Home National news Renowned philosopher, Black Power trailblazer Charles V. Hamilton dies at 94

Renowned philosopher, Black Power trailblazer Charles V. Hamilton dies at 94

Austin Cooper (l) with his mentor, Professor Charles V. Hamilton (photo courtesy of Austin Cooper).

Austin Cooper recalled the first time he met Professor Charles V. Hamilton, a philosophical luminary and key architect of the Black Power movement. Cooper, who earned a Master of Public Administration from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs under Hamilton’s tutelage, said the professor wasn’t simply an academic advisor. To Cooper and others, he was a mentor and friend. Mostly, though, Hamilton was ‘Doc.’

“He hired me to be one of three research assistants at the Ford Foundation where he headed a three-year project on ‘Social Welfare Policy and the American Future,’” said Cooper, the managing editor of the Our House DC newsletter and who, among other accomplishments, served as a state lobbyist (pension, education, and labor) to former New York City Mayor and Vice President of Government Affairs for the Turner Broadcasting System David N. Dinkins.

Like many others, Cooper was saddened by the news that Hamilton had died at 94. Though his death occurred on Nov. 18, 2023, it was only confirmed and made public this week. Hamilton, a distinguished political scientist, and educator, played a transformative role in reshaping the discourse on racism in the United States through his groundbreaking work, ‘Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.’

Hamilton’s collaboration with Stokely Carmichael in 1967 produced a seminal piece that challenged traditional civil rights approaches. Unlike Carmichael, known for his impassioned speeches, observers noted that Hamilton brought a quiet and dignified intellectualism to the movement. According to scholars and others who knew him, Hamilton conveyed his profound influence through the strength of his ideas.

He co-authored work that shifted the narrative on racism, introducing the concept of institutional racism to the forefront. Prior discussions primarily focused on overt acts of prejudice, but ‘Black Power: The Politics of Liberation’ redirected attention to the entrenched biases within American institutions. Hamilton’s belief in self-determination and self-reliance for the African American community permeated his work, laying the intellectual foundations for the Black Power movement.

A Wallace S. Sayre Professor Emeritus of Government at Columbia University, Hamilton made history as one of the first African Americans to hold an endowed chair at an Ivy League university. His extensive research delved into urban politics and the Civil Rights movement. Another of his notable contributions included: Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma (1991).

Thomas J. Davis of the University of New York at Buffalo, who championed the book in a review for the Library Journal, wrote: “Probing Powell’s rise and fall, Hamilton moves from the 1930s, when Powell became a New York City councilman, to his service starting in 1945 as a U.S. Representative, and then to his chairing of the House Education and Labor Committee, his expulsion from the House in 1967, and his defeat at the polls in 1970.

“Hamilton’s able analysis of the unapologetic, openly arrogant champion of civil rights reflects the race issues of the day within a prism of political theory focused on the conflict of basic American values like majority rule and minority rights. The book was essential for any serious collection on Black biography, civil rights, or political analysis. Highly recommended.”

Hamilton’s legacy extended beyond academia and his writings. His ideas continue to influence discussions on racial equality and justice. 

“Doc loved not only teaching, but he inspired me and all of his students to become activists of history in our respective fields of profession,” Cooper said. “I considered him to be not only my lifelong teacher, but also a mentor and friend. I will miss him.”

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