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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 903

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This is the grave of Sylvia Ardyn Boone.

Born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1940, Boone went to Brooklyn College for her undergraduate degree and then onto Columbia for her graduate work in social sciences. After receiving a master’s degree, she went to Ghana, where many young Black idealists traveled and work in the 1960s. In fact, while there, she got to know W.E.B. DuBois, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and other leaders of the Black freedom struggle in America visiting there. She studied at the University of Ghana, became interested in African art, and then returned to the United States for a PhD at Yale studying the topic. There were few people specializing in African art in the 1970s. With the rise of civil rights and Black power, interest in these topics grew and Boone became a pioneering scholar on the subject. She received her PhD in 1979 and it won a major prize. She was already a published author by this point. In 1974, based on her time in Africa, she published a travel guide called West African Travels: A Guide to People and Places.

Yale decided to hire her to be on faculty that same year. Even before this, as a graduate student, she taught perhaps the first course on Black women at Yale. She became a leader at that school not only for her scholarship but for her activism. In particular, she was a leader on the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Amistad landing in New Haven in 1989, a topic that was largely unknown in the broader narrative of American history at that time. She turned her dissertation into a book, Radiance from the Waters : Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art, published in 1990. The Mende are in contemporary Sierra Leone and it was that nation she specialized in for her academic work. She also was a consultant to the Smithsonian on African art. Most importantly perhaps, Boone became the first Black woman to ever receive tenure at Yale, in 1988. That’s right, 1988.

By the early 90s. Boone was still a relatively young scholar. Unfortunately, she was attacked by the beast that can slay any of us at any time: a bum ticker. Heart failure killed her in 1993. She was 52 years old.

The Department of African-American Studies at Yale awards the annual Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize for the best work by a student on African or African-American art.

Sylvia Ardyn Boone is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

If you would like this series to visit other Americans who returned to their African roots and spent time there, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. DuBois of course is in Accra, so I’d be happy to go there! Same for the former Stokely Carmichael, then Kwame Toure, is in Conkary, Guinea. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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