Community activist Dr. Anthony Donaldson Jr. joins the University’s history department

Dr. Anthony Donaldson outside of Walsh-Ellet Hall. Photo by Klarke Stricklen (C’22). View full photo under article.

By Klarke Stricklen 
Junior Editor

Headshot courtesy of Dr. Anthony Donaldson Jr.

This fall, Sewanee welcomed Dr. Anthony Donaldson Jr. to its history department. Donaldson’s scholarship is in African-American history with an expertise in Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. He is a former Teach For America corps member and enjoyed a short stay in Houston, Texas as a middle school teacher and head basketball coach. Donaldson comes to Sewanee after his stay in Florida as a PhD candidate. 

A proud native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Donaldson attributes much of his success to the strength and drive of his mother. From an early age, Donaldson’s mother stressed the importance of education and held leadership positions in organizations, such as the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), to keep Donaldson well informed. 

“Unfortunately, like so many young black men, I was not receptive to that,” said Donaldson. “But I give credit to my parents for [always] trying to put education as a number one value.” 

As a young adult, Donaldson speaks of a time where he struggled educationally and emotionally. A needed period he attributes to finding his way out of his environment. He began to slowly focus on finding out who he really was and in return who he wanted to be.

“To find myself,” said Donaldson  “I had to find my people.” As he progressed and truly began to know who he wanted to be, he found his passion in educating individuals on the history of “who we are as a people.” 

Thus beginning his journey in the rich history of African-Americans. Through history he found a love for reading and a love for black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Patrice Lumumba. All of whom he admired and learned from through his studies. Donaldson ultimately regards a quote by W.E.B. Dubois as his deciding factor in the study of history. 

“Don’t you understand that the past is the present and that without what was nothing is” After fully understanding this idea, Donaldson added a history major and “never looked back.” 

Throughout his undergraduate and graduate career, Donaldson was a dedicated community organizer and even worked for the Obama Campaign in his spare time.  It was not until traveling to Florida to begin his doctoral journey that Donaldson had to make a decision that would challenge his everyday life. 

As a community organizer and activist by default, Donaldson struggled with the idea of leaving these identities behind until he could finish his graduate education. With the death of Trayvon Martin and ultimately being the only black student in his department, Donaldson describes his period in Florida as a “swampish physical climate and an isolated racial climate.” 

Through faith and determination, he was ultimately able to achieve his PhD last spring. At the end of his journey, Donaldson discusses constantly reflecting on the assassination of Nipsey Hussle: an American Hip Hop artist and community activist. 

“Regardless if I’m getting a PhD from an institution and whether or not he received his PhD from the streets,” said Donaldson, “we were all in the fight to try to better our people.” 

Donaldson expresses that while Nipsey Hussle educated his people through his lyrics, he would in turn educate students in a formal environment. 

As Donaldson began deciding between offers, he found that Sewanee offered him a way to be close to home and educate in a unique environment. Donaldson comes to the University on a tenure track and hopes to engage his students in a new way of thinking about history.

Through his short time here, he has established a love for McClurg due to their great selection of vegan options and a great appreciation for his colleagues; especially Dr. Courtney Thompson for her guidance and caring actions through his transition into the Sewanee community. Donaldson looks forward to engaging within the student body and continuing the Legacy of Dr. Houston Roberson, whose position he now holds in the history department.