(The Root) — Our Black History Month series on the history of the blerd continues! We've traversed from the blerd's beginnings at the dawn of America, and this week we follow the blerd from the mid-20th century to the rebellious end of the century. This was a time of thunderous social change, and though you may not have seen them in your history books, blerds were right at the center of it all.

We typically like to introduce you to blerds you've never heard of, but this week, let's look at the blerds you think you know.

Surely Stokely Carmichael (who later became Kwame Ture) was in those history books, but what wasn't in those pages was his blerd biography. Yes, the honorary prime minister of the Black Panthers was a total blerd. As a youth, he attended the Bronx High School of Science, a school known for its focus on math and science. (And what's nerdier than math and/or science? Nothing, that's what!) He went on to earn a degree in philosophy at Howard University and upon graduating was offered a full graduate scholarship to Harvard University — which he turned down.

Do you know how smart you have to be, first, to be offered a full ride to Harvard and, second, to decide that you're smart enough and you don't want or need it? He is known for helping to popularize the phrase "black power," but we like to think he would have totally been down for some blerd power, too.

And he wasn't the only Blerd Panther. Huey Newton, co-founder of the party, had a blerd tendency or two. He was a bit of a juvenile delinquent in his youth, which, unless you're stealing beakers and Bunsen burners, isn't really a blerd-type thing to do. But Newton then went to law school in order to become a better burglar.

Where your basic criminal would probably just buy a bigger gun, Newton's approach was to read (although he later said he was a "big-time fool" for such meager ambitions). Later in life, Newton would earn a Ph.D. in the history of consciousness. Aren't you amazed at how blerdy you didn't even know the revolution was?


Another well-known historical figure and little-known blerd is Paul Robeson — famous singer, actor and dirty communist as far as the U.S. government was concerned. Known for performances in plays such as Othello and Show Boat (he also starred in the 1936 film adaptation), his blerdness may not be much of a surprise. After all, what theater geek isn't a nerd?

Robeson had quite a few layers to his blerd-dom, though. First, he was on the debate team, which we've already decided is an instant qualifier for nerd and blerd status. But he was also in the glee club, and after watching these Glee geeks get slushies thrown in their faces for a couple of seasons, we now know that that's just as nerdy as the debate team.

On top of all that, he went to law school, graduated and worked briefly as a lawyer. Finding the profession really, really freaking racist, he abandoned it and went on to take the stage, then settled into a career as a social activist in the 1950s.


Blerds were making plenty of moves behind the picket lines, too. The 1980s brought a revolution in black music with the rise of gangsta rap and musical acts that challenged white America on its treatment of African Americans. Among the most notable of these groups was Public Enemy, made up of Chuck D and his colorful sidekick and hype man, Flavor Flav. But before they linked up and set about fighting the power, Chuck D was in school studying graphic design, and Flavor Flav was busy teaching himself how to play more than 15 instruments. Your favorite 1980s revolutionaries are a computer blerd and a virtuoso. Fancy that.

At the end of the 20th century, blerds were active and all over the place — fighting the power, trying to get an ambulance and making your summer vacations a blast with the best water guns ever. Having helped fight for a society that made it OK to be black, blerds shifted their focus a bit. Next week we'll look at the modern blerd and the new push to say it loud — I'm a blerd and I'm proud.

Tracy Clayton is a writer, humorist and blogger from Louisville, Ky. 

Tracy Clayton is a writer, humorist and blogger from Louisville, Ky.