Another Light on the Hill Black Students at Tufts

Gerald Gill

Gerald Gill was born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1948. He graduated from Lafayette College in 1970, with a degree in history. In 1974, Gill received his master’s degree from Howard University, and received a doctorate of history from Howard in 1980, the same year he began teaching at Tufts.

Gill had concerns about moving to Boston after his time at Howard. In a time when Boston was still wrapped up in the racism of the anti-busing crisis, Gill had “understandable misgivings” about his relocation. Yet, at the same time, Gill saw the move as a “challenge,” and established himself as a thoughtful and detailed scholar of history. He took special interest in the history of people of color in America, especially with those involved with New England’s colleges and universities. He was a consultant for multiple television productions, including WGBH’s Eyes on the Prize. He authored The Case for Affirmative Action for Blacks in Higher Education as well as Meanness Mania: The Changed Mood, both published by Howard University in 1978 and 1980 respectively. Gill additionally staged the exhibition “Another Light on the Hill: A History of Black Students at Tufts University, 1900 to Present”. The latter was accompanied by a 2002 piece in Tufts Magazine, which has been lauded as Gill’s “seminal piece.”

He additionally grew to become one of the most popular professors in Tufts’ history. Gill won several awards for his teaching during his lifetime, including the Massachusetts College Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation in both 1995 and 1999, as well as “Tufts’ Lillian and Joseph Leibner Award for Excellence in Teaching and Advising, the Lerman-Neubauer Prize for Outstanding Teaching and Advising, and the Tufts Community Senate’s Professor of the Year Award.” He taught several consistently wait-listed courses during his time at Tufts, including annual courses on the Civil Rights Movement and on Sports in America. A common refrain among Tufts students and alumni during the 90’s and the 2000’s was to take a course with Professor Gill before they graduated. After his death, several attested how he stood out from the stereotype of a research university professor – he went far beyond his teaching obligations to engage students and act as a role model and mentor. David Proctor stated that Gill’s office hours “went on well past posted times” and that Gill’s door was always open.

Gerald R. Gill, 1988
Gerald R. Gill, 2004
Gerald R. Gill, 1995

In 2007, Gill passed away. His death left a noticeable vacancy on campus, his memorial service packing Goddard Chapel “beyond capacity.” He was remembered as having “touched everyone” on campus, from the campus police and food staff, to the thousands of students he taught in his classes. He was survived by his daughter, Ayanna Ettann Gill-McGee of Jackson, Mississippi, as well as two sisters, Willie Butler and Mary Smith, both of Germantown, Maryland.

On his death, Virginia Drachman, then history department chair, said "This loss is more than just of an individual. [Gill] was part of the essence of the school. He helped to make Tufts what Tufts is. "


Biography written and researched by Peter Lam.


Sources:

Ferguson, Laura. “Remembering a Beloved History Professor.” TuftsNow. 4 May 2017.

Maquard, Bryan . “Gerald R. Gill, at 59; was professor of history, integral part of Tufts' campus.” The Boston Globe. 2 August 2007.

Penvenne, Jeanne Marie . “Gerald R. Gill (1948-2007).” American Historical Association. December 2007.