Saying Goodbye to Dr. Kuhn

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am writing this tribute now, because I have to mentally recalibrate, take a brief break over the holidays and get back to work on writing my dissertation. Dr. Kuhn would not want anything less than that.   Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn, Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University and the first Executive Director of the Oral History Association joined the ancestors the second week of November.  He was 63-years-old…he was also my Dissertation Advisor…

He was…there is that word: was.  You would think that as a historian I would be accustomed to the past tense.  Yet, referring to him as anything other than vibrantly and intellectually alive is difficult. Preparing for the Georgia State University Memorial for Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn on December 13, 2015 is harder than I ever could imagine.  I first met him when he was preparing the centennial of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot back in early 2006…

Dr. Glenn T. Eskew introduced us because he recalled my telling him that my late maternal grandmother, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at then Clark Normal School (later Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University) when the campuses of Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges became the refuge for so many of the Black victims of the Atlanta Race Riot.  Dr. Kuhn was delighted to find a graduate student such as myself that had a personal story that I could tell about this particularly painful moment in Atlanta’s history.  Dr. Clarissa Myrick Harris, who partnered with Dr. Kuhn, interviewed me while filmmaker Ms. Bailey Barash filmed it for posterity.  I was proud and humbled to contribute my grandmother’s story.

Nearly everything I know about Oral History, I learned from Dr. Kuhn: how to get people to talk about their lives; how to make sure they know that they are not obligated to tell their stories; how to make sure that I, the historian and interviewer, did not and will not ever exploit their memories; how to truly listen. I remember everything he taught me.

One of the last things he said to me was that he was so proud of a brief and recent assignment I had in the Georgia State University Library’s Digital Collections where I conducted four interviews for the Planning Atlanta Project. He recommended me for that position and I was glad that I did well and did not let him down…

As I prepare myself, as best I can, to attend Georgia State University’s Memorial Celebration for Dr. Kuhn, I fondly recall a conversation where we discovered that both of us loved Jazz.  Not long after that conversation, there were a few times when we were supposed to be doing something academic, but we drifted into a deep discussion about everyone from Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wayne Shorter to Ahmad Jamal.  Yet, that is natural for us historians.  WE have to be aware of everything, so we often look at and listen to everything.  Our conversations were often mixtures of him talking lovingly about his wife Kathie Klein and his two sons Josh and Gabe Klein-Kuhn and History and Jazz.   I will miss that…  

So, below is one for the late, great historian and scholar Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn: a video of the great Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal playing the classic “Poinciana.”  When the percussionists in Jamal’s quartet go into full swing around the time 4:53, I found myself ferociously patting my foot to the infectious rhythms and crying at the same time. Àṣé.



Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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