Former CofC African Studies Prof. Alpha Bah Passes In D.C.

Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah

By Barney Blakeney

Trident Technical College Prof. Donald West last week informed The Chronicle former College of Charleston History Prof. Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah died April 25 in Washington, D.C. Bah was a significant academician promoting the study of West Africa and its connection to the Lowcountry, said West. Bah was 72.

He was loved, respected and revered by Mrs. Evelyn Brown of Poplar Street in downtown Charleston. Mrs. Brown, now 90, studied under Bah 15 years ago at age 75 after retiring from a teaching career in New York, N.Y. Mrs. Brown audited courses taught by Bah at the College of Charleston. Bah was an inspiration to Mrs. Brown who respectfully spoke of him often. But she wasn’t alone. Bah earned the respect of many who knew him.

Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Bah was a graduate of Howard University, a leading scholar and advocate in educational travel. He took dozens of colleagues and students to Africa. Through his efforts he also introduced thousands of people, especially in the Lowcountry, to the Africanisms that are present in many aspects of Southern life and culture, and its historical connections to West Africa. He was an active member in several African organizations including the Model African Union Conference held at Howard University annually, West said.

Bah left West Africa in 1970 to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he was a Fulbright scholar in residence for one year. The Fulbright scholarship is given to students by the United States Department of State to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills. After graduating, he took positions teaching at Howard University, the University of Liberia, and Villanova University in Philadelphia. In 1986, Bah and his wife, also a native to Sierra Leone, moved their family to Charleston to take a teaching position at CofC.

Bah touched many people during his 25 years at The College of Charleston. Jack Parson, who was Alpha’s longest-serving fellow Africanist at CofC wrote, “During his twenty-five years of service to the College Alpha Bah was instrumental in establishing the African Studies Program and Minor. He co-directed a U.S. Department of Education Grant strengthening the program in the mid-1990s.

“In addition, his research on the connections between West Africa and the Carolina Lowcountry was groundbreaking, as evidenced by his role in the production of “Family Across the Sea,” a documentary linking contemporary communities across the Atlantic.  He will be remembered for these contributions and for his service as an outstanding mentor to generations of students.

“Upon retirement Dr. Bah returned to Liberia where he contributed to the rehabilitation of the country and also became Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Liberia, leading dozens of students from each country to visit the other.  The College of Charleston and country of Liberia were richer for Alpha’s presence and are poorer for his absence.”

College of Charleston History Prof. Rebecca Shumway upon learning of Bah’s passing wrote, “This is very sad news. While I never met Dr. Bah, I am honored to succeed him in the History Department and I know I benefit in many ways from the groundwork he laid in African and African Diaspora studies at CofC and particularly the CLAW program.

CofC History Prof. Dr. Bernard Powers wrote, “For those of you who knew him you will remember him as a force on campus and in the department. Alpha could be vibrantly expressive, humorous, chaotic, frustrating, self-deprecating sometimes mysterious but always kind and generous. He was a taskmaster to his students, reminding them that taking his class was no safari.  Yet he went out of his way to expand their horizons in every way taking them to conferences and sending many on to graduate school. Although separated from us for years now I know our colleagues who knew him will now have a special sense of loss.”

And Richard H. Bodek wrote, “I’m sure that each one of us who knew Alpha has a memory or story about him (probably many). I’m heartbroken, but want to remember him with a smile. I remember one time that the two of us were invited by a former CofC president to some special event to celebrate religious and campus diversity. When lunch rolled around, we were served pork barbecue. Alpha said something like, ‘Richie (he was the only person who ever called me that), this is Charleston and the Lowcountry for you.  They will talk about important things, and then this is what they give to a Jew and a Muslim.’ We had more conversations about sons playing soccer and comparative monotheism than I think I have had with anybody else (and Alpha seemed to see both subjects as equally pressing). I am much the poorer for his passing.”

Former Penn Center Exec. Dir. and current Gullah Heritage Consulting Services Principle Emory Campbell said, “Alpha was such a good, and faithful Brother. He was forever sensitive to the West African- African American connection. I am forever grateful for his compassionate escort of our group when we visited Sierra Leone in 1989. His loss is irreplaceable.”

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