Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ted Vincent 1936-2009

On Sunday, June 14, 2009 I lost my dad.

He had been recovering from a heart attack on May 22nd, and there are some controversies about the change in his care when he was moved to Kaiser Oakland two days before his passing, but it is not important right now because he cannot be brought back.

Ted was always his own man and was courageously original in his ideas and how he went about pursuing the issues that mattered most to him. A central part of his values had to do with social justice and racial justice in particular. As an historian by trade, he wrote five books and dozens of articles in papers and magazines all over the world. Most of his writing had to do with uncovering the many untold elements of the struggle for racial equality for blacks in America.

As a white man dedicated to black equality, his life and career took some bittersweet turns, but his legacy will stand on its own for generations. My cousin calls him “the last of the white black nationalists.” One of his first teaching gigs was at Merritt College in Oakland in 1964, and the class featured a young, talkative student named Huey P. Newton, eventual founder of the Black Panther Party.

Ted was an avid runner, political activist, musician and teacher. He was born in Washington, D.C. in 1936, and earned a Master’s Degree in History from UC Berkeley in 1970. He had entered the doctoral program in History at UCLA but left to write the books he wanted to on his own terms. He always was self -driven, self-taught, and self defined, and I believe that’s where I got my open-minded approach to The Funk as a way of life.

His three children are testament to this belief and faith in humanity. He had three loving wives at different times in his life. Toni, my mom, shared Ted’s radical politics and forward thinking social values, and my brother Teo Barry Vincent and myself are proof of those values. Ted’s second wife Selma and their daughter Mimi shared much of the counter-culture Berkeley lifestyle values we always enjoyed while growing up, and his third wife Bernice kept up with him as he was running his marathons for much of the 1990’s.

Then there is his massive track record of writings, in essays and books, ranging from comparisons of slave overseers to modern cops, to pioneering research on the runaway slave Yanga, an African prince that founded a city if his own in southern Mexico in the 1600s which survives to this day. Ted uncovered the writings of Malcolm X’s mother, Louise Little, which she contributed to the Marcus Garvey paper The Negro World. Historians now agree that both of Malcolm’s parents were Garveyites, not only Malcolm’s father, which was implied in Malcolm’s autobiography. These are the quiet contributions great historians make to our world.

He was a frequent contributor to the Berkeley Daily Planet, and had recently been translating contributions to the mixed race heritage publication Somos Primos. He was also a consultant to the Oakland Museum's current exhibit "The African Presence in Mexico" and was a scheduled speaker the following day when he took ill on May 22nd.

Ted’s most enduring legacy will be his books, which are paradigm shifting, often epic and groundbreaking re-evaluations of the established historical record. Here is a list of them, they are all fascinating, accessible reads:

1970 - (as Theodore G. Vincent) Black Power and the Garvey Movement Ramparts Press, San Francisco (reprinted by Nzinga press, 1987, and reprinted by Black Classic Press, 2007);

1972 - (as Theodore G. Vincent) Editor: Voices of a Black Nation: Political Journalism in the Harlem Renaissance Ramparts Press, San Francisco. (reprinted by Afrika World Press 1991)

1981 - (Ted Vincent) Mudville's Revenge: The Rise and Fall of American Sport University of Nebraska Press (1981; reprinted in 1994)

1995 - (Ted Vincent) Keep Cool: The Black Activists Who Built the Age of Jazz London, Pluto Press

2003 - (as Theodore G. Vincent) The Legacy of Vicente Guererro, Mexico's first Black Indian President. University of Florida Press

Ted was a Berkeley fixture and will be deeply missed. I am still processing the scope of the loss on a personal level. Knowing we won’t be going to any more baseball games, or watching him playing any more piano, or discussing black history or modern politics, or watching him teach my kids those little bites of wisdom, will be a brand new struggle for me. But I know he lived a full and rich life, saw his children grow up, enjoyed the unconditional love of his grandkids, and lived to see a Black President. I think he will be at peace with all of it now.


  1. This is a marvelous tribute, Rickey.

    I hope you're hanging in all right. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  2. Thank you for getting all this into words, Rick. Of course, you're a chip off the block in that regard. Grooves in tha historical record...

  3. Rickey, my sincere condolences. Dr. Vincent was an enormous help to me when I was writing my "Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People's History of Mexico" going out of his way to give me a telephone call, and answer specific questions about Afro-Mexican heritage. Of course, he was babysitting his grandkids (your kids?) and needed some adult conversation, too:-)

    I work now for a small English-language Mexican publisher that would be very interested in your father's "Black Indian Mexico" website, which seems to have been taken down. I hope the material is archived somewhere. I'd be interested in bringing it to a larger audience, or at least making the site available for researchers.

    Please write me

    Richard Grabman
    Gestor de proyectos
    Editorial Mazatlan
    Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico

  4. [From Paul Lee to New York documentary producer Louise Greaves, Sept. 11, 2009, 6:11 p. m.]

    Dear Louise,


    A dear friend of mine who teaches with the son of revisionist Garvey scholar Ted Vincent at the University of California, Berkeley, just advised me that Ted died within the past few months -- sometime this summer.

    I can't BEGIN to tell you how devastated I am by this news. I never had a conversation or corresponded with him. In fact, I only saw him once -- at a black studies conference at a downtown hotel on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley in 1982. He'd been a hero of mine, and a model, since I first read his "Black Power and the Garvey Movement" when I was a teenager.

    Except for Marcus and Amy Jacques Garveys' writings and Tony Martin's "Race First," nothing that I read on the Garvey movement had a greater impact on me than Ted's brilliant book. Indeed, even more than Martin's excellent study, Ted's book influenced my scholarship because his INTENT and METHODOLOGY reminded me of, and therefore reinforced, my own: earnest, conscientious, accessible (not high-brow).


    Imagine my shock, then, when someone at the conference said, "There's Ted Vincent." I looked where they pointed, but didn't see anyone who could be the black nationalist scholar whose work I'd fallen in love with. "WHERE?!" I asked, irritated that I only saw a hippie-looking "white" man in an Army jacket. "THAT'S TED VINCENT," came the reply, which left me literally speechless.

    During that period, I still hated "white" people, and was proud of it. So I didn't introduce myself to him, as I now wish I had, and thank him for enriching both my understanding and my life.


    In fact, my reaction was similar to that of Malcolm X when he had an audience with Ghanaian President Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah at Flagstaff House, Accra, on May 15, 1964. To Malcolm X's shock, as he later told friends and followers, the last person whose desk he passed when entering Dr. Nkrumah's office was that of the latter's "white" female secretary!

    He later said that this helped him to look beyond color or "race," which reinforced his understanding of "True [Sunni] Islam," where one is judged by one's ACTIONS, not one's "race."

    Even though I didn't speak to Ted, I could never again hold onto my beloved hatred of "white" people after learning that one of my most important models and inspirations was one of "them."


    I'm sorry to go on at such length, but I'm really upset. He was one of the best that "we" ever produced. Tragically, I don't see any indication that there are any young scholars who seem likely to succeed him, either in intent or skill.

    Anyway, since I supported you proposal to have Ted serve as a "talking head" in your documentary on the Harlem Renaissance Reunion, I had to let you know about his passing. My God, this is a dark, dark day for our culture. I'm even more afraid for the future, for our children and grandchildren, now that Ted Vincent is gone.

    My best to you, mon capitaine and the girls.

    I have the honor to remain

    Loyal-Lee yours,