My Tribute to Professor George Clement Bond, my Beloved Doctoral Adviser

My doctoral adviser spent over five years living in Muyombe. I visited his village in 2010 during preliminary fieldwork in Zambia. He is beloved and respected there. Nearly everyone I spoke to remembered him fondly. I cannot help but respect and admire his anthropological work and the relationships he built in the process. I have written a tribute to my beloved doctoral adviser below.

This is where we stayed most of the time, with the nephew of the Chief of Muyombe. He was a dear friend of Professor Bond.

This is where my professor stayed when he last visited in 2002. This house is adjacent to the health clinic.

The Chinese government funded the building of a new secondary high school. When my professor lived in the village, there was no high school.One had to travel four days to the Copperbelt to attend high school, as some of the villagers did.

The Vinkaka ceremony, which was held every year and intended to have the elders guide the youth, was on Saturday from morning until evening. The entire village gathered to watch the performances. 

A view of Muyombe on our last day, as we prepared to depart. It was a brief visit, but intense and full of rich experiences.

My Tribute to Professor George Clement Bond

My first encounter with Professor George Clement Bond was in his seminar on race and labor relations at Teachers College, Columbia University. From the beginning, he had a commanding presence, from his razor-sharp intellect and unparalleled command of vocabulary to his consistent method of Socratic questioning. It was clear that he was intellectually curious about our thoughts and ideas, and our initial answers proved to be for the most part, inadequate, as he probed further and asked, “Yes, but why?” or pointed to a different angle to elicit a deeper analysis of our views. He never placed himself on a pedestal or superior to his students; he genuinely wanted to understand our views and contextualize our perspectives in relation to our experiences, where we came from, and in relation to our kin and family members.

Professor Bond believed that we are not isolated individuals, pulling ourselves by our own bootstraps, but people who were situated within a family, a kin order, friends and communities. That was how he saw himself and framed his own past and present — always in relation to his remarkable family, including his grandfather, who was a freed slave educated at Oberlin College; his father, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1931, was a respected diplomat and was appointed head of the USAID education in Africa and founded the University of Liberia; his mother, who so believed in the power of education that she pursued a doctorate and used her intellectual prowess to meticulously examine her children’s school assignments; his brother, the prominent architect whose name lives on at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, like George Bond, harbored the belief that people’s needs come first and he designed several buildings in Ghana with this value in mind; and finally, his sister, who was also an academic and professor of French history at the City University of New York. His family was devoted to the ethos of serving humanity.

Professor Bond spoke fondly of his childhood and how he learned from observing his father in leadership positions. In a similar vein, he sought to instill intellectual curiosity in his own children by involving them in his research and teaching and inculcating in them a dedication to fulfilling social justice goals of creating a more equitable world. He often reminded me that his grandfather was a slave and he grew up in a time when he was prevented from participating in certain projects or was challenged just because of his race. He also liked to remind me that he grew up in a household where they regularly hosted scholars, activists and people from different walks of life and backgrounds, who came together to debate and recommend solutions to societal problems. Social justice was the debt he sought to pay forward and he encouraged those values in his students by exemplifying them.

One way he paid it forward was by his generosity towards his students like myself. When I went to Zambia for preliminary fieldwork, Professor Bond sent me with abundant support, including his contacts, his home phone number, materials he had accumulated over the years from his extensive research in Zambia, language assistance, as he was proficient in Bantu languages and had a keen memory for linguistics, and stipends. He made sure that his contacts took good care of me when I arrived in Zambia. He consistently emailed me to make sure that I was doing well. I had the fortunate chance of visiting his village, the village where he liked to joke, was his “home” and where he “grew up.”

For many anthropologists, fieldwork is a milestone, a rite of passage, and one never forgets the village or place where all of this takes place. For Professor Bond, it extended beyond a rite of passage, for he routinely returned to his village, Muyombe, even 30 years after he completed his fieldwork. He was passionate about the well-being of the people he studied; this was clearly evidenced by his return during a famine, when he said, “during that time, people were starving to death,” and he was determined to collect data that he hoped would help prevent future famines.

He was as detail-oriented and methodical as he was passionate. I was in awe when he showed me his detailed maps of the village, the lineage maps he drew of every single person he talked to, and his extensive surveys, which included enormous amounts of data he was going to put into his next book. When I visited Muyombe, the Chief praised Professor Bond. Everyone I encountered spoke fondly of him — not one bad or even neutral assertion was made. He was regarded as someone willing to learn from others. The villagers remembered Professor Bond as the person who became one of them. He learned the Tumbuka language fluently and immersed himself as one of the Tumbuka people. Outside the village, his closest friends now living in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, praised him for his humility. They knew that he was so accomplished and brilliant, but he never wore it as a badge. As they explained to me, Professor Bond was a good listener, a truly humble man, who was more interested in others than his own trailblazing achievements. At the University of Zambia research center, Zambian scholars also spoke of Professor Bond fondly and recounted the times when he felt such urgency to go back to the village that he went without waiting for the others and slept on the side of the road when he needed to. When I say he was an extraordinary person, I mean it, for he had that rare combination of intelligence, fearlessness, kindness, and tremendous resilience.

Visiting his village was a defining moment for me. I already knew that I was in the presence of an intellectual giant, which I recognized from the moment I met Professor Bond in our first seminar. After the visit, I recognized that he was also an expert fieldworker, who had gained the deep respect and affection of those he studied and sought to give them a voice. He was also supportive of Zambian and African scholars, whom he thought should be given a prominent voice in “Western” academic circles. These were huge footsteps to follow for Professor Bond had the rare combination of being an innovative academic, shown in his own work in his use of rich data to derive fine-grained theories that were specific and localized to the context, a fieldworker par excellence, evidenced by the glowing regard the people in Muyombe had for him, and a nurturing educator and mentor to his students.

He liked to give credit to his superiors, including Lucy Mair, St. Clair Drake, and Elizabeth Colson, scholars he admired for their intellectual prowess, fortitude and resilience, among others, as well as colleagues, also anthropologists, who would visit him and his wife and they would continue debates and conversations well into the night. I rarely heard him speak of himself as an individual because I think that he viewed himself and others always in relation to others. He attributed his own accomplishments to those who walked before him, and to the individuals and institutions that granted him unique and valuable educational opportunities.

When I heard of his passing, I immediately thought of his contributions to me as a person and to my work. I have started to adopt his perspective in terms of seeing myself as the locus of contributions by others. I am the product of my parents, my sibling, my ancestors and my mentors, including Professor Bond. When I was writing my dissertation, Professor Bond provided guidance and encouragement that I needed. Although it was hard for me to believe, he revealed to me that he also had a hard time during his write-up as well — without doubt a sentiment he expressed to comfort me, but it still meant a lot to me that he cared enough to make me feel better. He went through my draft countless times, first when they were shoddy chapters filled with scratch, and then later, when they started to take shape. He made comments on nearly every single page, demonstrating to me that he was engaged in my work and was heavily invested in my future. In the margins, he questioned some of my ideas, always pushing me to question my own assumptions and challenge generalizations.

He himself defied categorization or generalizations and did not like to be pigeonholed — an African American elite who spent his formative years all over the world, with a Southern influence but was strongly shaped by British culture and education, an anthropologist who studied in the tradition of Malinowski, whose work built on the Rhodes Livingston Institute anthropologists, and was shaped by Marx and Gramsci, and had friends and colleagues that transcended racial, ethnic, and regional boundaries. He eschewed adhering too strongly to any ideology, but rather preferred to pragmatically incorporate ideas and approaches that made sound sense,. Although he had a complex identity and detected ambiguity in situations and people when it mattered, he also had a clear sense of where he came from and his dedication to improve the lives of those less fortunate. That was how he approached my dissertation, as he read through numerous drafts and wanted me to delve further into those moments during my fieldwork when I witnessed injustice. I tended to reflect upon them in my footnotes and he would tell me, “Ms. Chang, move them into the body paragraphs. They are important. They tell me that you, the anthropologist, were there!” He challenged me to challenge generalizations and showcase the details. I recall a turning point I had in his office when he said, “But people can act differently than what they tell you. Tell me, what did you observe? Go back to the notes and diaries. Compare your observations against the conversations and interviews you had.” I was concerned that I did not have enough data, but he assured me that it was there. I just had to go back and scrutinize it. The ethos of serving humanity through social justice ran rampant in Professor Bond’s research, teaching and mentorship of his students and in the way he lived his life.

Professor Bond had a powerful presence as a scholar, anthropologist, educator and mentor. He challenged me to do better because he had high standards for his own work. After all, he was a full-time professor, in addition to heading the Institute of African Studies for many years, and also doing consultancy work for international agencies. He was an academic and practitioner that believed in applying his research to improve the lives of the people he studied.

He was also a magnanimous spirit. I have already spoken of the myriad ways he helped me, including providing stipends while I was abroad, making sure that I was taken care of, and going above and beyond to encourage, mentor and guide me. I could not believe that someone as accomplished as he was, who led such an extraordinary life, would take the time to get to know me and my family, what brought me to Columbia and to graduate school and read all my papers as thoroughly as he did. Yet I was not the only one. I know that he touched the lives of so many students. Upon his passing, we have since formed a support group to help each other grieve for such a generous, giving and brilliant man. We have all concluded that Professor Bond embodies the kind of educator and scholar we would like to be. I am so fortunate to have him as my adviser and to have known him these past few years. I wish I had expressed more to him my immense gratitude for his mentorship. He has shaped me in more ways than he could ever anticipate. He has left an indelible mark in my life and in the lives of so many students. As a beneficiary of Professor Bond’s generosity and kindness, I can only hope that I can pay it forward. I will be forever indebted to the legacy of the exemplary and phenomenal leader that is George Clement Bond.

To learn more about his remarkable life, please visit the following links:

Professor George C Bond: The New William F. Russell Professor in the Foundations of Education

His Incredible Life and Work

Video of Professor George C. Bond

Professor Bond’s Faculty Profile

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