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Prexy Nesbitt

Rozell “Prexy” Nesbitt was born and raised on Chicago’s West Side. After graduating from the Francis Parker School in Chicago, Nesbitt enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. After graduating from Antioch in 1967, Nesbitt continued his education, attending the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania; Northwestern University; and Columbia University.

Even before completing his Ph.D. in 1975, Nesbitt was highly active in labor and equality movements; by 1976, he had become the national coordinator and field organizer for the Bank Withdrawal Campaign for the American Committee on Africa. Two years later Nesbitt was named the director of the Africa Project at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. In 1979, Nesbitt became the program director and secretary for research at the World Council of Churches, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Nesbitt returned to Chicago in 1984, where he continued his work as a labor organizer. In 1986, Chicago mayor Harold Washington named Nesbitt as a special assistant. The following year, the government of Mozambique appointed Nesbitt to serve as a consultant to help them represent their interests to the United States, Canada, and Europe; he remained in this post until 1992.

In 1990, Nesbitt took a post as a lecturer with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and in 1993, became the senior program officer with the Program on Peace & International Cooperation with the MacArthur Foundation. Nesbitt remained with the MacArthur Foundation until 1996, when he was named the dean of community engagement and diversity. In addition to his foundation work, Nesbitt worked as an African and American history teacher at his high school alma mater, Francis W. Parker School. Nesbitt also taught African History at Columbia College, and served as a consultant on diversity for the Francis W. Parker School; the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools; and the East Educational Collaborative in Washington, DC. In 2001, Nesbitt became the South African representative of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the interim director for the American Friends Service Committee Africa Program. From 2003 on, Nesbitt worked as the Senior Multiculturalism and Diversity Specialist for the Chicago Teachers Center at Northeastern Illinois University.

Nesbitt has lectured both in the United States and abroad, and has written extensively, publishing a book and articles in more than twenty international journals. Nesbitt also served as a co-writer on the BBC production of The People’s Century program Skin Deep, about racism in the United States and South Africa. Over the course of his career, Nesbitt made more than seventy trips to Africa, including trips taken in secret to apartheid torn South Africa; his work has garnered him numerous awards throughout his career.

Accession Number

A2004.127

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/12/2004 |and| 11/9/2004 |and| 12/10/2004 |and| 1/5/2005

1/5/2005

Last Name

Nesbitt

Maker Category
Middle Name

William

Schools

Pope Elem School

Francis W. Parker High School

Antioch College

Northwestern University

Columbia University

First Name

Rozell "Prexy"

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

NES01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

San Francisco, California

Favorite Quote

A Luta Continua, or: The Struggle Continues.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/23/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Egg Foo Young

Short Description

Civil rights activist and africana studies instructor Prexy Nesbitt (1944 - ) worked with the Bank Withdrawal Campaign for the American Committee on Africa; the Africa Project at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.; the World Council of Churches; Chicago Mayor Harold Washington as a special assistant; the government of Mozambique; and the Program on Peace & International Cooperation with the MacArthur Foundation. In addition to his work for labor and human rights, Nesbitt also enjoyed a long career as a teacher of African and American studies at many institutions.

Employment

American Committee on Africa

Institute of Policy Studies

World Council of Churches

City of Chicago

Republic of Mozambique

Associated Colleges of the Midwest

John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation

Francis W. Parker High School

American Center for International Labor Solidarity

Chicago Teachers Center

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Prexy Nesbitt's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his father and paternal uncle's experiences in the U.S. Army

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his father and paternal uncles' activism in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls African American aldermen in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Prexy Nesbitt explains the origin of his last name

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Prexy Nesbitt remembers his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Prexy Nesbitt explains his uncles' Garveyite influences

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt remembers his family farm in southwestern Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls transferring from Pope Elementary School to Francis W. Parker School

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the life and death of his sister

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his family's relationship with famous poets and singers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls Chicago's Warren Avenue Congregational Church

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt describes community activism at Warren Avenue Congregational Church

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt explains Warren Avenue Congregational Church's connection to Tanzania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Prexy Nesbitt talks about his family's connections to Negro League baseball

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his experience as a redcap in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his experience as a redcap in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt describes differences between Chicago's West Side and South Side

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his childhood activities

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls experiencing racial prejudice in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt considers the history of Chicago's racial boundaries

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt compares racism in Chicago with African apartheid regimes

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt describes Chicago's Francis W. Parker School

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his activities at Francis W. Parker School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Slating of Prexy Nesbitt's interview, session 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on his football career at Chicago's Francis W. Parker School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes how he became interested in Africa

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his choice to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes civil rights activism at Antioch College

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the growth of the African American community at Antioch College in the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his experience at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt describes African liberation movements in Tanzania in the 1960s and 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes political leaders who resided in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt describes Julius Nyerere's political movement

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his first jobs after graduating from Antioch College

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt describes working in the U. for the African liberation movement

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes CIA support for Unita, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt describes CIA support for Unita, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on the reception of authoritarian leaders in the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects upon the African American community's understanding of Africa

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his efforts to support African liberation during the 1970s

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls organizing against apartheid in South Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls developing anti-apartheid sanctions at the World Council of Churches

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls sneaking into apartheid South Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls teaching organizing in South Africa during the 1980s

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects upon the liberation of South Africa

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls tragic deaths during the African liberation movement

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Slating of Prexy Nesbitt's interview, session 3

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls the Sixth Pan-African Congress in 1974

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes differences between African liberation groups in the mid-1970s

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls the start of the Angolan Civil War in 1975

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on the deaths of major black civil rights leaders

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt describes U.S. government surveillance of black civil rights leaders

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt describes government pressure on the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Prexy Nesbitt describes fighting apartheid in South Africa in the late 1970s

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes working for South African liberation at the Institute for Policy Studies

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his opposition to Leon Sullivan

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his tenure at the World Council of Churches

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt recalls controversy over religious organizations' political stances

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt considers the connection between local and international activism

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the legacy of Amilcar Cabral

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his work for President Joaquim Chissano in Mozambique

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Prexy Nesbitt describes U.S. support of Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the history of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt describes U.S. intelligence operations in the African liberation movement

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the South African liberation movement in the 1980s

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the Mozambican Civil War

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the training of child soldiers in African civil wars

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the challenges faced by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes the aims of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on the diverse membership of the African National Congress

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on the life of Winnie Mandela

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt considers the distribution of land in Africa

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes mismanagement in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on the challenges faced by present-day Africa

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on African Americans' views of Africa

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects on the meaning of Africa for African Americans

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects upon his life

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Prexy Nesbitt reflects upon his role models in his family and the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Prexy Nesbitt describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Prexy Nesbitt narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Prexy Nesbitt narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$5

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Prexy Nesbitt considers the history of Chicago's racial boundaries
Prexy Nesbitt describes Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during the 1960s
Transcript
I mean, for example, where I grew up on the West Side [Chicago, Illinois], when the Latino community first began to move over there--the Mexican community, Cermak Road was the division line and the Douglas Park [Chicago, Illinois] train. Black people didn't go south of that. Mexicans didn't go north of it. That's changed to a very large extent now, but at that point, in the, what, early '60s [1960s] throughout the '60s [1960s], never done, never done. When I worked for Harold Washington, I remember being assigned one day to help work with police in stamping out the tension 'cause some Mexican families had gone north of Ogden Avenue to go to a playground and had been--one of the girls had been raped by somebody from the Vice Lords [Conservative Vice Lords] and the Latin Council--Latin Kings, at the time, got in their cars--fifty, sixty cars with shot guns, had cruised 16th Street. And in return the Vice Lord, had put fifty, sixty men, and gone into the 21st Street, Little Village [Chicago, Illinois] area. It was about to go up. That's how I first got to know people like [HistoryMaker] Howard Saffold and others because that was--we really was on the cusp of a major riot. But I think the antecedents of all those kind of tensions rests in the earlier period in this rigid apartheid-like character to the city.$$Do you have any sense of why Chicago [Illinois] is like that? I mean of--$$Well, I think partly it's the industrial system that brought people here in groups. I mean the steel industry was really crucial, and it brought groupings of people here as groups, specifically, often to set them off against earlier groupings who had unionized.$$So that explains like say in South Chicago [Chicago, Illinois], you have like the Irish and you--then they bring in all the Croatians and Eastern Europeans, then the Mexicans, you know, I guess. So--$$Honkies, you know--my mother [Sadie Crain Nesbitt] was the first person to tell me what a honky was. And people today, the honkies were some white group, no, honkies came from Hungarians and they got that term out of the steel mill situation, the mills and the plants, where that was a term used when large groups of Hungarians were brought in, en masse, often to displace or replace workers that had been organized.$$Yeah, it was--so to go to one part of the city to the next--now, you were going to the north, from the West Side to the North Side?$$We were going to the north, from the West Side (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) The North Side has been, you know, has been more, traditionally, more cosmopolitan than other parts of town.$$It wasn't then though.$$Okay.$$In the '50s [1950s] and '60s [1960s], it was not that cosmopolitan. That was an all-white, working class area. Clark Street from Diversey [Parkway] south all the way to the Loop [Chicago, Illinois] was all-white, working class.$$So you needed some allies on the streetcar.$$We had to have allies on the streetcars (laughter) going--I remember very much an Armenian guy that I went to Francis Parker [Francis W. Parker School, Chicago, Illinois] with. He and I used to get tired of Parker and we'd go over to Waller High School [Robert A. Waller High School], which today is called Lincoln Park High School [Chicago, Illinois] and we'd eat ten-cent hot dogs with greasy French fries and play basketball 'cause you could find a few Puerto Rican and black guys, a few, at Waller High School. Waller was known to be a bit different kind of little place, but those other schools up there, Senn [Nicholas Senn High School, Chicago, Illinois] and Lake View [Lake View High School, Chicago, Illinois]--it was a race riot when you played them.$The meeting with Nyerere [Julius Nyerere] was just the first of several that I would have in the period of time that I was in and out of Dar es Salaam [Tanzania] but it was--it was one of the things that was formative for me, was to get to know Julius Nyerere somewhat and to be at the White House [Ikulu, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania], at his presidential residence, I think a couple times in '65 [1965], '66 [1966] and later in the period of '68 [1968] and '69 [1969]. I was in Dar es Salaam at one of the most exciting periods to be there. I went there as a student '65 [1965], '66 [1966]. I would later come back to work for the Mozambique Liberation Front [FRELIMO] in '68 [1968] and '69 [1969]. But in that, those two periods of time, incredible stuff was happening. Dar es Salaam was the center of the liberation struggles in Africa by that point. I remember going to a seminar, for example, held at a place called Patrice Lumumba Institute, in Dar es Salaam and the person speaking at the seminar was Che Guevara. It was unannounced. My professor was teaching adult studies at the Lumumba Institute and also taught me political science, a woman named Irene Brown, a wonderful socialist from Britain. She told me that, to come by and lo and behold I get there and who's doing the seminar but Che Guevara--the Che Guevara, and that's not unusual in the Dar es Salaam, in that atmosphere of this extraordinary sea town with all the liberation movements having offices there. And so for me, it was an awakening of a whole new world that I had really not had that kind of exposure to. I--when I got off the plane in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the first thing that happened was a group of refugees, students from South Africa, who were students with me at the university, three of four of them, one of them whom would become my roommate, wonderful man named Leffert Singye [ph.]. They took me immediately to go and listen to a man speak, a record that they had, a 78, to tell you how long ago. We cranked it to play it. And it was Nelson Mandela's speech, "Why I'm prepared to die," [I Am Prepared to Die] which, that he gave at the Rivonia Trial, which was in '63 [1963] [sic. 1964]. So it's, you know, this is only '65 [1965], so it was sort of living current history and that kind of thing happened all the time, the, all the liberation movements had offices there. I spent a lot of time at another place that was called, the Kurasini School for Refugees [Kurasini Special Training Center, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania], which was run by the African American Institute [Africa-America Institute, New York, New York], which later I would learn much about it that was questionable, but at that time, it was an important school for South African, and Namibian, and Zimbabwean and Malawian refugees, all of whom had fled their countries, and had come to be based at Dar es Salaam. At the same time, during the period that I was there, especially the second trip, Nyerere opened up Tanzania to African Americans, coming as a haven for African Americans to come. And he urged them to come and bring their skills and resources. And I have to say that (laughter) it was a kind of mixed bag of folks that came and some of them were quite dubious. I remember the classic case of a dentist from here in Chicago [Illinois], who had killed his wife. I can't remember his name (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, there is a, that's a famous story and--$$That's a famous case.$$--I know he's related to [HistoryMaker] Oscar Brown, Jr.$$That's exactly right--$$--and there--it's never been really proven that he killed his wife, but they--$$His wife was, his wife was related to Oscar Brown, Jr.$$Right, that's right, right, but--$$But my family is related to Oscar Brown, Jr. My--one of my aunt's twin sister was Dorothy Brown, who was married to William Brown [William H. Brown], who was Oscar Brown, Sr.'s--the older one, and they had a law practice [Brown, Brown, Green and McLaughlin, Chicago, Illinois] together right there on 47th, in the old professional building at 47th Street and, then it was South Parkway Boulevard [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Chicago, Illinois]. So we heard a lot about this from the family's point of view.$$Yeah, it's a celebrated case. It's been covered on one of the--even the, television magazine shows did a piece on it once.$$Yeah. The family I don't think had any ambiguity about this, and I think he was, it was only more recently that finally he was extradited back to Cook County [Illinois] (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Right, because I think he stayed in Uganda with Idi Amin for a while.$$I think he stayed in a number of places in Africa.