To Moussa Sow, Professor Gloria Dickinson wasn’t just a colleague in the department of African-American Studies, but a mother and mentor as well.
“When I first came to the College for a job interview, she greeted me in ‘Wolof,’ the lingua franca in Senegal, where I am from,” Sow said. “She knew my country better than many Sengalese.”
Many professors and students join Sow in remembering the life and mourning the loss of Dickinson, who passed away after a long battle with breast cancer on Jan. 18.
A longtime professor at the College, Dickinson played an integral role in the construction of the department of African-American Studies and inspired professors and students alike with her dedication to teaching and warm, welcoming personality.
Areatha Fryar, class of ’92, shared her memories of Dickinson in a Facebook group dedicated to the professor called “Friends and fans of Gloria Harper Dickinson.”
“I loved what I learned about myself in her class . I loved what I learned about my African heritage,” Fryar wrote.
Besides teaching, Dickinson was a devoted activist who volunteered her time to many different organizations. From 2001 to 2003, she served as president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, in addition to her past roles as national vice director, Webmaster and national parliamentarian for the Association of Black Women Historians.
She also spent many years mentoring and guiding chapters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority as the organization’s international secretary from 1998 to 2002, and, as a breast cancer survivor, was a supporter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Holding an undergraduate degree from the City College of New York and a master’s degree and Ph.D from Howard University, Dickinson was a respected and in-demand scholar of history, English and African-American Studies. She traveled extensively through four different continents, lecturing in some as far-flung as France and Oman.
She co-authored and contributed her expertise to numerous textbooks and was known as a “digitizing diva” after hosting a faculty development institute of the same name.
Students and professors alike reminisce about her passion for social justice, her many scholastic projects and her ethnic style of dressing that always attracted attention and admiring glances.
“Her colorful dresses bought in every corner of Africa made her a true African Queen,” Sow said.
Of particular concern to Dickinson was the prevalence of female genital mutilation in many corners of the world, a practice she detested and frequently preached against.
“She educated her students, I believe, about those cultural practices and how women all over the world should combat them,” Sow said. “She fought every day to promote equality and human dignity.”
Services for Dickinson were held on Sunday and Monday, and her family asks anyone wishing to honor her memory send donations in her name to the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation.