The CSUB History Department bids a fond farewell to Professor Jim Meriwether as he leaves our program for good in June, first for a one-year Fulbright appointment in Nairobi, Kenya, and then upon his return to take up a position as a full professor at our newest sister campus, California State University, Channel Islands, in Camarillo. Prof. Meriwether has been serving our students well since his arrival in September 1997, and we are grateful for his dedication and service these past ten years.
Born on a military base in Fort Knox, Kentucky, while his father fulfilled his military duty as a doctor (the base medical bill was just $7), Prof. Meriwether returned shortly with his family to Southern California as a third-generation Californian. His claim to fame from his youth was playing baseball (on the "Bullets") as an eight-year-old with Mark McGwire in Claremont. Not surprisingly, the future major-leaguer (not Prof. Meriwether) was already a standout.
Already interested in history as he headed to college, Dr. Meriwether chose to attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. (For Blue Devil insiders, he arrived the year after Coach K.—I can’t spell it!) He had the good fortune to study there with John Hope Franklin, with whom he worked on the equivalent of a senior seminar project. His focus was a topic in African American history.
Dr. Meriwether has had an interest in things African going back at least to the 8th grade, when he wrote an English paper on the Soweto Massacre of 1976. After finishing his history degree at Duke, he served in the Peace Corps in Botswana for two-and-a-half years, teaching agriculture (not math, which he was supposed to teach). His years in Botswana were a defining experience for Prof. Meriwether, cementing his interest in and affection for Africa. The accompanying photo was taken there with one of his students.
His interest in both African and American history converged in his graduate studies at UCLA, where he worked under the direction of historian Robert Dallek. His dissertation dealt with the influence of African liberation movements on the civil rights movement in this country, which we in Bakersfield know as his first book, Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2002. His current research interests focus on U.S. policy with Africa during the decolonization of that continent.
When not engaged in history, Prof. Meriwether enjoys spending time with his family, working in the yard, and playing an occasional game of tennis. He also likes to, believe it or not, read, and highly recommends that anyone who has the opportunity read Nelson Mandela's monumental and inspiring autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
His students and colleagues across the university will sorely miss him, but are pleased to wish him many more happy and productive years of teaching and research.