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UVI's Heath Lecture Series Presents a Blyden Symposium


Edward Wilmot Blyden, largely regarded as the "father of Pan-Africanism," will be the focus of the University of the Virgin Islands 2012 Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series. Blyden was born a free man in 1832 on the island of St. Thomas in the pre-emancipation Danish West Indies, which later became the U.S. Virgin Islands. Denied entry into Rutgers University, in 1850 Blyden repatriated to Liberia, in West Africa, where he challenged the universal notion of White supremacy, asserted the equality of African people, aimed to eliminate the Black inferiority complex and was a life-long champion of the race.

In recognition of the centennial of Blyden's death, UVI's Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series presents "A Symposium on the Life and Accomplishments of Edward Wilmot Blyden." The symposium will be held at UVI's St. Thomas campus Reichhold Center for the Arts on Thursday, March 22, and at the St. Croix Albert A. Sheen Campus' Great Hall on Friday, March 23. Both events are free and begin at 6 p.m.

Dr. Hollis R. Lynch, a professor emeritus at Columbia University and one of the world's leading experts on the life and times of Edward Wilmot Blyden, will be the keynote speaker. Dr. Lynch has written several books about Blyden, including "Edward Wilmot Blyden: Pan Negro Patriot, 1832-1912," "Black Spokesman: Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden" and "Selected Letters of Edward Wilmot Blyden." Presentations will be made by Blyden's great-granddaughter Isa Blyden and granddaughter Dr. Nemata Blyden. Cultural activist and local historian Myron Jackson will also give remarks.

"Dr. Blyden was the most brilliant Black intellectual at the time and was a champion and defender of the Black race," said Dr. Lynch. "He set out from very early to prove the charge of Black inferiority false. No other Pan-African intellectual was so focused on this mission," Dr. Lynch said. "His entire life, from a youth, was focused on this mission to bring pride and respect to the Black race."

Some of Blyden's writings include "Islam, Christianity and the Negro Race," "A Voice From Bleeding Africa," "The Negro in Ancient History," "West Africa Before Europe," and "The Jewish Question." Through the mid-20th centry, Blyden's works were the only widespread materials that addressed African issues, and laid a blueprint for African race consciousness.

Now 100 years after Blyden's death, Dr. Lynch asserts that Blyden's life can be used as a model for everyone, especially young people. "The problems may not be the same, but the way he went about it, his total dedication to the task, can be emulated," Dr. Lynch said.

Jackson said Blyden was a diplomat, ambassador and emissary who met with kings, queens and heads of state. "He returned to America and the Caribbean, over a dozen times, to encourage African-Americans and Afro-West Indians to use their talents and resources to uplift and build their ancestral homeland and the Negro race," Jackson added. "He was part of the early political developments of Liberia and Freetown, Sierra Leone."
"When you understand that this was a man who, against all odds, challenged the notion of White supremacy," Jackson said, recounting Blyden's numerous accomplishments, "that's a remarkable story." Jackson said that while Virgin Islands students are often taught about other Pan-Africanists who came after Blyden, many don't know of the contributions of Blyden, who started it all. Dr. Lynch agreed that Blyden is a Virgin Islands hero. "Every Virgin Islander should know about Blyden because he has been, in a sense, the most distinct Virgin Islander."

The Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series offers the public a setting in which to hear nationally and internationally recognized individuals discuss issues related to the challenges and opportunities faced by the global community. The series is the University's way of recognizing and celebrating the outstanding person and accomplished citizen that is Dr. Alfred O. Heath. As a UVI trustee emeritus and chair of the Foundation for the University of the Virgin Islands, Dr. Heath is an ardent, longtime supporter of the mission of the University.

Past presenters of the Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series were magazine publishing legend Susan L. Taylor, educator and author Dr. Steve Perry, physician and humanitarian Dr. David Walton, renowned poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, award-winning veteran journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, author and activist Randall Robinson, Caribbean Development Bank President Dr. Compton Bourne and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives the Hon. Ronald Dellums.

For more information about the Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series call UVI's Special Events Coordinator Liza Margolis at (340) 693-1053.