UCSB Black Studies associate professor and distinguished scholar Clyde Woods passed away July 6 at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. He was 54 years old.
Woods — whose research explored the cultural practices of people oppressed by social and public policy issues — received his Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from UCLA and began teaching at UCSB in 2005 following appointments at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Maryland. University faculty members gathered around a flag flying at half mast yesterday in front of Cheadle Hall for a moment of silence in memory of Woods.
Woods authored three books including his first work, Development Arrested: Race, Power and the Blues in the Mississippi Delta, published in 1998 and another published last year, In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and Social Visions, examining the interplay of urban planning, race issues and social structures within New Orleans.
According to Black Studies Department Chair Jeffrey Stewart, Development Arrested provided a refreshing look at the history of the Mississippi Delta in its exploration of the role of blues music in the region.
“That book brings together urban planning, American history, political history, an analysis of music — the blues and his signature concept, the ‘Blues Epistemology,’” Stewart said. “It explains how people oppressed in the Delta developed an archive of blues to help them survive the Civil War and continue to profit from the exploitation of black people. Often this story is told in such a way that is angry, sad and defeated, but instead, by looking at the blues, he shows that people have a found a way of speaking back and defending their culture.”
Additionally, Woods served as the Center for Black Studies Research acting director and was involved in a number of campus projects and initiatives including continued efforts to restore New Orleans, the Black California project and the environmental racism-environmental justice curriculum initiative formed in collaboration with the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Department of Environmental Studies.
Stewart said Woods strived to reach beyond Black Studies and create an integrated curricula and sense of solidarity on campus among various departments.
“He brought together programs and peoples that aren’t normally in conversation with each other,” Stewart said. “And even though that [project] had not been finished at the time of his death, the conversation has been started and now that’s one of his legacies.”
Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, a colleague at the research center, said Woods had an ability to connect with the various communities he lived in and researched.
“He was committed to the greater community — greater than Santa Barbara,” Rolle said. “He lived in Baltimore, New Orleans and Los Angeles. All of these communities were still a part of him and all of them were incorporated into his work.”
Woods’ one-on-one relationships with students further reflected his ability to connect with people, Stewart said.
“A number of students have talked about when they were floundering with their studies and he’d run into them in the hall and … after two hours in his office, they’d have a bibliography of the web and an outline of what they had to do,” Stewart said. “They could get back into the game and, say, finish that paper they had to do.”
Fellow colleagues and scholars have praised Woods’ work after reviewing his texts. Professor of Black Studies Douglas H. Daniels said Woods’ writings demonstrate a refreshing and insightful perspective in the academic realm.
“After reading some of his material, I concluded that he was one of the most brilliant scholars I ever met,” Daniels said. “He was a very philosophical man and yet humorous.”