Alumni

When he was a UR student, Charles Geshekter, R’60, became embroiled in “a testy newspaper exchange” with a professor at the University of Virginia. While the professor warned that newly independent leaders in Africa threatened Western democracies, Geshekter criticized the defense of racial inequalities inherent in colonial rule.

“I think I needed to say something,” Geshekter said from California, where he now lives. “It wasn’t anything more complicated than that.”

The exchange, however, changed the course of his future. While he had come to UR intent on becoming a dentist, he enrolled in professor John Rilling’s class on the British Empire. Rilling had followed the exchange and encouraged Geshekter to deliver two lectures on African history to the class. Geshekter gathered considerable source material from Boatwright Memorial Library and telephoned the newly opened Kenyan embassy in Washington for help explaining Kikuyu names and terms.

Following his presentation, Rilling told the young Geshekter that he needed to undertake graduate study in African history. “Rilling was a patient, professional role model who cultivated and inspired my intellectual curiosity about Africa,” Geshekter said.

“As a graduate student, I benefited from a very solid liberal arts education at UR,” said Geshekter, who went on to earn a master’s in African history from Howard University and a doctorate in history from UCLA. Geshekter is likely the first Richmond alumnus to earn a doctorate in African history.

He taught African history at California State University, Chico, for 40 years, completed several years of African fieldwork with a specialization in 20th-century Somalia and in 1984 directed a short documentary, The Parching Winds of Somalia.

“I am a Somaliaphile, if there is such a word,” Geshekter said. “I brought as much as I could from the field to my classes. I could not have been as good a teacher of African history if I hadn’t spent time in different parts of Africa.”