ACADEMICS | In 1982, Bob Singleton came to LMU to cover one class for a friend. Singleton, an associate professor of economics, is putting a final punctuation mark on a 35-year career at LMU as he retires. A freedom rider in the 1960s, a pioneering scholar of black studies, and an esteemed colleague, Singleton met a host of friends and colleagues who gathered Nov. 17 in the Marymount Center to wish him well.
Robbin Crabtree, dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, called Singleton “a role model in his own journey for our students.” Executive Vice President and Provost Tom Poon offered words of gratitude for the work Singleton had done over the course of his career, noting that much progress for people of color was accomplished because of Singleton’s work. Stefan Bradley, chair of the African American Studies program at LMU, said poignantly “very few times will you meet somebody who says yes to history. Bob Singleton is one of those rare individuals who says yes to history.”
In a note of appreciation, the LMU History Department posted a message on Twitter: “Bob’s presence on campus has allowed us all to learn from someone who shaped U.S. history on the ground. We wish you well in retirement.”
Before he joined LMU, Singleton was prominent in the civil rights movement. As a Freedom Rider in 1961, he and his wife, Helen, joined hundreds of Americans traveling to Jackson, Mississippi, violating the state’s laws to end public transport segregation. Upon arrival, the Singletons were arrested. Their fight for racial equality occurred during a time in which the feasibility and rationality of such activism was questioned. His brave acts of social justice became part of the larger movement towards equal opportunity in America.
A few years later, he made another lasting monument to civil rights as founding director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. Founded in 1969 as the Center for Afro-American Studies, the center was established as a think tank that supports research on black life, history, and culture. In 2016, Singleton received UCLA’s Ralph Bunche Humanitarian Award, which, along with the center, is named after Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, a leader in the African-American community and the first African-American to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Singleton was also the founding chair of the Journal of Black Studies, the first and still among the most prestigious academic journals devoted to African American culture and scholarship.
It was John Davis, chair of LMU’s African American Studies and a much revered mentor on campus, who needed someone to teach a class back in 1982 when he turned to his friend from UCLA. Singleton was hired by the Economics Department a year later, soon becoming chair, a post he held for about 20 years.
For more information about Singleton’s life and work, see these articles and documentaries:
From Bus Rides to Obama
Robert Singleton reflects on his experience for LMU Magazine in light of the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president in 2008.
The Freedom Ride from L.A. to Jackson
This LMU Magazine Q&A with Helen Singleton, who earned a graduate degree from LMU in 1985, commemorated the 50th anniversary of her Freedom Ride.
American Experience: Helen and Bob Singleton
In this PBS video from 2011, the couple revisit the site of their 1961 arrest in Jackson, Mississippi.
Both Singletons were honored by their alma mater in February 2015.