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Long, Richard Alexander

Richard Alexander Long

1927—

Scholar, writer, playwright

During his long and distinguished career, Richard Alexander Long became one of the nation's most prominent African-American scholars and published a diverse array of original and scholarly works examining culture, artistic expression, and language. As a professor at Atlanta University and later Emory University, he was one of the pioneers in developing a curriculum for African-American studies and became one of the first scholars to examine traditional dance development as an expression of culture and history. When Long retired in 2004, Associate Professor Rudolf Byrd told Emory University's Eric Rangus, "The national reputation Emory enjoys as a premier place for the study of African American literature and culture is due to Richard Long."

Richard Long was the fourth of six children born to Thaddeus B. Long and Leila Washington of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Long and his siblings were raised during the Great Depression, their father's trade as a local blacksmith allowed the family to survive without serious financial burden. However, the family suffered a major tragedy in 1932, when Leila died, leaving Thaddeus to care for the family. When Long was ready to attend high school, he was sent to live with relatives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he enrolled in the city's first African-American high school.

Studied English and Literature

Graduating from high school when he was sixteen years old, Long returned to Philadelphia to attend Temple University. He took an interest in literature and language and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor's degree in English. He remained at Temple University until 1948 to complete a master's degree in English, after which he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania for a doctoral program.

In 1949, he accepted a teaching position at West Virginia State College. He left in 1951 to accept a more intriguing offer in Baltimore, Maryland, as an instructor for Morgan State University. Long taught at Morgan State until 1954, when he left for Paris to continue his studies in literature and history. When he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, he decided to study literature, history, and language at the University of Paris from 1957 to 1958. After returning to Morgan State University for several years, Long decided, in 1964, to enter a doctoral program in the linguistics department at the University of Poitiers in Paris, France. During a yearlong leave from Morgan State, he completed his dissertation and worked as a lecturer in the English department.

After completing his doctorate in linguistics in 1965, Long was eventually offered a position at Hampton Institute in Virginia as a full professor teaching English and French. Besides his professorial duties, he was asked to head the university's museum. Long's first major project at the museum was to organize an exhibit of African paintings and photography for the university's centennial celebration. The following year, during the 1968 Black History Month celebration in New York City, he used the university's collections to arrange an exhibit of African and Oceanic paintings.

During his two years with the Hampton Institute, Long developed a reputation for his expertise in African history and art. By 1968, universities across the nation were recruiting him to help develop African studies programs. Long was offered a position heading a program at Harvard University but decided to accept an alternative program at Atlanta University in Georgia. His first book, Négritude: Essays and Studies, written with the help of Albert H. Berrien, was completed during his time at the Hampton Institute and met with critical success when it was published in 1967.

Became a Pioneer in Black Studies

Long entered Atlanta University at a time when U.S. learning institutions were responding to pressure from African-American scholars and students to create and legitimize African-American studies as a scholarly field. One of Long's first actions at the university was to organize the first Triennial Symposium of African Art—an educational lecture and display series that celebrated and promoted African art and African-American artists. The symposium continued until the 1990s and traveled to many of the nation's major cities. In addition, Long worked with other professors at the university to establish the annual Conference on African and African-American Studies, which continued from 1968 to 1987 and became one of the premier meetings for scholars and students studying African-American studies, art, and literature.

In 1971, Long published "Black Studies, Year One" in the university's yearly report, documenting his struggles and successes in developing the African and African-American studies program. His report became an important statement of the guiding principles behind African-American studies programs and helped establish him as one of the most articulate leaders in the African-American studies movement.

Long published a number of artistic and scholarly works while he taught at Atlanta University, including several books of his original poetry. He also published a number of articles exploring African-American studies and African art. His 1985 textbook Afro-American Writing: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry, the first textbook of its kind, remained a seminal work in African-American studies into the twenty-first century. Among the important messages contained in Long's writing was a call for educators to increase their focus on providing intellectual grounding for the African-American studies movement so that the movement would become more than a political effort to address the inequity of the educational system and would, instead, provide a lasting contribution to the American educational culture.

Joined Emory University's Graduate Studies Program

While at Atlanta University, Long joined Emory University as a member of the faculty for the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts (ILA) in 1973. He divided his time between Atlanta University and the ILA, where he taught classes in African art, literature, and culture. His appointment to Emory's faculty helped establish the university as one of the nation's premier locations for African-American education. In 1988, Long became the Atticus Haygood Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the ILA.

At a Glance …

Born Richard Alexander Long on February 9, 1927, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Thaddeus B. Long and Leila Washington. Education: Temple University, AB, 1947, MA, 1948; University of Pennsylvania, 1948-49; Oxford University, 1950; University of Paris, 1954; University of Poitiers, PhD, 1965.

Career: U.S. Army, 1944-45; West Virginia State College, instructor in English, 1949-50; Morgan State University, assistant professor, 1951-64, associate professor of English, 1964-66; Hampton Institute, professor of English and French and head of the university museum, 1966-68; Atlanta University, professor of English and African-American studies, 1968-87; Harvard University, visiting lecturer in African-American studies, 1969-71; University of North Carolina, visiting professor, 1972; Emory University, Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts, professor, 1973-88, Atticus Haygood Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, 1988-2004.

Memberships: American Dialect Society; American Studies Association; College Language Association (president, 1971-72); Linguistics Society of America; Modern Language Association of America; Modern Humanities Research Association; South Atlantic Modern Language Association; Southeastern Conference on Linguistics.

Awards: Fulbright Scholar, 1957-58.

In the 1950s, Long developed an interest in African dance styles. He eventually became an expert in African and other ethnic dance traditions. While working at Emory in the 1980s and 1990s, he began exploring the cultural dances of Indonesia and Oceanic cultures, and he organized some of the first national exhibitions of Indonesian dancing at Emory.

His 1989 book Black Tradition in American Dance became one of the first photographic works to document the history of dance among African Americans. In 1998, he helped found a new graduate course at Emory dealing with world dance styles and their relation to politics. In his unique curriculum, he related dance techniques to issues such as national identity, cultural hegemony, and internationally rivalry. "I am interested in all manifestations of dance, including concert and theatrical dance performances that involve distinctive traditional choreography," said Long in a 1999 interview with Emory University's Cathy Byrd. "Recognized as high art, dance represents a nation's culture. I explore the politics of culture: how cultural forms operate as part of cultural and political encounters."

Long's contributions to education and cultural research played a major role in defining the study of African-American culture from the 1960s to the twenty-first century. Besides becoming a pioneer in African-American studies, he was also an innovator in studying artistic traditions for their cultural and political relevance. Though generally known for his scholarly contributions, he also published a variety of original poetry and a number of theatrical plays, which appeared at university theaters from the 1960s to the 1980s. Colleagues and students often describe Long as someone whose breadth of knowledge and personable expository style set him apart from many modern scholars. In speaking about Long, Emory colleague Walter Reed told Contemporary Black Biography, "He is a delight to talk with on any subject under the sun."

Selected Works

Plays

Stairway to Heaven, 1964.

Reasons of State, 1966.

Black Is Many Hues, 1969.

Nonfiction

(With Albert H. Berrien, eds.) Négritude: Essays and Studies, Hampton Institute Press, 1967.

"The Black Studies Boondoggle," Liberator, September 1970, pp. 6-9.

"Scapegoat Victory: The President White House Mandate," The Nation, December 4, 1972, p. 555.

Ascending and Other Poems, Dusable Museum of African American History, 1975.

"Two Hundred Years of Black American Art," Contemporary Art/Southeast, April-May 1977, p. 42.

(With Eugenia W. Collier, eds.) Afro-American Writing: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry, 2nd ed., Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985.

Black Writers and the American Civil War, Blue and Grey Press, 1988.

The Black Tradition in American Dance, Rizzoli, 1989.

Black Americans: A Portrait, Crescent Books, 1993.

"Southeast Asia on the American Dance Stage, 1915-1955," SPAFA Journal, May-August 1993, p. 17.

(With Marcia Ann Gillespie and Rosa Johnson Butler) Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration, Double-day, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Negro Digest, Vol. 17, March 1968, pp. 40-46.

Online

Byrd, Cathy, "Richard Long Studies the World of Dance since WWII," Emory University Reports,http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/1999/September/erseptember.27/9_27_99long.html (accessed December 17, 2007).

"Historymakers Biographical Sketch: Richard A. Long," http://www.thehistorymakers.com/programs/dvl/files/Long_Richardf.html (accessed December 17, 2007).

Rangus, Eric, "Celebration Honors Long's Distinguished Career," Emory University Online, November 1, 2004, http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/2004/November/er%20november%201/celebration.htm (accessed December 17, 2007).

"Richard Alexander Long," Biography Resource Center,http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (accessed December 17, 2007).

—Micah L. Issitt

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