Indiana State University's first African American professor dies at age 89.
Dr. James E. Conyers, Sr., Indiana State University's first African American professor, passed away on Wednesday, March 10th, 2021, at age 89.
Dr. Conyers was born March 6, 1932 in Sumter, South Carolina, to Emmett and Crenella Conyers. The 3rd of 4 children, the value of education was instilled in James and his siblings. Both parents possessed Bachelor's degrees. Young James graduated from high school in 1950 and attended Morehouse College, graduating with a degree in Sociology. He then went on to earn his Master’s Degree from Atlanta University. He was later called into the draft and served in the U.S. Army. After his military service, James went on to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, to earn his Ph.D in Sociology.
He started his teaching at Lemoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee where he met his wife Jean. From there he had taught briefly at the University of Miami, Florida. He was a varsity letterman at Morehouse College in baseball. During his tenure at ISU he attended ISU basketball games from 1970-2000.
Dr. Conyers was offered, and accepted, a faculty member position at Indiana State College (now Indiana State University) in 1962. Dr. Conyers remained on the sociology faculty at Indiana State University for 28 years; he was one of only two full professors in the division of social sciences (then department of sociology) for many years. As a faculty member, he achieved teaching excellence, receiving numerous awards and accolades for his teaching brilliance. Students unanimously agreed that his classes were some of the best courses that they had taken and that he was an extremely knowledgeable professor. The courses that he taught that were most popular included Social Problems, Black Community, and Minority Groups. While a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, Conyers’s classes were cross-listed in African American Studies, a program he helped found and develop.
He also was a prolific writer and researcher in the area of race relations. He authored several books, journal articles, book reviews, monographs, and pamphlets. Often asked to present at both national and international conferences, his fame in this area continues to echo today. One of his most noted writings include Black Elected Officials: Study of Black Americans Holding Government Office, based upon a questionnaire, this work includes the first nationwide profile of Black Americans holding elective governmental office in the mid-1970s. The book compares Black elected officials with their White male and female counterparts.
Another noted work was Black Youth in a Southern Metropolis, a work coauthored with William J. Farmer and Martin Levin and published by the Southern Regional Council in 1968. That same year, Black Youth and its authors were recognized on the CBS national news for their outstanding work. Other works include Sociology for The Seventies published by John Wiley 4 and co-authored with Morris Medley (1972) and journal articles “Negro Passing: To Pass of Not to Pass” in Phylon (Fall 1963), “Racism Ain’t Dead Yet” in Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Spring 1981), and “Racial Explanations” in Western Journal of Black Studies (2002).
For his teaching, research, and writing efforts, Conyers was often recognized by his peers. Dr. Conyers was the recipient of several academic awards including the prestigious W.E.B. DuBois Award in 1981 from the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists and the distinguished Scholar Award in 1994 from the Association of Black Sociologists.
He was a longtime member of the Young Men’s Civic Club, a Life Member of the NAACP, and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. He served on the Board of Governors of the Community Foundation of the Wabash Valley from 1969-1976 and on the Board of the Terre Haute Symphony Association from 1979-1985. He taught courses at Farm Camp at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute on a volunteer basis until his retirement in 1996. Dr Conyers is a member of Unitarian Universalist Church in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Dr. Conyers is preceded in death by his parents and brothers, Emmett and John. He is survived by his 3 children: daughter, Judith Conyers; son, James Conyers, Jr.; daughter, Jennifer Conyers; granddaughter, Christian Conyers; sister, Dr. Gloria Hewitt; nephews: Reginald Conyers (Judy) and Ronald Hewitt, jr (Brenda), along with a host of extended family and lifelong friends.
Memorial service will be held Saturday, April 24, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church, located at 1875 South Fruitridge Avenue, Terre Haute.
Memorial contributions in honor of Dr. James E. Conyers, Sr. can be made to: The Young Men’s Civic Club for Dr. James E. Conyers, Sr. scholarships for high school seniors (mail contributions to P.O. Box 9523, Terre Haute, IN 47808); or to the Indiana State University Foundation for a Lecture Series sponsored by the Charles E. Brown African American Cultural Center in Honor of Dr. James E. Conyers, Sr. (mail contributions to 30 North 5th St, Terre Haute, IN 47809 or make them online at indstate.edu/give).
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