Campus News

Emeritus Professor Albert J. McQueen Dies

May 30, 2019

Communications Staff

black man with glasses, dressed in beige-striped suit and smiling.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology Albert J. McQueen ’52 at Commencement/Reunion Weekend 2012.
Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in the Kendal at Oberlin auditorium. A reception will follow.

Albert J. McQueen ’52, emeritus professor of sociology, passed away on May 22, 2019. He was 91 years old.

McQueen was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, on August 22, 1927. He first attended Virginia State University, leaving in his sophomore year to join the United States Army which sent him to post-war Belgium. Through the GI Bill, he elected to complete his Bachelor of Arts at Oberlin based on its long history of openness to African Americans.

As a veteran studying at Oberlin from 1949 to 1952, McQueen was involved in founding the Oberlin student co-ops. He also participated in early student actions to integrate the Oberlin barber shops and restaurants, and he was active in the local chapter of the NAACP.

After graduating with a degree in psychology, McQueen attended the University of Michigan to earn a PhD in sociology. He joined its Institute for Social Research as a study director, producing a Flint, Michigan-based study of African American families who had moved north to work in manufacturing during the war years.

McQueen’s social research led him to apply for grants for similar explorations in Africa during the time those nations were seeking independence from their colonial rulers. With grants from the Ford Foundation, he spent most of his time at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, studying Ibadan’s “school leavers.’’ Other grant-funded research took him to Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia at a time when Africanists were first turning their attention to that continent.

McQueen returned to the United States and held brief teaching assignments at Howard University and Brooklyn College, before Professor of Sociology and Anthropology George Simpson invited him to join the sociology department at Oberlin in 1966. As the second tenured African American faculty member at the college, McQueen was founder and chair of the African American Studies Department and was instrumental in establishing Afrikan Heritage House. McQueen also was an active participant and mediator in faculty councils and committees.

During his career, McQueen received appeals to join major institutions of higher education in the states. He remained at Oberlin, however. ‘‘This is my family,” he would say.

A string of heart attacks plagued McQueen’s later years and, after an extended medical leave, he retired in 1995. In retirement, McQueen retained ties to the African American community locally and regionally, and he served on various boards such as the Oberlin Early Childhood Center. He continued to give talks in Oberlin and elsewhere about the early days of the cooperative movement in the city of Oberlin and at Oberlin College.

McQueen always considered himself an explorer. Whether in the national forests of Kenya or the streets of Ohio City, he was attracted to new vistas and new ways of looking at the world. He was also a builder of bridges, connecting blacks and whites in years when it could be inflammatory, and connecting professional colleagues with teaching opportunities in many institutions of higher education.

One of McQueen’s great life passions was photography. He became a photographer during his military service in the late 1940s; some of his works appeared in a show at the Smithsonian Institution featuring military photographers. During his early years at Kendal at Oberlin, he had several exhibits and presented photography slide shows.

Like Oberlin College, Kendal at Oberlin gave McQueen a sense of community—a substitute family. He enjoyed introducing newcomers to the Oberlin and Cleveland area through driving tours, and he served on the Kendal at Oberlin Residents Association and in the master planning committee. He attended most events at Kendal, musical and otherwise. When asked whether he liked Kendal and was glad he had moved, he would always reply, “I don’t like it. I love it.”                                                            

[Editor’s note: Many thanks to Thelma Morris ‘54, for her many contributions to this article.]

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