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Dr. Newton with UD President E.A. Trabant, in a 1990 photo
E. Newton, an award-winning artist, a leader in Black American studies
and a revered mentor at the University of Delaware for more than three
decades, died on May 24, 2022, just days before he was to be awarded an
honorary degree from the University. He was 80 years old.
“On behalf of the entire University community, I extend our deepest
condolences to James Newton’s family and friends and to the many alumni
and colleagues whose lives he touched during his 33-year UD career,” UD
President Dennis Assanis said. “As an early leader of the Black American
Studies Program, now the Department of Africana Studies, Dr. Newton was
a guiding force in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, which
today is a key priority of our institution. We are all indebted to
Dr. Newton joined the UD faculty in 1972 as an assistant professor of
education, and the following year he became associate professor and
director of the Black American Studies Program.
In his book The University of Delaware, A History,
John Munroe called Dr. Newton, a “happy choice” to serve as one of the
first leaders of the then fledgling program. Where earlier directors had
been unsuccessful, Munroe noted that, under Dr. Newton’s direction, the
program “acquired stability and respectability.”
During his UD career, Dr. Newton also chaired the University’s
Commission to Promote Racial and Cultural Diversity and and served as a
member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Delaware State Advisory
His many University honors included the Excellence in Teaching Award,
the Black Student Union Faculty Award and an award for teaching
excellence from the Mortar Board honor society, among others.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
"They Came Before Columbus II," an ink and acrylic work by Dr. Newton featured in a 2009 exhibition on campus.
Dr. Newton retired in 2005, and then continued to teach as supplemental faculty until 2016.
In 2009, an exhibition of Dr.
Newton’s artwork was presented in Mechanical Hall on the campus.
Entitled “James Newton: The Art of Delineation,” the exhibit highlighted
the techniques and images through which Dr. Newton addressed the themes
of self, race and legacy from the 1960s through 2008, tracing ideas
that followed him for more than four decades of teaching, art making and
The Department of Africana Studies annually gives the James E. Newton
Student Award to a student majoring or minoring in Africana studies who
exhibits the qualities of excellence in community service and
scholastic achievement embodied by Dr. Newton.
Earlier this year, an agreement was reached with the University of
Delaware Library, Museums and Press that a wealth of material that Dr.
Newton had gathered throughout his life – articles, leaflets, books and
literature relating to the struggle for social justice in Delaware and
the struggles for change at UD – would become part of the library’s
collection on behalf of the Department of Africana Studies.
On May 19, UD’s Board of Trustees voted to award Dr. Newton the University’s highest accolade, an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
This honor is reserved for individuals who reflect, in their personal
and professional achievements, the University’s mission and who serve as
exemplars for UD’s students, alumni, the University community and the
world. Dr. Newton’s degree will be presented to his family in a ceremony
later this year.
Dr. Newton delivers the keynote address at the 2010 African American Students of Distinction event, held in Clayton Hall.
Many of Dr. Newton’s colleagues and friends shared memories of him.
The constant star… “Dr. Newton fought to make Black
American Studies (BAMS) and its values find a footing at UD, to educate
all of the students (white and Black) who went through UD. As expected,
he paid special attention to Black students. He was the constant star to
all those Black students who walked through the corridors at UD and
felt as if they were in a foreign unwelcoming land. Dr. Jim Newton was
the guide, instructor, the one able to decipher the mysteries of
academia, the one who interceded on their behalf; the one who insisted
that they had to study, work hard and excel even with all the
challenges. He remained committed to opening doors at UD. He continued
to challenge UD to expand the hiring of African American faculty and
staff and enrolment of students. There are thousands of students spread
across this country and beyond, who in one way or another, sat at the
feet of Dr. Jim Newton to be taught, tutored, guided, affirmed and
informed…. He will be remembered by all of us whose lives he touched and
made better. He remains in our minds and, more importantly, he remains
in our hearts. In this way, therefore, Dr. Jim Newton still lives and he
will always live.” – W.O. Maloba, chair and professor, Department
of Africana Studies, and Edward L. Ratledge Professor of Africana
Studies and History
Embrace excellence… “I was so fortunate to have been
able to share my educational and professional journey with Dr. James E.
Newton for almost 50 years. Starting in my junior year at UD, I took two
Black American studies classes with Doc. He called me to task when he
felt I was not giving my best effort in one of his classes. That was a
definite wake-up call for me. I also knew that given his involvement in
the community, as well as the fact that he had met my mother, it would
not be surprising that he would run into her somewhere and “happen to
mention” that I was a good student but could do more. It was because he
cared that he wanted the best. In addition to his formal role as
educator, he also assumed the role of mentor to scores of Black students
and professionals—demanding that regardless of our position that we
reject mediocrity and embrace excellence. Many will tell you that it was
Dr. Newton who helped them navigate through the many challenges we
faced in our quest for that degree. He was so excited when he learned
that I would be returning to campus years later, first as an assistant
dean and later a continuing faculty member. I would run into him both on
and off campus, and no matter where it was, he always had a ‘Newton
gem’ to share with me. But even when we became colleagues, I could/would
not call him ‘Jim’—he was always ‘Doc.’As I thought about what Doc
meant to many of us, I focused on one of his pieces that I own which was
purchased during a visit to his home. It is an artist proof called
‘Bird Sanctuary. The title seemed so appropriate: A sanctuary is a safe
space that provides protection from danger or a difficult situation
thereby promoting the survival of those needing protection. Doc was very
aware of our need for ‘sanctuary’ as students and employees trying to
co-exist in a place that was not always welcoming or supportive of
‘different birds.’ Whether in his office, walking across campus, sitting
in his office or anywhere in the community, he would always listen and
challenge us to consider ‘the big picture.’ He also always reminded us
that no matter the challenges, we were to keep our eyes on the prize
while also embracing the importance of building and maintaining a sense
of ‘community.’ There are so many people who have their own Newton
stories—but what they all have in common was his value as a caring,
compassionate, knowledgeable and highly respected educator, artist and
man. -- Norma Gaines-Hanks, retired associate professor of human development and family sciences
Changed the University for the better… “Jim Newton
changed the University of Delaware for the better. He was a highly
accomplished artist, a creative thinker and an award-winning engaged
scholar. He was recognized on campus and in the wider community for his
contributions to multicultural enrichment, civil rights and racial
justice. He was a tireless advocate for the University to fully embody
the values of diversity, inclusion and educational equity. He helped
develop and led the Department of Black American Studies, now Africana
Studies. As chair of the Commission to Promote Racial and Cultural
Diversity, he advocated numerous changes to UD policies and programs to
increase student and faculty diversity. His greatest influence was as a
teacher and mentor. He was an outstanding teacher and received the
University’s Excellence in Teaching award. He was a dedicated faculty
adviser for the Black Student Union. For more than three decades, Black
students relied upon Professor Jim Newton as their trusted mentor and
their always-available advocate and guide to learning and success.” – Dan Rich, professor emeritus in the Biden School and University provost from 2002-2009
Mentor to generations of students…
“James Newton was a formidable presence on the University of Delaware’s
campus. He was a scholar, colleague, friend and mentor to generations
of students at the University. He was an inspiration to African-American
and other students of color who were often isolated in UD's student
population. Dr. Newton led what is now the Department of Africana
Studies. He fought to secure the recognition of Black studies at a time
when many in the higher education establishment were skeptical of the
academic legitimacy of such programs. Many years elapsed before the
program achieved department status as what is now Africana studies. This
could not have happened without Dr. Newton's tireless efforts. He will
be missed. -- Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Professor of Law and Public Policy
His impact is immeasurable… “Dr. Jim Newton’s impact on
the University—its students, faculty, and staff—is immeasurable. As
both a mentor and a colleague, he strongly supported the work of those
of us advocating for a more just institution. Personally, he helped
guide me at an early stage of my career and was always a strong
supporter. The University has been left a better place because of his
presence. -- Margaret Andersen, Rosenberg Professor Emerita of Sociology
An anchor for Black life at UD… “Jim Newton was an
anchor for Black life at UD for over 35 years. He was dedicated to his
students, his colleagues, his art and his community. He was wise and was
always eager to share his wisdom with those who would listen. He gave
generously of his time and talent and, always, centered excellence and
opportunity at the forefront of his life’s work. I was honored to
continue his legacy with Black American Studies and owe Jim much for
holding that space with dignity and honor for so long.” – James M. Jones, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Africana Studies
One of the most modest men I have ever met… “My
friendship with Dr. James Newton had so many layers: our love for
history, sports and most of all the people in our surroundings. He had
true understanding of teamwork. He was one of the most modest men I have
ever met. The examples of his modesty were so many. He rarely talked
about his accomplishments as an artist, scholar and athlete. Few people
knew that his college track coach at North Carolina Central University
was Dr. LeRoy Walker, past president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, or
that he was the first Black student to earn an MFA at the University of
North Carolina. He was truly a pioneer and set the bar for us all. He
showed me the true meaning of modesty through his actions. At his recent
funeral service, I saw his living legacy in several public school
teachers who had taken the summer Black history classes he taught for
teachers. – Ron Whittington, retired University administrator who now teaches in the Honors College
UD alumnus and former trustee Tony Allen, who is now president of Delaware State University, paid tribute to Dr. Newton in an opinion piece
posted on Delawareonline. He recounted the importance of Dr. Newton’s
mentorship in his own life, as well as that of many other Blue Hens.
Allen wrote that Dr. Newton “often spoke of the importance of Black
excellence as a bridge to the future. He reminded us that just as
Dubois, Booker T., Tubman, Malcolm, Martin, Fannie Lou and Redding had
stood in the gap for us, we, too, had that responsibility for others. He
expected tremendous comprehension of the academic material and even
more from us as growing young Black citizens. It was as if he knew that
trials would come early and often at the institution. So, he taught
uncompromising decorum and coached articulate responses to abuse of
power … and Black Pride, always Black Pride.”
Dr. Newton in a 1989 photo
in Bridgeton, New Jersey, James E. Newton earned his bachelor’s degree
in art and German from North Carolina Central University and his master
of fine arts degree from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill,
where he was the first African American to receive an MFA. He received
his doctorate in curriculum development in Black studies and education
from Illinois State University.
He was the author of several books, including the The Principles of Diversity: Handbook for a Diversity-Friendly America and A Curriculum Evaluation of Student Knowledge of Afro-American Life and History, he coedited The Other Slaves: Mechanics, Artisans and Craftsmen.
He also was the author of numerous articles on multicultural education,
African American art and diversity. He was inducted into the National
Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.
Anctive in the community, Dr. Newton served on the board of many
organizations, including the Walnut Street YMCA, Delaware State Arts
Council, Delaware Art Museum, The Tatnall School, Public Allies and
others. He was also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity for more than
In 2012, he received the James H. Gilliam Sr. Chairman’s Award from
the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, which recognizes pioneers for
outstanding contributions and leadership in the fight for civil rights
and a more equal and inclusive America.
Dr. Newton is survived by his wife of 54 years, LaWanda; his
daughters, Regina, Walidah and KaWansi; grandchildren Sean, Imevar,
Nahlia, Isis and Indigo; siblings Charles, George, Mary, Margaret,
Katherine, Ann, and Jeffrey; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and
To read his obituary or leave online condolences, visit Evan W. Smith Funeral Services.
Article by UDaily staff, photos by OCM Photography and courtesy of University Archives and Records Management
Originally published June 23, 2022