"ED" POWELL, EMERITUS UB SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR, DIES AT 75 BUFFALO, N.Y.
-Taken from U.B. Reporter, Apr 25th, 2001
-- Elwin H. "Ed" Powell, emeritus professor in the Department of Sociology in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences and a legendary figure on campus for his fierce defense of academic freedom, human rights, drug legalization and self expression died Friday, April 20, 2001. He was 75.
Powell was a member of the UB faculty for 38 years who often could be seen riding his bicycle down Main Street to campus, even in the dead of a Buffalo winter. Throughout his career he earned a reputation for the attention he gave to the effects of the US government's social and political policy on American participatory democracy. Powell was a popular professor and a mentor.
He explained his thrall with the educational process in a 1996 article in the Spectrum, UBŐs student newspaper: "When I was in high school, I had a transforming experience with a teacher who turned me on to a world of ideas. We began with the eight parts of speech and moved to his explaining the atomic theory of the universe. "This was an epiphany," he said, "a spiritual experience where my world kind of fell into place. It was a discovery of the joy of knowing -- I was quite literally intoxicated."
Powell frequently was asked to address off-campus civic, political, academic and religious organizations on some of the most controversial issues of the day. He encouraged the public, as he did his students, to attend to complex social and political issues and to speak directly to local, state and federal governments, legislators and the UB administration through letters, public protest and civil disobedience. In his classes he encouraged students to find their own place in the world through the "Sociology of Autobiography."
In an email to a student this past December Powell wrote that the one thing he does not doubt, "the one thought that still seems valid is 'share it.' Speak your truth. Say it out loud . . . We have to keep talking."
In fact, usually dressed in jeans and a dashika, the six-foot-three-inch Powell was present at nearly all UB student protests from the 1960s through the 1990s, because, as one of his colleagues said, he loved the idea of students fighting for a cause. He also was a well-known supporter of the Vietnam peace movement who led an all-night UB teach-in on the Vietnam War as early as 1964 and continued to protest the war until it ended.
Powell grew up in Plainview, Texas. As an Eagle Scout Powell learned the values community and citizenship. Later he attended Texas Technological College before serving in the U.S. Navy from 1944-46. He taught high-school biology in Houston after graduating from the University of Texas and in 1956 received his doctorate in sociology from Tulane University.
He joined the UB faculty in 1958 after a short term at the University of Tulsa and a year of post-doctoral work at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He retired in 1996, but continued his relationship with the university by teaching part-time at UB until his death.
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In the 1960's He was a member of the Buffalo Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and other organizations calling for the enforcement of civil and human-rights laws here and abroad. In 1976, the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution, Powell led a public demand for a local 'People's Bicentennial' protesting a "war machine" that annually was "eating up more than $100 billion dollars" of the federal budget and that denied social and economic equity through such tools as poverty, sexism, racism and ageism. A flyer distributed at the time by the People's Bicentennial organizing group demanded the abolition "of all government secrecy" and an alteration in governmental priorities, "using the energies now devoted to the military-police state to build a humane society."
Like other important protesters of the era, Powell was being "officially" watched. In 1976, he sued the Buffalo police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for repeatedly denying access to files he claimed had been kept on him after he opened his home on Jewett Parkway to war protesters in 1971.
In 1996, the Spectrum, calling Powell an "antidote to the mainstream," reprinted some of the citations from the 65-page file the FBI kept on him for several years that described him as "a utopian idealist," but otherwise had no subversive activity to report.
In 1982, Powell was arrested along with dozens of UB students, for refusing to end a controversial sit-in in the former Norton Hall -- now Squire Hall -- on the South (Main Street) Campus. Powell led a much-publicized "citizen's assembly" to protest the UB administration's closing of Norton, which had been the universityŐs student union for 20 years. He spent 12 days in the Wende Correctional Facility for this action. He counted these 12 days as a pivotal point and transfornmative experience in his ideology. He often advised that everyone spend a couple weeks in jail. The sit-in, which originally involved 60 students, eventually involved more than 400 protesters. Norton Hall was closed as scheduled and a second, fully functioning student union was erected on the North Campus in 1992.
His affection for public protest was still intact in 1996, when he participated in a Student Association-sponsored "classroom walkout" that turned into UB's largest student protest on campus in 10 years.
Powell was the author of "Design of Discord: Studies of Anomie" (Oxford University Press, 1970, second edition by Transaction Books, 1988) and "A Presentation of Stanley Taylor's 'Conceptions of Institutions and the Theory of Knowledge'" (Transaction Books, 1989). For several years, he edited Catalyst: A Journal of Participatory Sociology and published many articles in scholarly journals, book chapters and presentations on occupation, anomie and suicide; civil rights; civil disobedience, and the conditions and crises of urban life.
Over the past two decades he did extensive research on the subject of drug prohibition. At the time of his death Powell was working on his life story entitled "Autobiography of a Charismatic Follower." Karen Powell explained, "Although he was seen by others as a leader, Ed's wish and aim was always to support. His real life's work was to facilitate the liberation of the voice in each of us-- regardless of where it lead."
He is survived by his wife Karen, two sons, James E. (Debbie) of Maui, Hawaii, and Stephen R. (Susan) of Buffalo; stepdaughters Rachael, Rebekah and Eve Williams; three grandchildren, and a step-grandchild.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Western New York Peace Center.
A memorial service for Powell will take place May 12th at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 695 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, at 11:00am