Obituaries: Werner Goldsmith, John Ogbu
03 September 2003
Professor Emeritus Werner Goldsmith, an international authority on the mechanics of collision, and a pioneer in the biomechanics of head and neck trauma, died Aug. 23 after a brief illness. He was 79.
Goldsmith had a 55-year academic career as a mechanical engineer, bioengineer, and educator at Berkeley. He served as an expert consultant in several high-profile actions, including the two trials evolving from the beating of Rodney King. Recently, he devoted much of his energy to research on shaken-baby syndrome, mounting a campaign in 2001 to caution physicians and prosecutors to use biomechanics in assessing apparent cases of child abuse.
Goldsmith was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, on May 23, 1924. An only child, he emigrated in his early teens to the United States, the only member of his family to escape Nazi Germany. His parents died in Auschwitz.
He earned his B.A. and M.S. from the University of Texas in 1945, the same year he became a U.S. citizen. After coming to Berkeley in 1947 he completed his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in just two years, simultaneously holding an appointment as instructor. Appointed an assistant professor, he became a full professor by 1960.
Goldsmith’s many awards included a Guggenheim fellowship and two Fulbright fellowships. In honor of his 70th birthday, an entire issue of the International Journal of Impact Engineering was devoted to his work. He received the prestigious Berkeley Citation in 1995, and the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award from the College of Engineering in 2001.
Goldsmith is survived by his wife, Penelope Goldsmith of Oakland; daughters Andrea Goldsmith of Menlo Park and Remy Margarethe Goldsmith of Oakland; son, Stephen of Santa Rosa; and four grandchildren.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Berkeley Engineering Annual Fund, College of Engineering, 208 McLaughlin Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-1722; or the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project, P.O. Box 1597, Burlingame, CA 94011-1597.
John Uzo Ogbu, professor of anthropology and a groundbreaking scholar in the fields of minority education and identity, died of a heart attack after undergoing back surgery on Aug. 20. He was 64.
Ogbu is known for his theories distinguishing between voluntary and involuntary minorities and the impact of those differences on minority education, especially for African Americans. He stirred controversy in 1986 when he co-authored a study that concluded that African American students in a Washington, D.C., high school didn’t live up to their academic potential because of the fear of being accused of “acting white.”
His latest book, Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement, also drew widespread attention. Concerned parents and other members of the middle-class black community in Shaker Heights, Ohio, invited Ogbu there in an effort to determine why black students in this highly regarded suburban school system were “disengaged” from academic work and performed less well than their white counterparts. He concluded that minorities’ own cultural attitudes hinder academic achievement, and that these attitudes are too often neglected.
In the late 1990s, Ogbu played a prominent role in the debate about the place of “ebonics,” or Black American English. As a member of a task force on African American education in Oakland, he stressed that beliefs held about “standard” or “proper” English required in the classroom were incompatible with black vernacular English that is spoken at home and outside school. He believed this incompatibility was closely tied to critical notions of group identity and learning.
In 1997, Ogbu was elected to the International Academy of Education and appointed Chancellor’s Professor at Berkeley. He was a recipient of the American Educational Research Association’s Research Contribution to Education Award and the prestigious Margaret Mead Award given by the Society for Applied Anthropology.
Born in 1939 in a small Nigerian village, Ogbu, the son of farmers, attended Hope Waddell Training Institute. He later went to Methodist Teachers’ Training College and taught Latin, mathematics, and geography for two years in a missionary high school.
As part of his plan to become a minister, he went to Princeton University/Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J. There he realized that he needed to know more about his own country and turned to anthropology. He earned his B.A. in anthropology in 1965, his master’s degree in 1969, and his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1971 — all at Berkeley. He began teaching in Berkeley’s anthropology department in 1970, earned tenure in 1976, and was promoted to full professor in 1980.
Ogbu’s survivors include wife Marcellina, of Oakland; daughters Grace Ogbu of Oakland, Elizabeth Ogbu of Cambridge, Mass., Christina Ogbu of Oakland, and Cecilia Ogbu of Oakland; son Nnanna Ogbu of Los Angeles; and several brothers and sisters.
He will be buried in Nigeria on Sept. 20. A memorial is scheduled for 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 7, at the First Presbyterian Church, 27th and Broadway, in Oakland.
His family requests that donations be made to the John Ogbu Memorial Library Fund at P.O. Box 740, 6114 La Salle Ave., Oakland, CA 94611. Ogbu initiated the project to develop a library for scholars in Nigeria years ago.