New Director of Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Named — Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad
The New York Public Library (NYPL) announced today that Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a scholar of African-American history from Indiana University, has been selected as the next Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, effective July 2011.
Dr. Muhammad will succeed Howard Dodson Jr., who last year announced his plan to retire after more than 25 years of leadership, having cemented the Schomburg as the world’s leading repository on the global Black experience. The appointment was made by Library President Dr. Paul LeClerc after the unanimous recommendation of a nine-member search committee.
“The entire committee enthusiastically supports and is delighted with the choice of Khalil Muhammad,” Search Committee Co-Chairmen and Library Trustees Gordon J. Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr. said in a joint statement. “We are confident that the extensive search process, involving many strong candidates out of a pool of more than 200, has brought to the Schomburg a leader of unique vision and inspiration who will bridge the many communities and generations served by the Center.”
Dr. Muhammad, a native of Chicago’s South Side, has served as Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University for five years, where he completed a major interpretive book in African-American studies, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, published recently by Harvard University Press. A great-grandson of Elijah Muhammad, he has deep roots in Black history and in Harlem. His father is the noted Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer Ozier Muhammad.
“This appointment is a tremendous honor and for me one of life’s special moments,” said Dr. Muhammad. “I look forward to continuing the Schomburg’s remarkable legacy as a world-class institution that simply has no peer, to extending its reach to those who may not yet be part of the Schomburg community, and to the Center’s playing a crucial role in moving Black history from the margins to the center of American public discourse.”
“There has never been a more exciting time in the history of the Schomburg Center,” said Aysha Schomburg, great-granddaughter of Schomburg Center founder Arturo Schomburg, President of the Schomburg Corporation, and Search Committee member. “Without any doubt, Khalil has the skills and the passion to build on the legacy. This is a great day for New York and especially for Harlem. We welcome him.”
As an academic, Dr. Muhammad is at the forefront of scholarship on the enduring link between race and crime, that has shaped and limited opportunities for African Americans.
“The Condemnation of Blackness renders an incalculable service to civil rights scholarship by disrupting one of the nation’s most insidious, convenient, and resilient explanatory loops: whites commit crimes, but black males are criminals. Khalil’s cutting-edge civil rights scholarship, dynamic university teaching, administrative experience, grasp of information technology, and understanding of the Schomburg’s uniqueness will sustain and advance the scholarly mission of this historic institution,” said NYU Professor of History and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Levering Lewis.
Of joining the Schomburg Center, Dr. Muhammad says, “I treasure this opportunity to wed my passion for African-American history with my commitment to scholarship. I am committed to promoting the voice of Black people as they have engaged in the most significant issues of our times. What matters to me is that they and people of the African Diaspora are able to articulate why their humanity matters, to show and showcase their contributions to the world, and to have in a sense a history that is validated and respected and made meaningful to humanity at large.”
Dr. Muhammad, currently nominated for tenure at Indiana University, is now working on a book-length history of the racial politics surrounding the creation and swift dissolution of Prohibition-era “tough-on-crime” laws, specifically New York’s four-strikes law of 1926. He is also an Associate Editor of The Journal of American History.
“My hope for the Schomburg Center,” he stated, “is to develop it as the premier brand for historical expertise on the great race debates of our time; privileging documents, material culture, visual historical media, living artists, and widely disseminated scholarship to raise public consciousness and historical literacy in the United States and around the globe.” Dr. Muhammad plans to build upon the Schomburg’s strong beginnings in online studies under Howard Dodson, “encouraging staff and users to embrace digital technologies as we reach out to youth, especially by creatively opening up the Center’s resources and exhibitions so that they can come to know us on their own terms.”
“I am most pleased to extend my congratulations to Khalil Muhammad,” said Dodson. “I am both confident and excited about his ability to continue the Schomburg’s critical mission and legacy. I have felt strongly that the next Center leader must come from the next generation, and I intend to help ensure that he is well prepared to hit the ground running.”
“After spending time with Dr. Muhammad, it was easy for me to see why he was the unanimous choice of the Search Committee. He is a brilliant scholar doing pathbreaking work in African-American studies, is eloquent and charismatic, is deeply committed to the Harlem community, embraces the Schomburg’s function of acquiring and preserving the cultural record of peoples of African descent, and knows how to exploit the Internet to bring young people into the Schomburg to discover its extraordinary treasures,” said Dr. LeClerc. “I know that his career at the Schomburg Center will be one of excellence and innovation, and that the Center will flourish under his creative guidance.”
Dr. Muhammad graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Economics in 1993. After working at Deloitte & Touche LLP, he received his Ph.D. in American History from Rutgers University in 2004, specializing in 20th-century U.S. and African-American history. He spent two years as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice reform agency in New York City, before joining the faculty of Indiana University.
Dr. Muhammad is married to Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, a network operations manager at Verizon Wireless. They have three children, Gibran Mikkel (10), Jordan Grace (8), and Justice Marie (4).
The public will have an opportunity to meet Dr. Muhammad at various future events including a community forum.