Charles Lyman “Chuck” James, the Sara Lawrence Lightfoot Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Swarthmore College, has died. Professor James was 87 years old. Professor James was the college’s first Black tenured faculty member, as well as the first Black department chair and division chair.
James was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, amidst the Great Depression. After high school, he enlisted and served two years in the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of sergeant. In 1960, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., officiated at his wedding. The following year, James earned a bachelor’s degree at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Throughout the 1960s, James taught elementary school and high school English in the Spackenkill School District in Poughkeepsie. He also taught English at Dutchess County Community College before earning a master’s degree in 1969 at the University at Albany of the State University of New York System. That year, James accepted a tenured position at SUNY Oneonta as an associate professor of English.
Professor James joined the faculty at Swarthmore College in 1973 and remained on the faculty there for 32 tears. His research focused on the writings of Harlem Renaissance author Arna Bontemps, who he had met at Yale University while on a Danworth Foundation Post-Graduate Fellowship for Afro-American Studies. He was the editor of From the Roots: Short Stories by Black Americans (Dodd, Mead, 1975).