Committed member of the SJU faculty is not the only hat worn byDr. Roderick Douglass Bush, for he is also an accomplished authorand dedicated family man.
Growing up in Oviedo, Florida during the Jim Crow era was noteasy for the sociology professor. “Black people living in thisenvironment required an ongoing series of humiliating andself-effacing interactions with whites,” said Bush. “Whenaddressing a white person, blacks would have to refer to them as’sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ If one offended a white person, the offender orhis family could be targeted for retribution.”
Bush was named after Fredrick Douglass, the great Blackabolitionist, but because one could not name their child after suchfigures for fear of the whites, his name was edited toRoderick.
When Bush was fairly young, his father migrated north toTrenton, New Jersey to find better employment. His mother was tofollow him after he found a job, but she changed her mind. Instead,she raised Bush on her own with help from his grandmother and otherfamily members. In 1955, when Bush was about 10-years-old, hismother moved to Rochester, NY while he stayed in Florida for thenext three years until he followed her to continue his education.However, he did not intend to complete high school, because therewas little encouragement for blacks to go to college.
“I did not think seriously about going to college until arecruiter from historically black Howard University came to ourschool and called me down for an interview since I had goodgrades.”
After attending Howard University, he graduated with a Bachelorsof Science in psychology and later received his Ph.D. in sociologyfrom SUNY Binghamton. He was a community activist for many yearsand an intellectual of the Civil Rights Movement. He became veryinvolved with such groups as the Society for the Study of SocialProblems, the American Sociological Association, and currently theBlack Radical Congress.
Bush enjoys spending his time with his family, especially withhis wife Melanie and youngest daughter Sarafina. “We go for walks,roller blade, apple picking upstate at least once a year, and we goon day and weekend trips as often as we can.” He and his familyvisit his mother in Rochester, who has been diagnosed withAlzheimer’s disease. They also try to visit their older son,daughter and grandchildren in Minnesota as frequently aspossible.
Family is very dear to Bush for a good reason. Sojourner TruthBush, Bush’s daughter, was a senior music major with a stronginterest in theater at Washington State University. She was killedin an auto accident in March 2000. “This was a world shatteringevent for all of us and reinforced our dedication to each other. Ispend a great deal of time with my family nearby but less with theson and daughter and grandchildren in Minnesota. We try to see themat least once or twice a year.”
Though he has many role models who have influenced him, Bushlooks up to such movement leaders as Malcolm X, Dr. Martin LutherKing, Immanuel Wallerstein and Terence K. Hopkins. These men areBush’s “models of committed intellectuals who have dedicated theirlives to the study of the social world and how we might change it.”He also finds inspiration in his family, his late daughterSojourner Truth, his grandmother Barkoo, his mother Margaret Bush,and especially his wife, Melanie E. Levine Bush.
“As a mentor and critic, as an intellectual companion withoutcompare, she has been a singular inspiration. From our firstmeeting and eventual collaboration as militants, she has alwaysbeen my role model. Her tireless energy and devotion to unselfishservice and mentorship is a constant reminder of how humane we canall strive to be. Her personal and intellectual integrity and depthdaily enriches my life and my scholarship.”
According to Bush, Richard Wright in his book, “12 Million BlackVoices,” says it best when he says, “Each day when you see us blackfolk upon the dusty land of the farms or upon the hard pavement ofthe city streets, you usually take us for granted and think youknow us, but our history is far stranger than you suspect, and weare not what we seem.”
Dr. Roderick BushOther Occupation:Author
Books:We are not what we seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle inthe American Century