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Spelman College

President's Letters to the Community

In Remembrance


March 6, 2017

Dear Spelman Community,

The College joins with others around the country to mourn the passing of teacher, author, activist, and mentor -- Harry Lefever, Ph.D.

Spelman Celebrates Harry LefeverAs a professor of sociology from 1966 to 2003 and long-standing chair of the department, Dr. Lefever left an indelible mark on the students, faculty, and staff at Spelman. A beloved faculty member, he was widely respected by his peers because of his pedagogical innovations and passionate activism. He also endeared himself to students by engaging them in invaluable research experiences and holding their scholarship to a high standard. Upon his retirement, Dr. Lefever was awarded the rank of Professor Emeritus and continued to teach part time at Spelman until 2009.

It has been refreshing to learn more about Dr. Lefever through the eyes of members of our community. According to Cynthia Neal Spence, Ph.D., C'78, an associate professor of sociology, director of Spelman's Social Justice Program, and national director of the UNCF/Mellon Programs, Dr. Lefever's development of the senior thesis requirement in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology is one of the most beneficial culminating experiences for all majors and serves as a model for other departments. His commitment to urban sociology was certainly a forerunner to the scholarly and experiential connections department members continue to explore and support.

The founding director of the Spelman Independent Scholars Program Gloria Wade Gayles, Ph.D., shared that Dr. Lefever understood the absolute significance of oral history research to a people, to a community, and to scholarship that is, at its core, anthropology and social justice inextricably bound. The first assignment Young Scholars in SIS are given is a celebration of Dr. Lefever's class oral history project, simply named Auburn Avenue. Students in SIS are asked to listen to a tape of their choice in the archive of interviews Dr. Lefever required his students to conduct with residents in the Auburn Avenue community. The archive he engineered for his students' research is in holdings at the Auburn Avenue Research Library.

Committed to the success of Spelman students, Dr. Lefever modeled mentoring, a key component of the Spelman experience. Dr. Spence attributes the mentorship and guidance she received from Dr. Lefever, who maintained contact with her after she graduated and continued to monitor her academic progress, to her own success.

Bruce H. Wade, Ph.D., a professor of sociology and director of the College's Census Information Center, said he, too, benefitted from Dr. Lefever's mentorship as a Morris Brown College student who took several of his courses. He credits his former professor and colleague for refining his interest in sociology and encouraging him to pursue a doctorate. Drs. Spence and Wade attribute their mentoring style with current Spelman students to Dr. Lefever's influence.

Spelman Honors Dr. Harry LefeverDr. Lefever's lifelong interests in studying, teaching and writing about civil rights and sociology, and their impact on the College and in the city of Atlanta resulted in several books including, "Undaunted by the Fight: Spelman College and the Civil Rights Movement, 1957-1967." The book, whose title was taken from a line in the Spelman Hymn, was a careful study of a small but dedicated group of Spelman College students and faculty who risked their lives, compromised their grades, and jeopardized their careers to make Atlanta and the South a more just and open society.

When I learned of Dr. Lefever’s passing, I remembered my first Spelman convocation in the fall of 2015. Dr. Lefever's words framed my remarks. He admired and respected the courage and boldness of his students who were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. He understood how each student made selfless choices that profoundly changed the world.

The College celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Lefever and we stand in solidarity to honor him by remaining undaunted by the fight and upholding the intellectual and social ideals that he embodied.

A memorial service will be held on March 11, at 4 p.m. at the Atlanta Friends Meeting House, located at 701 Howard Street in Decatur, Georgia, 30030.

In remembrance,

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President