Face Value:Charles McKinney


Charles McKinney
Graduate student in the history department, member of the President's Council on Black Affairs, volunteer with the Center for Multicultural Affairs, volunteer with Public Allies (an organization that works with disadvantaged kids), saxophone player with the Durham Jazz Band, stargazer, father of two

Describe yourself in three words:
Thoughtful, passionate, loud

Describe Duke in three words:
Striving, challenging, excellent

Why Duke?
Duke has had a reputation as an outstanding institution for the study of civil rights and African-American history. But I think the biggest factor was that my mentor at Morehouse [College], Marcellus Barksdale [Ph.D. '77], graduated from Duke.

Charles McKinney
photo by Chris Hildreth

What one thing would you change about Duke?
I would change the perception that quality and diversity are mutually exclusive. We can be an institution that is second to none and affirm the presence of women and minorities at the same time.

Who is your favorite person?
My family

What do you value?
The capacity to transform oneself and one's surroundings

In his words:

Jazz is so much a part of my existence. Isaac Jenkins, my high-school music teacher, is a hero to me. He introduced me to jazz and taught me that hard work makes for beautiful music, a lesson I re-learn every day. I love him for that.

Whenever I'm writing or reading or talking with someone, I think in jazz riffs, trading fours, short or extended solos, the utility of a big band or a quartet. Jazz for me is kind of a paradigm for interacting. I think of rhythm when I make presentations, when I lecture. That give and take of intellectual discourse is mirrored in jazz. It also reminds me that both parties in a dialogue have an equally vital role; whether I'm talking with a student, or conducting an interview, or talking to one of my kids, we're equal partners in that dialogue.

My dad is still the man I want to be when I grow up. But as I get older, I realize how much like my mother I am. They played a crucial role in my life. My grandparents on my mother's side were tenant farmers who raised a dozen children and six grandchildren and lived through Jim Crow and other sweeping changes. They were married for seventy-three years. Their lives are a testament to strength and family and love.

As a historian, you analyze the past and take lessons from it that you can apply to the future. To inform society of African America's past is to inform society of America's past. And so, one of my challenges is to get people to understand that it doesn't make any sense to view their lives, their history, apart from the history of African Americans in this country.

A joint project of University Photography and Duke Magazine, Face Value is an evolving gallery of portraits displayed in Perkins Library and represented in the magazine.
By capturing these individuals in images and words, the project celebrates some of the staff, faculty, and students whose contributions define a diverse community.
Portrait by Chris Hildreth. Photo finishing by Brent Clayton.

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