Edmund W. Gordon was born on June 13, 1921, just as America was emerging from the last great pandemic. Poetically, we celebrate his 100th birthday as the world finds itself on the heels of another major viral outbreak. Dr. Gordon says that his father, a Jamaican-born physician practicing in Goldsboro, North Carolina, treated patients suffering from the Spanish flu, which buffered the family from much of the economic pain of the Great Depression that soon followed. Growing up under these privileged circumstances, the young Edmund Gordon internalized his father’s values “that people who are privileged have responsibilities for helping less privileged people.” He also remembers that his father kept a copy of Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction prominently displayed on his bookshelf. Through his remarkable life, Dr. Gordon has developed and practiced a distinctive version of moral scholarship, influenced by his father, and years later through his acquaintance with historic figures that include Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois, Doxey Wilkerson, Kenneth Clark, the artist Charles White, and a growing dynamic set of influencers and influences.
Through this celebration, we hope to garner a comprehensive understanding of the contributions of Dr. Gordon through a networked series of gatherings, to take place between 2021 and 2022. The main message of what we hope to accomplish might be seen in the context of the history of human knowledge – something that Dr. Gordon so eloquently stated in what he learned from Du Bois: “[The] ‘official’ knowledge base was not sufficient for this intellectual giant. He insisted on understanding the contexts out of which the knowledge was developed and in which it must be understood. He distinguished between knowing and understanding. Understanding requires that we know the phenomenon from the different contexts and perspectives that give the phenomenon meaning. Du Bois teaches us that such perspective sometimes challenges the validity of the ‘official’ knowledge.”
The arc of time represented in the past 100 years is complex, including the depths of Jim Crow, major wars, school desegregation and Civil Rights, the emerging federal role in education, the shift from behaviorism to cognitivism and situated learning, conflicts over globalism and tribalism, recognizing the many facets of racism and xenophobia, efforts to attain educational equity through standards and accountability systems, the widening wealth gaps, and the emergence of technology. The events will afford society an understanding of how the academy (the nature of knowledge, the producers of knowledge, and the potential beneficiaries of the knowledge) has grappled with important societal issues, including but not limited to the problem of the color line within paradigmatic societal changes over the century. The spirit of what we hope to accomplish is to inform the future, inspired by this rich history.