In Memoriam: Distinguished Professor Charles W. Mills, a Philosopher Who Changed the Conversation About Race in the U.S.

Distinguished Professor Charles W. Mills (Photo credit: Sam Alcoff)

The Racial Contract book coverThe Graduate Center community is immensely saddened by the passing of Distinguished Professor Charles W. Mills (Philosophy) who died on September 20, 2021, at age 70 after battling cancer. He was an esteemed scholar and treasured colleague and mentor whose loss is deeply felt. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. 

Professor Mills joined the Graduate Center faculty in 2016 and was lauded, most recently with the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award, for his groundbreaking book The Racial Contract. More than 20 years after its publication, The Racial Contract remains a seminal philosophy text. 

“He was indeed very distinguished, and this recent award shows you the kind of importance his work had,” said Professor Nickolas Pappas, executive officer of the Ph.D. Program in Philosophy. “It is inspiring debates and discussion.”

In a tribute to Mills, fellow philosopher Liam Kofi Bright, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, wrote of Mills, “No survey of black political thought would be complete without him.”

Graduate Center Provost and Senior Vice President Steve Everett called The Racial Contract “one of the most insightful historical studies of race.” Everett, like many at the Graduate Center, expressed that he was shocked and saddened by Mills’ passing and reflected on his “his stunning contributions at the Graduate Center to our collective understanding of race.”

Beyond his influence in critical philosophy of race, Mills was widely known for his work in social and political philosophy, African American and Africana philosophy, ethics, and Marxist thought.

He wrote a total of six books, including Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race; From Class to Race: Essays in White Marxism and Black Radicalism; Contract and Domination (co-authored with Carole Pateman); Radical Theory, Caribbean Reality; and Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism. He also wrote over 100 journal articles, chapters, and commentaries. 

In 2019, Mills and fellow Graduate Center Professor Linda  Linda Martín Alcoff (GC/Hunter, Philosophy) organized the Black Women Philosophers Conference to bring attention to the work of an underrepresented population within a field that is overwhelmingly male and white in the United States and Europe. The conference was timed to honor Professor Anita L. Allen of the University of Pennsylvania, the first black female president of the American Philosophical Association in its 100-year-plus history. 

As reported in the Daily Nous, prior to joining the CUNY Graduate Center faculty, Mills was a faculty member at Northwestern University from 2007 to 2016. Before that, he spent 17 years at the University of Illinois, Chicago, from 1990 to 2007. His previous appointments included roles at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Toronto, Campion College and the College of Arts and Sciences in Kingston, Jamaica (as a physics lecturer). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and his undergraduate degree from the University of the West Indies.

He was honored within his field in many ways, including his election as president of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA). He was selected to give the APA’s John Dewey Lectureship, was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and chosen to give the 2020 Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan.

“There wasn't a more thoughtful, more courteous person at the Graduate Center,” said Pappas. “I could go on about his good personal qualities. I always liked making him laugh because he so enjoyed laughing at other people's jokes. In his case, you didn't have to choose between the important work and the impressive character.”

See why New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie called Mills a “towering figure in modern political philosophy.”


Read more about Charles Mills in these obituaries.
The New York Times
The Gleaner
Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Daily Nous
Jamaica Observer
London News Today

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

 

Submitted on: SEP 21, 2021

Category: Diversity | Diversity Books | Faculty | GCstories | General GC News | In Memoriam | Philosophy