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In Memoriam: C. Sylvester Whitaker

USC College’s professor emeritus and former dean of social sciences was an expert in the political development of Africa.

December 1, 2008

In Memoriam: C. Sylvester Whitaker

C. Sylvester Whitaker Jr., professor emeritus of political science and former dean of social sciences in USC College, has passed away. He was 73.

He died in Waterville, Maine, on Nov. 29 following a struggle with cancer.

Whitaker, who was known by his nickname “Syl,” was born on Feb. 21, 1935, in Pittsburgh, the son of funeral directors Cleophaus S. Whitaker Sr. and Edith (McColes) Whitaker in one of the black neighborhoods of the city celebrated in the plays of August Wilson. Raised a Baptist, he embraced the study of Quakerism and non-violence as a teenager. Those passions led him to enroll at Swarthmore College, where he graduated with honors in 1957.

Whitaker went on to earn a doctorate from Princeton University and became an expert in the political development of Africa. Throughout his career, he made regular visits to Africa and wrote scholarly papers on its post-colonial conflicts. A noted analyst of comparative and international politics, his other research interests included multiethnic societies, transnationalism and international racial relations. Whitaker lectured throughout the world, discussing African and Third World politics and economics.

Beginning in the late ’60s, Whitaker became increasingly involved in academic administration as the head of African American studies at the University of California at Los Angeles and Princeton University. Prior to his appointment as dean of social sciences and director of the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies in USC College, he was director of international programs and chair of the political science department at Rutgers University.

“Dean Whitaker was a superb scholar and an exceptional administrator,” said Michael Preston, vice provost for strategic initiatives and professor of political science. “As a scholar he wrote one of the best books on political developments in Nigeria, The Politics of Tradition. Published in 1970, it has stood the test of time. Dean Whitaker served USC well, and I am delighted to have been able to call him my dean, as well as a very good friend.”

Throughout his retirement years, Whitaker remained a practicing Quaker, an avid tennis player and a devoted fan of the USC Trojans and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He is survived by his wife Shirley Whitaker, his sons Mark and Paul, his stepsons Jason and James, his grandchildren Rachel and Matthew, and his sister Cleo McCray.

According to his wishes, he will be cremated and his ashes will be buried in a memorial service to be scheduled near his home in Canaan, Maine, in the springtime.

Source: The New York Times, Dec. 1, 2008; Morning Sentinel, Dec. 2, 2008