UNCG Campus Weekly

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Frank Woods tells of African American Studies program and why he went so long without painting

When Dr. Frank Woods (African American Studies) spoke as a panelist at the symposium “Radical Notion of Democracy: Law, Race and Albion Tourgée” this month in Raleigh, he provided more than a scholarly perspective. For him, it’s personal.

Woods is the great-grandson of Adaline Pattillo Woods, the formerly enslaved adopted daughter of Albion and Emma Tourgée. Albion Tourgee, who lived in Greensboro in the decades after the Civil War, was a noted advocate for racial equality. Dr. Mark Elliott (History) has written extensively about Tourgee, and was very instrumental is organizing the event, Woods points out.

“I have researched the life of my great-grandmother, Adaline (Addie) Pattillo Woods, and, in doing so, I discovered how Tourgee became her guardian, educator and protector. It is clear that ‘The Judge,’ as my father called him, saved a former slave girl from Caswell County from the uncertain and tumultuous early years of Reconstruction here in North Carolina.” Woods says if it were not for the judge’s intervention in her life, he would probably not be here. “That certainly makes him very near and dear to me,” he explains.

“Although Addie was the ‘chosen one’ in Tourgee’s eyes, the question remains as to why it was her instead of someone else. I am convinced that Addie was inspiration for ‘Toinette,’ one of his early novels. Tourgee’s surviving papers contain revealing letters written by Addie that show how much of a father figure he was to her.”

Woods explains that he comes from a family of educators. “My great-uncle, Charles H. Moore, actually is recognized for founding NCA&T State University,” he says. He had “big footsteps” to follow, and he resisted teaching for a long time. “But I guess it was in my blood and I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. In my years here, I have encountered excellent students in my classes and many have gone on to accomplish great things.”

Woods is a man of many accomplishments. Currently a visiting professor, he served as director of African American Studies from 1995 to 2008. “When I took the position, the program was very small. I believe we only had two core courses and a minor with few students. He worked with administration in developing a major at UNCG – at the time, he recalls, only two other universities in the UNC system offered a major in African American Studies.

He inherited the CACE Conference when he took over as director, which showcases the multifaceted nature of African American Studies. “My greatest support for coordinating this annual conference came from Ms. Pat Bowden in Religious Studies and longtime African American Studies professor Michael Cauthen,” he explains. The conference, which was held last Friday, is currently directed by African American Studies program director Dr. Tara Green [who suggested Woods would be an excellent Spotlight].

Unknown to many is his black belt in karate. “I think we all wanted to be like Bruce Lee when he was alive and making movies.”

He says he was able to connect the fighting aspect of karate with the inherent spiritual side of the discipline. “When one gets to that level, the ability to fight becomes secondary and one sees life through a different lens. It really is a beautiful art that teaches valuable lessons in life.”

But what about one of his first loves – art? Though many know him as an educator or speaker or administrator, he came to UNCG as an artist. He’d earned a BFA in painting, and then earned an MFA, at UNCG, in sculpture. “Once I became director of AFS here, my art gave way to administrative duties and teaching duties, but I have rekindled my painting and I have just completed a series of eight portraits of women from the Bible. Let’s just say, ‘I’m back.'”

By Mike Harris