)Date: Sat, 04 Oct 1997 10:00:31 -0500
Professor stressed the links between black Americans and Africa
By Frank B. William, L.A. Times, Saturday 4 October 1997
Now his books, artwork and letters have become a collection from which others can learn
Boniface I. Obichere, a smiling and always dapper African-born professor, was a man who set out to prove that black Americans were simply distant relatives lost at sea.
"He wanted to show young people, especially African Americans, about Africa in a positive way," his wife, Armer, said of her late husband. "Maybe he could inspire them to go over to Africa, back to the motherland and see what it was like. He wanted to bridge the gap between the African American and the African people."
Friday afternoon, students at Cal State Northridge began taking steps over the bridge Obichere built.
More than 4,200 books, African artwork, research material, photographs, letters and other items Obichere (o-ba-CHER-ry) had collected during his more than 30 years as a professor of African studies and history at UCLA were unveiled at a Pan-African Studies Department reception.
As about 75 friends, academic colleagues and even his 25-year-old son, Chikere, looked on, Cal State Northridge President Blenda J. Wilson dedicated the collection.
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in teaching new matters, but in having new eyes," Wilson said. "Through the generosity of the Obichere family, we will be able to share his eyes and some of his voyage."
Pan-African Studies professor Joseph Holloway will oversee the Boniface I. Obichere Library and Institute with help from a special collections expert from the Cal State Northridge library.
Holloway said the center will continue the work of the internationally known scholar who had vast knowledge of world history, but was particularly well versed in the culture, politics and economics of Africa and blacks in America.
David L. Horne, chairman of the Pan-African Studies Department, said he and Holloway visited Obichere before the Nigerian professor died of prostate cancer in March. At his deathbed, they promised to take care of the material and turn it into a working resource for students.
"I've known the man since 1971, when I was a student at UCLA," Holloway said. "I was at his house often as a student and a friend. He was more than just a mentor. He was like a father."
Students like Holloway and Horne, both 49, remember waiting for hours to talk to the "African with the Oxford accent." In the office of the man they nicknamed Obi, students of all races could find comfort from the pain of crafting dissertations or a sympathetic ear for their personal problems.
"He felt that it was important that black Americans as well as Africans show their intelligence and be counted at the university," Armer Obichere said about her husband's commitment to his students. "Because of the discrimination that had happened in the past, he wanted them to be able to hold their own intellectually against anyone."
"Obichere was someone who built his reputation on his teaching first and then his research," added Kendahl Ratcliffe, one of Obichere's most recent doctoral students. "Most professors do it the other way around."
Darryl Gatlin, another former student, said Obichere knew how to bring the best out of anyone. "He was critical but in a loving way," Gatlin said.
Obichere arrived at UCLA in 1967, when black and African studies departments across the country had just begun to hire black or African instructors to teach their own histories. "Once he got hired in the history department, he became a part of this evolution of African studies as an established discipline of higher education in this country," Horne said. Obichere believed in linking African studies with the emerging study of black America.
Armer Obichere was an undergraduate student at San Francisco State when she met her future husband--he was a graduate student--in 1962. "It was love at first sight," she recalled. "I thought he was the most brilliant person I'd ever met. He was very well read and articulate."
As their love for each other grew, Armer found herself discovering Africa through Boniface, while he learned about the struggles of African Americans. "I was involved in the civil rights movement and he would come along with me," she said. "Through us I think he saw a different dimension of the students and what was going on."
He was studying European history at UC Berkeley when he met Malcolm X, who was on the campus to appear on a panel. "Malcolm X is the one who suggested that he study African history so he could teach us about Africa," Armer said. "My husband thought that was a good idea. So he applied to go to Oxford University in England."
When Obichere went off to Oxford, he and Malcolm X remained friends, writing and speaking every few weeks. At the time of Obichere's death, he was working on a history of Malcolm X's life in America and Africa. "They helped each other," Holloway said. "Where Dr. Obichere was able to introduce Malcolm to some of the issues in African history, Malcolm was able to enlighten him about the African American experience."
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