Alliance - The Alliance Public Schools Foundation is pleased to announce that James Andrew Emmanuel is the 2020 Wall of Fame recipient.
Born in Alliance on June 15, 1921. James found early jobs on farms and ranches, including working as what he called a “summertime cowboy” herding cattle on the ranch of Charlotte Worley. James graduated from Alliance High School as Valedictorian in 1939. After high school James held a series of odd jobs ranging from elevator operator, junkyard worker, and for a short time as a professional basketball player. He joined the Civil Conservation Corp and then at age 20 he joined the United States Army. He served as confidential secretary to the Assistant Inspector General of the U.S. Army, Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis, Sr., the nation’s first black general officer.
James received his undergraduate degree from Howard University in Washington D.C. He was earned his Masters Degree from Northwestern University and his PhD from Columbia University.
He taught at the City College of New York, where in the 1960’s he taught the college’s first class on African American poetry. He also taught at the University of Toulouse as a Fulbright scholar in 1968 – 1969. He later taught at the University of Grenoble and the University of Warsaw. From 1986 until his death on September 28, 2013, at the age of 92, he resided in Paris, France.
James was a published poet, scholar and critic. He published more than 300 poems and 13 individual books. He has been referred to as one of the best, most overlooked poets of his time. In addition to his poetry, he also edited the influential anthology of African American literature, “Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America”. The Anthology published in 1968 by Free Press was one of the first major collections of African American writings. This anthology and James’ work as an educator heavily influenced the birth of the African American literature genre.
In 1996 James received the Sidney Bachet Award. Other honors and awards received include the John Hay Whitney Award, the Saxton Memorial Fellowship, the Special Distinction Award from the Black American Literature Forum and the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement from Columbia University in 2007. He wrote and published his autobiography, “The Force and Reckoning”. A selection of his writings has been placed in the Library of Congress.
James Emmanuel’s community involvement was on a national and international scale. The U.S. Army took him on a pathway from Alliance and led him to international fame. However, he never forgot his roots and was a continual supporter of the Carnegie Arts Center. In a letter from him he quotes a critic of his work which begins with “In the annals of American poetry it is difficult to conceive a more neglected great poet than James A Emmanuel. For my money the most neglected published poet of the 20th Century.” In response to these comments James wrote, “I have been praising the Alliance school system for sixty or more years, and I consider the opinion of others regarding my works to be a tribute to Grandview, Emerson, Alliance Junior High and Alliance High School”.
Due to the postponement of graduation ceremonies the Foundation hopes to recognize this distinguished recipient at a later time.