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Shelby Steele

Political commentator and essayist Shelby Steele was born on January 1, 1946, in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Shelby, Sr., a black truck driver, met his mother, Ruth, a white social worker, while working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Steele considers his mixed heritage an amazing gift, which served to demystify race for him. Because both of Steele's parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement, he grudgingly accompanied his father to numerous marches and rallies as a child.

Steele met his wife, Rita, during his junior year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was one of eighteen black students in his class. Steele was active in SCOPE, a group linked to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and he met Rita at an activist meeting. In 1968, Steele graduated from Coe and went on to earn his M.A. degree in sociology from Southern Illinois University. Steele attended the University of Utah, where he taught African American literature and studied for his Ph.D. After earning a Ph.D. in English in 1974, Steele was offered a tenured position at the university, but turned it down due to hostility encountered as an interracial couple in Utah.

Steele accepted a position at San Jose State University as a professor of English literature, teaching there from 1974 to 1991. He earned an Emmy Award in 1990 for his work on Seven Days in Bensonhurst, a PBS Frontline documentary examining the racially motivated killing of Yusef Hawkins in Brooklyn, New York.

Steele won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1991 for The Content of Our Character, a collection of essays on race. In 1994, Steele was appointed a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His research there focuses primarily on race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action.

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Coolidge Elementary School

Bryant Junior High School

Coe College

University of Utah

Bryant Elementary School

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Favorite Vacation Destination

San Diego, California

Favorite Quote

The dog barks. The caravan moves on.

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Favorite Food

Barbecue (Ribs)

Short Description

English professor Shelby Steele (1946 - ) is a political commentator, and winner of the National Book Award for, "The Content of Our Character." Steele worked at San Jose State University as a professor from 1974 to 1991, and earned an Emmy Award in 1990 for his work on, "Seven Days in Bensonhurst," a PBS Frontline documentary examining the racially motivated killing of Yusef Hawkins in Brooklyn, New York.


San Jose State University

Hoover Institution

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<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Shelby Steele interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Shelby Steele's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Shelby Steele describes his parents' backgrounds</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Shelby Steele lists his siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Shelby Steele shares memories from his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Shelby Steele recalls incompetent white teachers at his all black elementary school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Shelby Steele discusses his parents' interracial marriage</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Shelby Steele discusses life as an identical twin</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Shelby Steele describes his parents' influence</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Shelby Steele shares observations of race matters</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Shelby Steele describes the influence of each of his parents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Shelby Steele discusses his early love of reading</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Shelby Steele describes social encounters during his adolescence</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Shelby Steele recalls his high school experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Shelby Steele describes his civil rights activism as a high school student</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Shelby Steele details his participation in competitive swimming</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Shelby Steele recounts his experience at Coe College in Iowa</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Shelby Steele describes the civil rights movement's shift toward black nationalism while he was a student activist</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Shelby Steele explains how his experiences working with Upward Bound helped to shape his views on anti-poverty programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Shelby Steele evaluates academic disciplines</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Shelby Steele discusses critics' reactions to his interracial marriage</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Shelby Steele describes his relationship with his wife</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Shelby Steele discusses the opposition of his wife's father, a Holocaust survivor, to her marrying a non-Jew</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Shelby Steele discusses his experience as a doctoral student at the University of Utah</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Shelby Steele recalls his early employment at San Jose State University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Shelby Steele describes raising his deaf son</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Shelby Steele describes factors that influenced his book "The Content of Our Character"</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Shelby Steele discusses the development of his conservative thought and writing career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Shelby Steele traces the progression of thoughts on race in his books</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Shelby Steele asserts strategies for uplift amongst black Americans</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Shelby Steele asserts that black Americans need to aggressively pursue success and stop obsessing about victimization</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Shelby Steele discusses his 'Frontline' program on the Bensonhurst murder of Yusef Hawkins</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Shelby Steele discusses his 'Frontline' documentary on the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Shelby Steele considers the concept of cultural identity</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Shelby Steele evaluates the role of the individual in Black America</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Shelby Steele considers his legacy</a>