Roy Bryce-Laporte, ex-ALST director and professor, dies

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Roy Bryce-Laporte, 1999

Roy Simon Bryce-Laporte, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of sociology and anthropology emeritus, passed away after a long illness in Upper Marlboro, Md., on Monday, July 30, at the age of 78.

Born in the Republic of Panama of West Indian ancestry, Bryce-Laporte earned degrees from Panama Canal College (AA), the University of Nebraska (BS, MA), and the University of California-Los Angeles (PhD) and went on to become a nationally and internationally known scholar.

Considered a pioneer in the study of U.S. immigration of blacks of various cultures, he focused on comparative and historical studies of African-American, African-Caribbean, African-Hispanic, and other “New World” black experiences and was particularly interested in the “new immigration” of people of African descent into the United States.

Bryce-Laporte began his career at Colgate in 1989 as a member of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and director of the Africana and Latin American Studies (ALST) Program; he was instrumental in giving the program its present shape and function.

One of his signature courses was Total Institutions, in which he compared plantation slavery with social life in prisons and asylums. In honor of his scholarship and teaching, Colgate’s Center for Ethics and World Societies mounted a conference titled “Diaspora and Diversity Within the Black Experience” at his retirement in 2000.

“An important part of black history in the United States is the fact that, aside from those who came through the slave trade, there are smaller groups who were and continue to be voluntary immigrants or refugees,” Bryce-Laporte told the Colgate Scene in 1999. “I try to draw attention to their social situations, to look at this population which has suffered multiple levels of invisibility, as blacks, and as immigrants — their problems, their mobility, their contributions, and potential in shaping the future of American society.” Two articles he wrote on this subject are considered seminal to the field.

At Yale, where he taught from 1969 until 1972, Bryce-Laporte served as the first director of the African-American Studies Program, one of the first Ivy League programs of its kind. The noted scholar, critic, and public intellectual Henry Louis Gates — then a Yale student — said that Bryce-Laporte was among the faculty members who was “passionately concerned” that black students succeed during those turbulent times, in an essay for Frontline: “The Two Nations of Black America” (PBS).

Bryce-Laporte also taught at Hunter College, the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island (where he was founding director of the Center for Immigrant and Ethnic Studies), Syracuse University, Catholic University of America, Howard University, University of Pennsylvania, and Colorado College. He was founding director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Institute of Immigration and Ethnic Studies and was associated with the National Institute of Mental Health, Research Institute on Immigration and Ethnic Studies, and Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture.

Among many awards and honors, he held a Danforth Fellowship and was elected to the Chairman’s Advisory Board of the NAACP and the Committee on Nominations of the American Sociological Association. He was named “Man of the Year” by the Panamanian Council of New York City and received an Afro-Latino Institute award, as well as a distinguished service award from the Yale Alumni Association.

Bryce-Laporte is survived by his daughter Camila Bryce-Laporte Morris of Maryland, son Robertino of New York, son René of Washington, D.C., and his longtime dear companion Marian D. Holness, along with many other family members. A public service and repast will be held Saturday, August 11, at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations be made to The Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, Roy Bryce-Laporte Collection of African Studies, 3400 North Charles Street; Baltimore, MD 21218.

The New York Times obituary.