Dr. Phil S. Hart has joined the ranks of Princeton Professor Cornel West, pianist Billy Taylor, actor Ossie Davis and jazz singer Diane Reeves as the latest recipient of the prestigious Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship at MSU Denver.
The Noel Professorship, which began in ’81, is named after Rachel B. Noel, the legendary Denver Public School Board member and MSU Denver professor of sociology and African-American studies.
Denverites may recall that Rachel B. Noel was a trailblazer. She was the first African-American elected to the Denver Public School Board in 1965 and was the first African-American women to serve in elected office in Colorado. Three years later she led the charge to integrate the Denver Public Schools– the Noel Resolution passed in 1970 and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.
The program invites celebrated artists, intellectual pioneers and scholars to teach classes, seminars, and lectures on the Auraria campus and in the community for students, faculty, and Denverites who would like to attend. The program’s hallmark is multiculturalism, diversity and academic excellence.
“He’s been a friend since we were kids,” says Edmond Noel Jr., the son of Rachel Noel. “I grew up in Denver and Phil did as well. He was one of those student-athletes that I looked up to when I was a kid in high school. He is bright and has gone on to have a multifaceted career.”
Noel explains that when it comes to who would be among the people they would select as a Noel professor, they have a variety of people they might ask to come talk to the school and the community.
“The idea of bringing people from the outside is to expose us to something we ordinarily might not see in a variety of fields and academic disciplines,” Noel says. “So we have a variety of that kind of new information coming to the campus and the community. I think that was what my mother and early developers of the Noel Professorship had in mind.”
MSU Denver’s Noel Professorship committee, chaired by Dr. Myron Anderson, consists of MSUD faculty and students and as well as representatives from the Denver Public Schools. Part of its responsibility each year is to select a notable speaker.
“They are always searching the internet and watching the news and pulling together names of people we as a committee might consider,” Noel explains. “And we’re always thinking, ‘I saw this, I read that.’ We always have a pool of names that we’re thinking about.”
Noel met Hart while attending the famous, and as he puts it, and only the East Denver High School. “The great class of ’64,” he says. “Phil finished at East and went on to play basketball at C.U. and graduate with honors. He then went to Michigan State University and earned Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology. He met his wife Tanya at Michigan State, and the two of them have been extremely active as a couple and individually since and are involved in many things from entertainment to urban planning with people who are active in various communities.”
Phil Hart will be presenting on Sunday, March 11, for an event at Shorter AME Church, 3100 Richard Allen Court, that begins at 3 p.m., according to Noel.
“We’ve recently started in the evening, but we’ve gone back to the original format of a Sunday afternoon address to the community.”
Hart was director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture atUniversity of Massachusetts Boston for 28 years, dealing with racial and social justice, community involvement and community improvement. During his tenure at the university in the 70s, Hart was a co-developer of Boston’s 75 acre Crosstown Industrial Park in Roxbury, a black depressed area of the Boston Metropolitan area, which has high technology, biotechnology, office, retail, industrial, textile manufacturing, public utility and hotel tenants and later for BioSquare, that city’s premiere biotech business park at Boston University’s campus. Hart has been an urban planner and developer ever since has written extensively on the impact of urban planning and development on minority communities.
100 Year Perspective
On Monday, March 12, Hart will be teaching a morning and afternoon class on the Auraria campus followed by a Tuesday morning lecture. The students attending will be an amalgamation of different courses.
“Phil will discuss our theme,” Noel says, “a backward look at the race from what would be my mother’s 100th year. She was born in 1918, and here it is 2018. So what has happened in that hundred years from a race lens or perspective? I think if we took the time to look at that, we all would be surprised how little we’ve done, and how much we have done at other times.
“We want him to address the overall theme of race in the Century of Rachel Noel from the perspective of the three main areas of his career, aviation, social justice and urban planning and development. The three classes will address those three facets of his career within the over-arching theme – let’s explore race in this century. Let’s see what its impact has been. Let’s see what the impact race has had on minority communities in development. It’s existence, its demise.”
Noel says, for example, one of Hart’s great interests is aviation because his great uncle was one of the first Black aviators.
“Why did we have early Black aviators?” he asks. “Why did we have Black men and women flying airplanes when they were just being invented? What was it about, the state of race relations during that time frame to allow people to be making an airplane out of a car engine and putting wings on it, and being flying daredevils? What allowed Black people to be doing that, when we think we have this misguided impression that we went from slavery somehow to 1964.”
Noel underlines the point that some African-Americans know that there was a Negro renaissance somewhere in between, but that where needs to know more. Dr. Hart’s address will fill in this large gap in time.
Hart and his wife Tanya developed a documentary movie for the Public Broadcasting System, called Dark Passages, narrated by Tanya Hart, which “tells the story of the Atlantic slave trade beginning at “The Door Of No Return” on Gorée Island in Dakar, Senegal, and concluding with a visit to Alex Haley’s (Roots) ancestral home in The Gambia,” as well as Flyers in Search of a Dream (PBS) about the early black aviators. Hart is the author of 14 books and 100 articles, including several children’s books about Black aviators. Hart is a longtime member of the Urban Land Institute ((ULI) where he served on advisory service panels in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. His most recent book is “African Americans and the Future of New Orleans.” Hart also co-produced and co-wrote the 3-hour syndicated radio documentary Ray Charles: The Music Lives On and the syndicated daily radio feature Hart Moments.
Hart resides in Los Angeles with his wife and business partner Tanya Hart and their family.
Editor’s note: For more information, visit the Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship webpage at www.msudenver.edu/noel/