Recently published books by alumni

And faculty, plus recommendations


Theodore D. Segal ’77, a lawyer, Center for Documentary Studies board member, and author of Point of Reckoning: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University (Duke University Press), about his deep dive into the university’s history.

On finishing a project that started as a master’s thesis, after a forty-year pause

When I went back as an adult to look at what I had written about Black campus activism at Duke as a young man, I saw things very differently. For example, when I first interviewed Duke’s Black activists, I was twenty-three and they were almost thirty. I saw them—even as undergraduates—as adults, almost as Black activist “action heroes.” I was enthralled with what they had done. When I went back forty years later, I said to myself, “Holy cow. These ‘activists’ were kids. They were young.” Because, by this time, I had been a parent, I had dropped my children off at college, and I knew what that experience felt like. All of a sudden, these young people I had previously viewed as abstractions, I now saw as youngsters who could have been my kids. Returning to interviews with Black protesters I had done in 1979, I began trying to understand: who were these kids? What kind of families and communities did they come from? What were their parents saying about their activism? That perspective allowed me to tell the story of the Black student movement at Duke in a much more human, empathetic, and accurate way.

On being fact-based and nonjudgmental in the book’s tone

I don’t believe it is necessary, or helpful, to use words like “racist” in describing the Jim Crow attitudes and actions chronicled in the book. Duke is a school whose motto is “Eruditio et Religio,” and whose values include the union of knowledge and religion, a spirit of tolerance, and dedication to service. With desegregation, the university had a chance to live those values in how it related to its new Black students. Duke not only didn’t do so—it didn’t even try. So I describe in detail how the university failed these young people. This failure was indefensible. But in writing the book, and in discussing the book, I let the facts speak for themselves. I avoid characterizing Duke leaders as “racist.” I keep the story in my book grounded in what leaders at Duke did and what they told me they were thinking. I believe this makes the story more powerful and illuminating.

On what he’s learned

I am an expert on one thing, and that’s what happened at Duke between 1963 and 1969. I don’t claim to be an expert on civil rights, race relations, or diversity and inclusion in higher education.

So when people ask me what Duke should be doing now to address systemic racism, I don’t have a specific answer. But, based on my understanding of the failures of the past, I do know that to address systemic racism, Duke must devote the same level of financial, human, and professional resources it does to attacking its other most important problems. If you look at what the university did in responding to an existential threat like COVID—the institution was reimagined in a matter of weeks. That is the level of effort and focus that will be needed if Duke is to undo its long legacy of systemic racism.

On his feelings toward Duke now

If I didn’t feel connected to Duke, or if I thought Duke was irredeemable, I would not have spent the past four years writing a book hoping that it would help the university to reckon with its racial past. I heard an interview with William Turner, a member of the Afro American Society in the ‘60s and a beloved divinity school professor for decades. He said, “The presence of Black students at Duke has transformed this university. [Telling the story] is not to glorify the university, it’s not to remove the tarnish, the stain. It’s not to proclaim some sort of pristine history. . . . It’s kind of like the Lou Rawls song, Tobacco Road: ‘I despise you because you’re filthy, but I love you because you’re home.’ You got skeletons, you got dirt. But that is the nature of God’s story.” Like Turner, I believe it is possible to love Duke but not sanitize its history. And by exposing the warts, by exposing the stains, you’re doing Duke a service, because it gives the school a chance to reckon with its past as it charts its anti-racist future. I feel way more connected to Duke now than I did as a graduate student forty years ago, that’s for sure. I love Duke. There’s no question. But that love is not uncritical. It shouldn’t be. It can’t be.

RECOMMENDATIONS from Paul Farmer '82

In Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Farmer, a medical anthropologist, physician, and cofounder of Partners In Health, tells the story of how and why the virus ravaged three African nations. Here, he shares his “remedial reading list” of social history and social anthropology works that helped him write his book:

Understanding West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic: Towards a Political Economy edited by Ibrahim Abdullah and Ismail Rashid

Sierra Leonean historians cobbled together a corrective volume about Ebola in West Africa, which should have reached a broader audience. Every one of my adult patients from 2014 and after had also survived civil war.

The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches by W. E. B. Du Bois; A Dying Colonialism by Frantz Fanon, translated by Haakon Chevalier

This remedial project also allowed me to read or reread work by Du Bois, who wrote piercingly about his own nation, but also about Liberia and other parts of the African continent. But this particular book is a reliably inspiring classic. It’s also great to find any excuse to reread Fanon (who was born in the Caribbean, worked in Algeria, and died way too young of leukemia) on colonial medicine, which was an endeavor focused primarily on control of epidemics rather than on the provision of clinical care. And, of course, care is what the sick are seeking, whether in Europe or West Africa.

HIV Exceptionalism: Development Through Disease in Sierra Leone by Adia Benton

As for anthropologists, I started with the work of friends and colleagues like Benton, whose book is based on research conducted in Sierra Leone just prior to Ebola’s explosion. The notion of cultural humility, rather than misguided efforts to achieve “cultural competence,” suggested (and should always suggest) that remedial homework would allow me to fill in some of the massive gaps in my own understanding. This book and Benton’s other work were a first start.

Themes in West Africa’s History edited by Emmanuel Akyeampong

I rely a lot on social historians in part because I like to do field research on what’s in front of me myself, which is another way of saying that I go into such settings assuming that I will know next to nothing but can learn by looking around (at context) and looking back in time (thanks to historians with similar interests). This little-read academic collection is exceptionally helpful and clear and steered me away from relying overmuch on less reliable reports.

By Duke Alumni & Faculty

American Freethinker: Elihu Palmer and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in the New Nation (University of Pennsylvania Press) Kirsten Fischer A.M. ’89, Ph.D. ’94

Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby (Familius) Tracy C. Gold ’10

Marching Toward Madness: How to Save the Games You Always Loved (Carolina Academic Press) John LeBar Ed.D. ’73, professor emeritus and former coach, and Allen Paul

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm (Pegasus) Robert J. Lefkowitz, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of medicine (and Nobel Laureate), with Randy Hall

Alice: Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Charleston Renaissance Artist (Evening Post Books) Caroline Tinker Palmer ’98, Dwight McInvaill, Anne Gaud Tinker

Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing (InterVarsity Press) Todd Ream M.Div. ’96, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers

Hesburgh of Notre Dame: The Church’s Public Intellectual (Paulest Press) Todd Ream M.Div. ’96

Accidental Preacher: A Memoir (Eerdmans Press) Will Willimon, former dean of Duke Chapel and professor of Christian ministry


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