university’s distinguished faculty members.

“I really didn’t know anything about KU, but I was fortunate enough to meet Maryemma Graham, (professor of English) while we were working as fellows at the National Humanities Center,” he said. “It was exciting to have a colleague like her, and I’m very glad to be here at KU now.”

The Langston Hughes Visiting Professorship rotates among departments at KU to bring prominent scholars to campus who share Hughes’ interests. It was established in 1977 to honor the late poet, playwright and historian who lived in Lawrence as a child.

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