University community mourns Political Science Professor, Afro-American Studies co-founder James Barnes
The Ohio University community mourns Professor James Franklin Barnes, who passed away at the age of 87 in Albuquerque, N.M., on March 2.
Barnes enjoyed a three-decades-long career at Ohio University. He was professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences from 1968-1996. He was instrumental in establishing the Afro-American Studies program (now the African American Studies Department) as a discipline at OHIO. He served as department chair and dean of Afro-American Studies from 1972-77 and, later, of the Political Science Department.
Professor Francine Childs said Barnes was responsible for bringing her to Ohio University in the 1970s along with a host of other Black faculty who became the core of Afro-American Studies. She added he was a brilliant scholar, leader and friend.
"Jim Barnes was the best friend I ever had at OU. I came here in 1988 as part of OU’s largest infusion of African American faculty and staff,” said Jessie Roberson, professor of management in the OHIO College of Business. “President (Charles) Ping and Provost (James) Bruning incentivized units to find competent Black people who could bring depth and breadth to the university’s commitment to diversity. Jim Barnes helped to make this a place where we could make a life.
"He was a friend and mentor. He was the person who started me working with people outside the College of Business, where my training and experience could be of benefit to other parts of the university. He was best man at my wedding and did more than anyone to make Athens a welcoming place for my wife and daughter. His support helped both me and my wife, Roberta, to build careers on the faculty. I loved him dearly. He will be sorely missed," Roberson added.
'Students loved to talk with him'
Roberson described Barnes as "a friend and mentor to countless students and faculty, helping them to find their paths through what were, at times, challenging and turbulent times. He was a gifted scholar, author and teacher, renowned for his depth, wit and leadership."
"Jim Barnes was a favorite colleague of mine. I appreciated his sense of humor and his chuckle, his insight, his unflappability. Students loved to talk with him, and he took time for them," said Patti Richard, trustee professor emerita of political science.
"Jim was an historic figure on campus as the second dean of Afro-American Studies. He was an excellent teacher and active scholar with a deep interest in French culture and politics and French-speaking Africa,” colleague Lysa Burnier, professor of political science, said. “He was committed to diversity when he was department chair. Jim was a good colleague, and we shared many conversations about books, film and music."
Barnes' research included writing “Gabon: Beyond The Colonial Legacy” (Westview Press, 1992) and co-editing “The World Of Politics” (St. Martin’s Press, 1984) and “Culture, Ecology, and Politics in Gabon's Rainforest” (Routledge, 2001). He also translated a work of Bonaventure Mvé Ondo from French, published as “Wisdom and Initiation in Gabon: A Philosophical Analysis of Fang Tales, Myths and Legends” (Lexington Press, 2013).
During his OHIO tenure, Barnes spent two years working for NATO and a year as a Fulbright scholar in Libreville, Gabon (1983-84) and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1989-90). After his time in Athens, Barnes served Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., from 1996-2016 in a variety of administrative and teaching roles, primarily in ASU’s Department of Government and Justice Studies and also as university ombudsman, before retiring again after a 52-year career in academe and moving to Albuquerque.
Born Oct. 5, 1934, Barnes grew up in many places, including Petersburg, Va., and Oberlin, Ohio. He graduated from Oberlin High School and St. Emma’s Military Academy. After serving in the U.S. Army, he earned several degrees in political science from Ohio State University, a B.A. in 1960, an M.A. in 1961, and a Ph.D. in 1971. He also served as a Foreign Service Officer in Paris, France, from 1965-67.