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Michael Blakey

Biological anthropologist and research director Michael L. Blakey was born on February 23, 1953 in Washington, D.C. Blakey received his B.A. degree in anthropology from Howard University in 1978. He continued his studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned his M.A. degree in 1980. Blakey travelled to England to do research on the biology of contemporary Londoners at the University of London and Oxford University. In 1985, Blakey received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Upon graduation, Blakey began teaching at Howard University where he was the curator of the William Montague Cobb Human Skeletal Collection, one of the largest systematic collections of documented human skeletons in the world. He has held visiting positions at a variety of institutions, including Spelman College, Universita Di Roma, the Smithsonian Institutions, Columbia University, and Brown University. From 1991 to 1994, Blakey served as the director of the African Burial Ground Project in New York City, one of the most important archaeological finds in the United States during the 20th century. He co-edited a report on the work he did there, The New York African Burial Ground: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York, Vol. 1; Skeletal Biology of the New York African Burial Ground, , which was published by Howard University Press in 2009. Following the conclusion of the African Burial Ground Project, Blakey was named a professor of American Studies and College of William and Mary. In 2003, Blakey was appointed as the director and the National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary Institute of Historical Biology.

Blakey has served on many boards of the American Anthropological Association and published more than forty articles on the history and philosophy of science, paleopathology, historical demography, medical psychophysiology, and racism. His work can be found in journals such as American Journal of Physical Anthropology, American Anthropologist, International Journal of Anthropology, and Critique of Anthropology. Blakey received an Honorary Doctorate of science degree in 1995 from York College of the City University of New York.

Blakey lives and works in Washington D.C. with his wife, Cecelie Counts Blakey, and their son, Tariq Blakey.

Biological anthropologist and research director Michael L. Blakey was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 27, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.051

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/27/2013

Last Name

Blakey

Maker Category
Schools

Jefferson Middle School Academy

Calvin Coolidge Senior High School

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Michael

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

BLA13

Favorite Season

Fall

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Near Water

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Virginia

Birth Date

2/23/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Williamsburg

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Biological anthropologist Michael Blakey (1953 - ) former curator of William Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory and director of the African Burial Ground Project, is the National Endowment for the Humanities professor at the College of William and Mary.

Employment

College of William and Mary

Brown University

Columbia University

Universita di Roma

Spelman College

National Museum of Natural History

Howard University

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Michael Blakey's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey discusses his mother's African American and Native American ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey talks about his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey describes his mother's high I.Q. test score

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about his mother's exposure to African American culture

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Michael Blakey talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Michael Blakey describes his father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Michael Blakey talks about his mother's occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Michael Blakey talks about his father's name

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey describes his paternal grandparents' schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey talks about his paternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey talks about his paternal grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey talks about his grandfather's medical practice

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey talks about his father's experience at Delaware State Collegee and in the U.S. Army

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about how his father was his mother's professor and how times have changed

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey describes his childhood neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey talks about his brothers as well as his family names

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey talks about his mother's reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education decision

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about his family's summer house in Cappahosic, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Michael Blakey describes his childhood interest in anthropology and paleontology

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Michael Blakey talks about his elementary and junior high schools in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Michael Blakey discusses the legacy of the Amidon Plan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey talks about the Amidon Plan and the demographics of Washington D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey talks about his grades in junior high school and his interest in science

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey talks about the influence of his great-uncle and the Maryland Archaeological Society

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey describes his experience as a teenager on an excavation of the Maryland Archaeological Society

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey describes winning his science fair competition and the summer of 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey describes working as a summer intern at the Smithsonian

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about the importance of Louis S.B. Leakey and Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Michael Blakey talks about receiving Louis S.B. Leakey's autograph

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey talks about his views on the Civil Rights Movement pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey talks about his views on the Civil Rights Movement pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey talks about the black student union at his high school

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey describes his black student organization protest in front of the White House

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey describes his black student union's activism and the changes that were made as a result

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey talks about his interest in high school in social activism and music

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about graduating from high school

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey describes his parents' activism and their move to Jamaica

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey talks about attending Howard University to study anthropology

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey describes his time at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey talks about Howard University President W. Montague Cobb

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey talks about his parent's support of his studies and the anthropology program at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey discusses the power struggle between the sociology and anthropology departments at Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about African American anthropologists and activist' scholarship

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey talks about activist scholar Olauda Equiano

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey describes how religion was used to justify slavery

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey talks about President Thomas Jefferson's 'Notes on the State of Virginia'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey describes his mentors at Howard University

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey explains why he attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey talks about the importance of African American faculty

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey describes himself as a theorist

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Michael Blakey talks about his years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Michael Blakey describes his process for measuring childhood growth disruption from adult teeth

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Michael Blakey talks about Ales Hrdlicka, the founding father of American anthropology

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Michael Blakey discusses his paper 'Skull Doctors: Intrinsic Social and Political Bias in the History of American Physical Anthropology'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Michael Blakey talks about his graduate research interests

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Michael Blakey talks about his time at Oxford University pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Michael Blakey talks about his time at Oxford University pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Michael Blakey talks about his work after receiving his Ph.D. degree

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Michael Blakey talks about his doctoral dissertation

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Michael Blakey talks about the book 'Diagnosing America'

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Michael Blakey talks about the effects of his published papers

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$8

DAStory

8$1

DATitle
Michael Blakey describes his childhood interest in anthropology and paleontology
Michael Blakey discusses his paper 'Skull Doctors: Intrinsic Social and Political Bias in the History of American Physical Anthropology'
Transcript
Now, considering what you're doing today, anthropology, I mean, did you discover anything on these expeditions in the woods and streams? Were there any, I mean, signs of life of previous people over there? And did you take note of that kind of thing?$$You know, at Cappahosic [Virginia], there were times when I looked and found nothing. Let me say that I had really two very strong interests. One was archeology and the other is paleontology, the study of fossils--and especially marine paleontology. So, marine fossils and--$$Now, this is as a little kid, right?$$I think I was about ten years old when I decided I was going to go to either Oxford or the University of Pennsylvania to get a PhD. in archeology. I didn't know about this broader anthropology thing. I don't exactly know how that got in my head, but I know that part of it had to do with my favorite activity that took place in Delaware. My--the folks in Delaware, my grandparents, and especially my great-uncle Kermit Mosley, my mother's uncle, Kermit, would spend Saturdays and/or Sundays walking the fields collecting arrowheads and pottery shards. It was a quiet thing to do, a contemplative thing. And my Uncle Kermit really was one of the biggest collectors in the state of Delaware. He had a huge collection. And of course, you know, when you think about it, they were connecting with what was their own ancestry. And in those days we spent, as kids, quite a lot of time in Delaware and a lot of time in Goochland, Virginia visiting grandparents. So, I may have gotten to Delaware every month or two. And the first thing I wanted to do was go out on those fields and look for artifacts, and I developed over time, you know, a small collection. So--$$So, were these artifacts, did you know where they came from, or did your uncle know exactly where they came from?$$He did. He was quite expert on the history. Yes, I would bring them home and then study books about those particular projectile points or arrowheads, the periods that they represented, that they were archaic, which was really very old--maybe six thousand years old--or woodland, which was more recent. I don't think I ever found a paleo-Indian, you know, a really ten thousand year old artifact. But I was aware of all those distinctions, and something of the way of life of the people who made those things. Yeah, I was quite serious about it. And science fairs--you know, I was a--I may have suggested when talking about my mother's side of me that I was really quite a shy kid. I used to think of myself as a nature boy. I spent a lot of time with nature, playing. And so, I wasn't, I think I was probably--I had good friends, but I was probably socially awkward, I think is probably fair. And so, I spent, what I really enjoyed was the science fairs in junior high school. That was the pivotal, the consummate moment of the year. And I would prepare something.$Alright. So, now you were at the Smithsonian [Institute, Washington, D.C.] around the same time you say that you went to Oxford [University]?$$You know--can I maybe finish this Hrdlicka story a little bit?$$Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah.$$Because I think there may be something instructive in--I wrote an article called 'Skull Doctors: Intrinsic Social and Political Bias in the History of American Physical Anthropology: With Special Reference to [the Work of] Ales Hrdlicka.' And it took, it was very little changed after, you know, very little additional editing after maybe 1981 or '82 [1982]. But it took me until 1987 to get it published. And I was getting feedback from leading--George Stocking, for example, who was considered the leading science historian of anthropology--that it was very poorly written. I was getting feedback from the reviewers of the journal, 'Current Anthropology,' that it was just a political propaganda, this sort of thing. But the manuscript was being used a lot in an underground kind of, you know, among scholars who knew me or were interested in it, and liked the work. And ultimately it was published by a new progressive, mainly European based journal, called the 'Critique of Anthropology'--picked up and published so quickly that there are two or three little typos in it that I never got to go back over. So, they never asked, they didn't ask me to revise or edit or--so there's two quite different worlds. And now, a version that changes only to the extent that I began to use the term African American instead of black. And in 19--I guess '94 [1994] or '96 [1996], re-writing of it, a re-publication of it, that I call, it's called 'Doctors Revisited.' And this was a festhrift for [Montague Francis] Ashley-Montagu, in a book with work by Steven Gould and other people I respect. And I think the moral in this is, stick with it. People take different perspectives. Maybe they even lie to silence certain voices. Frank Spencer said he couldn't see anything in my work that was not true, even though his work was completely--an opposite interpretation of Hrdlicka. So, if it's true, then it should be published, and one should stick with it. And it's been the influential work in some circles. Race, you know, debate in others. But that's a good thing. But I think it's important for students--you know, you don't want to keep banging on something that, you know, is not coherent or substantive. Sometimes it's hard to know what that is, because people will tell you almost--important reviewers will mislead you. And there's an extent to which you do have to rely on--be self-critical, but ultimately you have to rely on what you feel you know. And if you can get that and hang--stick with it long enough to give it a chance to go through, it may take longer than not. But that's something, something, something that I learned. It was, so there's a kind of commitment to your own vision that I had--to my own vision--that was really important there. Otherwise--one of the things they said was, Stocking said, "Well, maybe you can cut it into two pieces", because this was something on history of the field, and then it related to how that history is lingering on in less obvious ways, in the present. Hrdlicka had an article in the present and an article on the history. And what he is really saying, is talking about the history is normally related to the present. I could have done that, and I could have ended up with something very different than I was able to create with the time I put into it. And so, it's a tricky thing.