I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing a few days ago of Carol Manigault, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Felician University. Carol was a dear friend, and one of the very few people I would see in Kirby Hall either “after hours” or on the weekend–there for the same reason as I was, out of a preference for working at the office rather than working at home. I sometimes wondered whether the explanation for that preference was the same in Carol’s case as in mine–a reluctance to go home from the sense that home was better avoided than inhabited.
Carol and I would sometimes sit in the third floor lounge in Kirby late at night and either denounce Felician’s administration, or talk racial politics. I was usually eating when we spoke, and out of deference to Carol’s rather Old School sense of decorum, would apologize for doing so. “Oh, no, no–eat, eat!” she’d exclaim, waiving the rules of Old School Decorum, yet again, for Irfan (this happened a lot).
And then she’d let loose about the alienation she felt at living the life of a black woman at a predominantly white school (my phrasing, not hers), or as a black woman in a racist society (again, my phrasing), or (I often imagined) as a bereaved black mother who had lost her son in a police shooting, and who breathed his last breaths in every breath she took. She only spoke indirectly and allusively of that terrible incident, but was never reluctant to bring it up.* I felt privileged to be taken into her confidence in this way, but also daunted by it. Her deep Christian faith made her matter-of-fact about death and tragedy in ways that us non-Christians sometimes find hard to fathom.
She was a loyal presence at the public events I organized for the Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs–one of the Institute’s, and by implication my, most enthusiastic boosters. I recall a long, passionate comment she gave at Professor Mark Denbeaux’s lecture on racial profiling in September 2016, part of the Race and Criminal Justice in America series the Institute did that year. She spoke then with controlled emotion of her son Jelani’s death, and when she was done, it was clear that there was nothing left to say. Denbeaux paused a bit after she spoke, deciding wisely that she’d have the last word that evening, evidently gratified to be upstaged by Carol, as many of us often were.
The last time I saw her in person was in March, just before Felician closed down for the pandemic. We were, as usual, in the third floor lounge in Kirby. It was late on a weeknight, maybe 9:30 or 10 pm on a Friday. Michael Young was visiting–off in a corner, reading. Carol was grading. I was (yes) eating. Carol and I chatted a bit. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but I don’t. I’m sure we denounced some administrator; I can’t imagine not doing so. I can still see her there in her quiet dignity, passionate and yet composed as she always was–and for me, always will be. The world is impoverished by her passing, as it was ennobled by her presence. RIP.
*The case went to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where it led to this judgment (7 page PDF). Soon after Jelani’s death, Carol founded the Jelani Institute, an educational organization designed to draw awareness to issues at the intersection of mental health and law enforcement. It was efforts like Carol’s that led to the creation, in New Jersey at least, of crisis intervention policing, intended to sensitize police officers to the complexities of armed intervention into dangerous situations involving mental health crises.