Charles Dumas ’75 speaks with students about life of activism

DumasThe SUNY New Paltz Black Studies Department and the Department of Political Science and International Relations sponsored a visit to campus by Charles Dumas ’75 (Political Science), an alumnus whose personal journey has taken him from the front lines of civil rights marches in the 1960s to success on stage and screen as a director and actor.

Dumas focused on his political education and engagement in a riveting talk titled “From Brown to Obama: A Personal Perspective,” given before a group largely made up of international students. Dumas presented episodes from his personal narrative as emblematic of the nation’s progression toward equal civil rights during the second half of the 20th century.

That journey led Dumas from a segregated Chicago high school, where he was acquainted with young Emmett Till, to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial, to upstate New York, where Dumas studied Political Science and Black Studies at New Paltz.

“I was a part of a generation that was trying to bring social justice and change, at a time when change was very difficult to bring about,” Dumas said. “I found many allies among the Black Studies faculty at New Paltz: Howard Johnson, Doc (Dr. Marjorie Augusta Johnson) Butler and Eddie Bell, to name some, and through the Political Science program I was able to intern for Congressman Charlie Rangel. For me, that was a life-changing time.”

The emotional climax of the story was Dumas’s return to the Lincoln Memorial in 2008 for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

“The inauguration took place at the Lincoln Memorial,” Dumas said. “It was where King had made his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963, and where in 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Marian Anderson to give her concert when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her admittance to Constitution Hall because of her color. It was where countless workers, soldiers, protesters, Million Man Marchers, poor people, religious people, students, anti-war and pro-war demonstrators had come to petition their government to redress their grievances. And on this day, a half-million people had come not to protest, but to celebrate a sea change in American history.”

Charles Dumas is Professor Emeritus in the School of Theatre at Penn State University, and was formerly Director of the Acting in Media Program at Temple University. He was a Fulbright Fellow at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and a senior professor at the University of the Free State, also in South Africa.

Dumas is also a professional actor, director and writer who has appeared in many roles for the stage and for television and film.

More information about the Black Studies Department and the Department of Political Science and International Relations can be accessed online.