The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a jewel in the New York Public Library system. It is also a revered touchstone for black nationalists, and the combination has often made any change at the institution a contentious event. But the announcement today may make the transition to a new leader the least controversial in years. The library announced that Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a scholar in African-American history who is an assistant professor at Indiana University, will succeed Howard Dodson as the next director.
Muhammad has stellar credentials as a scholar. His book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America was recently published by Harvard University Press. But his best defense against the rabid nationalists may be his bloodline. He is the great-grandson of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. He will take over from Dodson, who has held the post for 25 years, in July 2011.
Muhammad was chosen by a selection committee led by New York attorney Gordon Davis and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., editor-in-chief of The Root, and also included Aysha Schomburg, great-granddaughter of the center’s founder, Arturo Schomburg. Muhammad is a native of Chicago’s South Side. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and earned his Ph.D. at Rutgers University in New Jersey. His father, Ozier Muhammad, is a Pulitzer Prize winner in photography who works at the New York Times.