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Calvin's Jelks Honored By Historical Society
August 29 , 2006

A book on the history of African Americans in Grand Rapids has been honored by the Historical Society of Michigan.

Calvin College professor Randal Jelks wrote "African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids" to tell the story of one midwest community and what it went through from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s.

But, he says, the book also tells a larger story.

"I was interested as well in the question of what the history of African Americans in Grand Rapids says about Michigan and the conditions of struggling people worldwide," he says. "The past shapes our present."

Being honored by the Historical Society of Michigan is a significant honor for the professor of history.

"I would say it's always meaningful to be recognized by one's peers," says Jelks. "The Society is an important organization for many across the state, including myself. This was an unexpected but much appreciated recognition."

Jelks plans to attend the Friday, September 22 ceremony in Bay City at which he will be honored with a State History Award in the University and Commercial Press category even though he is spending the 2006-2007 academic year in North Carolina where he is working on a research project as a National Humanities Center Fellow.

The Center received over 500 applications for the 2006-2007 Fellowships, and selected just 40 academics to receive the honor. Jelks is one of 15 historians selected for 2006-2007, but the only one from a Michigan college or university.

Jelks, who also is director of Calvin's new minor in African and African Diaspora Studies, earned the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship and will work on an intellectual biography of Benjamin Elijah Mays, a man Jelks calls "a religious rebel in the Jim Crow south."

Mays was a Baptist preacher and a college president (he headed Morehouse College from 1940 to 1967). Interestingly Jelks is both an ordained minister and a college professor.