Julius S. Scott, Noted Scholar and Professor of Caribbean History, Passes Away at 66

Image: Duke University

Julius S. Scott, a highly-regarded scholar of slavery and Caribbean history, passed away last Monday, the Washington Post reports. He was 66.

Scott’s passing was confirmed by his partner, Elisha Renne, who said that he had suffered from Type 1 diabetes and his health had rapidly declined over the last month. He was a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, where Renne was also a professor.

Angela D. Dillard, chair of the school’s history department, paid tribute to Scott in a statement on behalf of the school.

“Dr. Scott began teaching at Michigan in 1991 and continued to shape our collective understanding of Atlantic history, slavery, the Haitian Revolution, and the lives and struggles of Black peoples from across the African diaspora—and jazz, always jazz—through classroom instruction, symposia, and conversations too numerous to count,” Dillard said. “For many of us, these conversations took place in his impossibly book-lined and book-and paper-filled offices.”

Born in Marshall, Texas, Scott, the son of a Methodist clergyman, lived all over the country as his father took on various pastoral assignments. According to his mother, Ann Scott, he precocious young student with a remarkable gift of language.

Scott would graduate from Brown University and earn a doctorate from Duke University. For decades he was little known outside the academic world but he was a hero within it—beginning with a thesis he completed at Duke in 1986. His paper long remained unpublished but became the subject of academic folklore. The document was so popular among scholars that Harvard University’s Vincent Brown described it as “an underground mix-tape.”

In a 2018 interview with Publishers Weekly, Scott said that he was inspired by the idea for The Common Wind after reminiscing about childhood memories of watching the track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith with fist-raised, giving the Black Power salute during a medals ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

“As a young African-American, I noticed other Black athletes from Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, and I thought about their relationship to Afro-North Americans, and what were some of the important vehicles of communication between Black people in different parts of the Americas,” he recalled.

Scott was stunned by how influential his dissertation had become in academic circles.

“I started getting royalty checks every year from the people who make dissertations available in print,” he said. “I realized it was being sold. People were reading my dissertation and learning something from it.”

Marcus Rediker, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, says that Scott’s book was delayed due to his health issues and because of Scott’s constant reworking of the text. Oxford University Press offered him a publishing deal but it fell through after they couldn’t come to terms on the final revisions. 

Rediker, who framed his own teaching by using Scott’s dissertation, became a part of the project a few years ago after being asked by an editor at Verso Books about publishing ideas for the book.

“I seized the opportunity,” Rediker said. ”He really touched a lot of people. It was partly his work, but it was also his personality, his humanity. He had great depth of soul.”

Released 30 years after his dissertation, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution was lauded as a landmark work of Caribbean History.

Neil Roberts, a professor of Africana studies at Williams College in Massachusetts, called Scott’s original thesis “arguably the most read, sought after and discussed English-language dissertation in the humanities and social sciences during the 20th century.”

“Scott underscored the importance of the Haitian Revolution and its aftershocks when the ‘Age of Revolution’ remained overwhelmingly reduced to only the American and French Revolutions in the historiography of the day,” Roberts wrote in an email. “Scott highlighted the complex relationships among slavery, capitalism, and freedom, whose effects resonate with us today.”

In addition to Professor Renne, he is survived by his mother and two brothers, David, and Lamar Scott.

We extend our prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Julius S. Scott.

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