Prominent African-American studies scholar dies

Prominent Emory University scholar Rudolph Byrd, 58, died Friday. He was suffering from multiple myeloma.

Story highlights

  • Emory University's Rudolph Byrd was 58
  • He was a "symbol of dignity, propriety," university official says
  • He was the founder of the James Weldon Johnson Institute
Rudolph Byrd, a prominent scholar of African-American studies at Emory University in Atlanta, died Friday after a long battle with multiple myeloma. He was 58.
"For many of us Rudolph was not only a symbol of dignity, propriety, determination, elegance and stamina, he embodied what it meant to live with purposefulness and grace, even to the very end," Earl Lewis, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, wrote Friday in announcing Byrd's death to the Emory community.
Byrd joined Emory's faculty in 1991 and he gained accolades with such honors as the Thomas Jefferson Award and the Andrew W. Mellon fellowship from Harvard University. He was a founder of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, and the founding co-chair of the Alice Walker Literary Society, named for "The Color Purple" author.
As director of the Johnson Institute, which is dedicated to the study of civil rights history, Byrd helped create CNN Dialogues, a community forum "that aims to highlight diverse ideas and perspectives" on the current issues of the day.
"Through these myriad efforts, Rudolph sought to fuse his abiding belief that universities helped build civil societies by engaging broadly and vigorously," Lewis wrote in his statement.
Nancy Seideman, associate vice president for university communications, knew Byrd since he joined Emory 20 years ago. She remembered him Friday as "a wonderful scholar and a wonderful mentor ... who meant so much to all of us in the Emory community."
A graduate of Lewis & Clark College and Yale University, Byrd was the author of 10 books, including "The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker."
Byrd had been on medical leave from the university for some weeks, and it was announced earlier this month that all treatment options had been exhausted.
"As others have said more than once in the last few weeks, Rudolph remained the consummate teacher: he taught us to live and how to die," Lewis said.
Byrd is survived by his longtime partner, Henry Leonard. A memorial service will be held next week.