Sociologist Jerry Carr remembers a committed teacher, scholar and activist « News @ ODU
July 29, 2022
By David Simpson
Jerry Carr had an early glimpse of racial harmony as a white child growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s. In his neighborhood, black and white children played and learned together.
This positive experience stayed with him years later as he protested on the streets of the segregated South. And that lingered as he embarked on an academic career, teaching courses like social stratification and black-white relations.
Leslie G. “Jerry” Carr, a tireless social activist and associate professor emeritus of sociology at Old Dominion University, died July 1 at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was 86 years old. Carr taught at ODU from 1979 until his retirement in 2002.
The ODU community remembers him as a supportive colleague dedicated to his discipline, his students, and the fight against inequality.
“Dr. Carr was a brilliant and kind teacher, person and friend, and I cannot overstate the profound impact he had on me, both academically and personally,” said Charles Gray, Master Lecturer Emeritus in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Law. Justice.
They met when Gray was taking Carr’s sociological theory course as an undergraduate in the fall of 1996.
“Through his teachings, I found both an intellectual basis and purpose for my academic pursuits,” Gray said. “His teaching and willingness to discuss all things classroom opened my eyes and mind for the first time to the issues of stratification and inequality in our society.”
Over time, they became friends.
“When I later started my teaching career at ODU, he helped me more than I can say in terms of preparation, content and delivery.”
Austin Jersild, a professor in the History Department, also recalls Carr being “especially supportive and encouraging of young faculty members and their families.”
Carr had many interests. But as Jersild pointed out, it was social inequality that animated much of Carr’s academic life.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1936, Carr grew up in a working-class family, a headstrong boy with curly red hair. In the park, he played with black and white children. They went to the same schools.
Much of the following account is based on his unpublished memoirs, obituary, and documents provided by the family:
Before starting high school, he accepted an invitation to live with his wealthy, childless uncle and aunt in Decatur, Alabama. For the boy, Alabama was an unrecognizable world. He went to an all-white public school, visited the country club his relatives belonged to, and later enrolled in the all-white University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
Her uncle paid the cost for about a year, but lost his job, leaving no money for school fees. Now out of school, Carr was drafted and served in the United States Navy, then returned to the Tuscaloosa campus to continue his studies in sociology on the GI Bill.
Most of the department’s former faculty members were gone, replaced by young men who were talking about new, even radical ideas. Moreover, the civil rights movement was unfolding before his eyes.
“A switch in my brain that had never been used just flipped on,” Carr wrote in her memoir. “I began to understand the world I was living in… [and] I had a passion to learn everything I could.”
In 1963, he saw Governor George Wallace temporarily block the door of an Alabama auditorium as two black students tried to enter. The following year, Carr began attending civil rights demonstrations, often one of the few whites to participate. He saw the Ku Klux Klan and the police violently attack the protesters.
“At the end of the summer I understood ‘the Southern way of life,'” he wrote. “The movement had opened it up for everyone to see what it was. Of course, I was beginning to understand that it wasn’t just the South; there were terrible things going on all over the country, much worse than I never imagined it.”
A goal looms in his head.
“I wanted to be a teacher now, this new type of teacher who taught important things, did important things and changed people’s lives for the better. Above all, I wanted to help fight racism.”
After completing a master of arts in Alabama, he enters the doctorate. program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, he joined the activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and worked to overturn the notorious state ban. He traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1966 to meet the late James Meredith March Against Fear. He engaged in local protests against the Vietnam War and organized the North Carolina contingent for the 1967 march on the Pentagon, where soldiers used tear gas on the crowd.
“We escaped, but I couldn’t see well for several hours,” Carr recalled. “I will always remember the incredible power, joy and anger of this great sea of people.”
In 1968, Dow Chemical, the napalm maker, came to UNC to recruit. In protest, Carr and other SDS members entered the building where the Dow campaign was organized. They were arrested and imprisoned. In court, they pleaded no contest, paid a fine and were granted probation.
At that time, Carr was on the FBI’s radar. Years later, he would request a copy of his file, which he donated to the UNC archives.
His teaching career took him to Chico State, Guilford College – where he met his future life partner, Janice Kohl – to the University of Akron and, finally, to Old Dominion.
At ODU, he taught undergraduate and graduate students. He has written dozens of articles and papers on topics ranging from social science research methodology to racism and the plight of the poor. He directed the University Institute for the Study of Minority Issues from 1985 to 1988. In 1997, Sage Publications published his book “‘Color-Blind’ Racism”.
While in Norfolk, he fought the segregation of the city’s elementary schools and the displacement of the poor from public housing. He has also worked with the cause of Kohl, the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, in particular its task force on reproductive freedom.
“I called myself the male auxiliary, but I was usually the only member of this group,” he wrote.
In 2001, he started having trouble climbing stairs. The quadruple bypass took place a few months later. Carr retired from the University the following spring. In 2011, when Kohl retired, they moved to Chapel Hill.
There he continued to voice his opinions, sending letters to the editor of the Raleigh News & Observer about the need to rename UNC buildings and monuments in honor of slave owners and Klansmen. .
Carr was more than the sum of his teaching, research and political activism. He was also a boater, carpenter, photographer, gardener and lover of life.
“Jerry was truly a Renaissance man, comfortable in history (he was an avid amateur archaeologist), the arts (he took some truly stunning photos) and political activism,” Sebastian Kuhn wrote in an email. “He was very (rightly) proud of his garden.”
Kuhn, a professor in the physics department at ODU, befriended Carr during their teaching days, and their families became close.
“Jerry also enjoyed the finer things in life,” Kuhn wrote. “We once watched the movie ‘Sideways’ together and decided to reenact a version of Virginia, with a week-long trip to the vineyards of the Blue Ridge Mountain region.”
After Carr and Kohl moved to Chapel Hill, Kuhn and his wife visited as often as they could.
“Till the very end,” Kuhn wrote, “we would enjoy Jerry’s last photos, insights into local and global politics, and memories of a truly amazing life.”