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Professor, Afrocentrism Proponent Asa Hilliard III

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

Asa G. Hilliard III, 73, an educational psychologist and a leading proponent of Afrocentric studies in public schools, died Aug. 13 in Egypt, where he was on an annual study tour with students. He had complications of malaria and died in Cairo.

Since 1980, Dr. Hilliard had been the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University. He previously had spent 18 years on the faculty of San Francisco State University, where he became dean of education.

For more than two decades, Dr. Hilliard was a leader of Afrocentrism, an ethnic history movement that highlights historical achievement among blacks -- in part to boost minority students' self-esteem.

Dr. Hilliard became a consultant to Atlanta schools during the implementation of training guides known as the "African-American Baseline Essays." The essays, developed by educators in Portland, Ore., view ancient black Egypt as the birthplace of the philosophical, mathematical and scientific theories that formed civilization.

Afrocentrism attracted much debate and a range of scholars, including polarizing figures such as Leonard Jeffries. Among its detractors were Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Frank M. Snowden Jr., a Howard University classicist, both of whom wrote that the effort to highlight the roots of black culture often came at the expense of white European civilization.

Dr. Hilliard told The Washington Post in 1989 that he hoped for a better balance in all historical instruction.

"We mis-teach European history, as we mis-teach American history," he said. "Basically, what we should be teaching is the whole story, the truth. That's the bottom line."

Asa Grant Hilliard III was born Aug. 22, 1933, in Galveston, Tex. His father was a high school principal, and his mother was a Pentecostal minister. After they divorced, he grew up in Denver with his mother.

He graduated in 1955 from the University of Denver, where he also received a master's degree in counseling in 1961 and a doctorate in educational psychology in 1963. While attending college, he worked as a math teacher in Denver public schools and as a railroad maintenance worker, bartender, waiter and cook. He also served in the Army in the late 1950s.

In academia, he made African studies and minority achievement his chief concerns during a long career as a writer, consultant and lecturer.

He consulted on perceived cultural biases in history textbooks and wrote hundreds of scholarly articles on topics including African history and public policy. He spoke frequently on child development and teacher-training matters.

Dr. Hilliard advocated the elimination of standardized admissions tests as a key criterion for college admission, saying they had "a disproportionate impact on those children who need school the most, the minority children."

His books included "The Maroon Within Us: Selected Essays on African American Community Socialization" (1995) and "African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of the Culture Wars" (2002).

He was a former board member of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and was a founding member of the National Black Child Development Institute.

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Patsy Jo Morrison Hilliard, of East Point, Ga.; four children, Asa Hilliard IV, Robi Hilliard Herron and Michael Hakim Hilliard, all of Atlanta, and Patricia Hilliard-Nunn of Gainesville, Fla.; two brothers; three sisters; and seven grandchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company