Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Feb. 6, 1998

Driven by a moral vision

by Steve Sullivan

When you meet Herman Blake and Emily Moore, you are not just meeting two new Iowa State faculty members. Neither are you meeting just a husband and wife.

You are meeting a team -- two people brought together by their dedication to education and a better understanding of the diversity of American society. They have brought that dedication to Iowa State.

Blake, former vice chancellor for undergraduate education and professor of sociology, anthropology and education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, arrived on campus last month to become the first permanent director of African American studies.

Moore, who officially joins the faculty in April, is founding president of Scholars for Educational Excellence and Diversity Inc., an Indianapolis-based organization that provides services to agencies and schools committed to academic excellence for diverse populations. Moore is a professor in the College of Education, with joint appointments in health and human performance and professional studies.

Blake and Moore, who met in 1995 while independently consulting at the same university, have built careers in higher education administration and in research on minority groups, both in the United States and abroad.

"We've followed parallel paths, which merged. It was natural that once we met and began to merge our personal lives, we would merge our professional lives, also," Blake said. "When we appeared at ISU last year as Carver scholars, we came as a team and did our presentations as a team. We will always function as a team professionally, as well as personally."

African American studies is a cross-disciplinary program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The program includes courses in history, English, sociology, anthropology, religious studies, theater and women's studies.

Blake is working on plans for the program. A search for an African American studies position in the English department will begin soon. Two other positions will be filled in the near future, though the departments have yet to be chosen.

"African American studies should bring to the university historical perspectives and contemporary understandings that are intrinsic to higher education," Blake said. "It should help bring a transformation of character to the university."

In developing the African American studies program, Blake hopes to build on the connections he and Moore have across the country. Blake said he also wants to explore the rural heritage of African Americans, a subject both he and Moore have researched.

"I think we could have greater emphasis on the rural roots of African Americans, and how those roots can be nurtured, explored and extended here at ISU," said Blake. "We have begun to talk informally with people in the rural areas of South Carolina, with whom we have worked for years, about developing some links."

The search for a permanent director of African American studies has been a long one. Frustration over the stability of the program has been one of the diversity issues at Iowa State, a campus with its share of diversity controversies over the past several years. Blake and Moore were made aware of the controversies in January 1997 when they were on campus as George Washington Carver Visiting Scholars.

"The challenge is the opportunity," said Moore. "Having participated in higher education administration for almost two decades, I have found the challenges to be basically the same. Our research shows all students come to the academy for the same reasons. My concern has always been to insure those students get the education they seek and are prepared to deal with diversity in all settings."

"We do not treat these issues lightly," said Blake of ISU's controversies. "They are serious matters and if they weren't serious, they would not have the continued interest and commitment of some very impressive young people. But, Iowa State is, in my judgment, a place of great opportunity and it has been that for a long time.

"I am very encouraged and motivated by George Washington Carver, and to be in the same place that he found to be a spring-board to an extraordinary career says that Iowa State is a place of opportunity, despite the challenges," Blake added.

Given their backgrounds, it is not difficult to believe that Blake and Moore could have a significant impact on the character of Iowa State. Both have done extensive research on issues related to African Americans, Native Americans, Latin Americans, the elderly and the people of Appalachia. Blake has interacted with some of the century's most notable African Americans, including Malcolm X, Alex Haley and Huey P. Newton.

Black activist and Black Panthers co-founder Newton was a high school student in California when Blake first met him. They got reacquainted shortly after Newton was charged with murder. At Newton's mother's urging, Blake helped co-author Newton's autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide. The two collaborated on other writings. Newton was shot and killed in 1989.

"Huey P. Newton, like so many of our contemporary youth, was a very, very bright young man, a creative young man who was frustrated by the barriers and problems he perceived in the society around him," Blake said. "He was constantly torn between his desire to develop in intellect -- his greatest desire was to become a college professor -- and a similarly strong desire to end the oppression he saw in the inner cities. Those competing desires drove him."

Blake met with Malcolm X in the early 1960s. He refers to the famed African American leader as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Malcolm X's Islamic name and the "name he took to his grave," Blake explained.

"El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz had a profound impact on me. He tried his best in a number of long, long conversations to convince me to join the Nation of Islam and I tried my best to help him understand why I would not join," Blake said.

"He was one of the most liberally educated people I have ever met. He always believed the evidence dictates the conclusion. He was willing to analyze and reflect on his views in light of new ideas and evidence, and he came to realize that many of the ideas he espoused were incorrect.

"I wish college students would be as critical and would examine their own views with the same critical perspective El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz did and not adopt any ideology or point of view simply because it comes from the mouth of someone with a degree of power," Blake said.

Although he has worked with some big names, it's the people that many haven't heard of who Blake would rather talk about. People like Septima Clark, Howard Thurman and Myles Horton -- the people who inspired and taught some more familiar names, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

"Septuma, Myles and Howard were very modest people and they were really about the business of social uplift and a moral vision for all people," said Blake. "That's what drives and motivates Emily and me."

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