In the years leading up to her death, scholar-warrior Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, with the help of friends and colleagues, fought tooth and nail against the very forces she described in her 1991 book The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors.
That battle, however, would prove to be futile.
Welsing’s confidants say exploitative lawyers and timid power brokers in the D.C. Zoning Commission foiled her attempts to stop what has been described as the Jewish Primary Day School’s encroachment on her property. For years, high noise levels emanating from the private school’s playground rattled the 80-year-old psychiatrist, possibly causing the stroke that landed her in MedStar Washington Hospital Center on New Year’s Eve.
The news of Welsing’s Jan. 2 death shocked many who recounted seeing a clear-thinking, vibrant and mobile elder during public appearances locally and across the country months earlier. Such a healthy disposition, even in the scholar’s last moments, didn’t surprise Januwa Moja, a nationally renowned artist and Welsing’s close friend of 40 years who recalled often seeing her face light up during discussions about racism.
“Dr. Welsing was for us as a people 24/7. Her first priority was her patients, then the Welsing Institute,” Moja told AllEyesOnDC, referring to the three-hour long sessions Welsing held in Howard University’s Blackburn Center in Northwest on the second Thursday of each month between September and May of the academic year.
“Once she prepared for her patients, she would prepare for the session on the second Thursday. She was speaking everywhere and always hopping on planes. During those times, she was traveling by herself. In her 80s, she kept it moving, working on our behalf and elevating our consciousness. She read almost everything that had to do with our people,” Moja added.
Welsing, a Chicago-born alumna of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and Howard, rose in notoriety during the 1970s and 1980s after she defined racism as a global white supremacist system built out of a white minority’s fear of genetic annihilation. She reached this conclusion after hearing Neely Fuller, author of United Independent Compensatory Code System Concept, mention such a perspective. That encounter inspired her to find out why white people have acted in this manner historically.
In The Isis Papers, Welsing postulated that people of color, especially those with darker shades of melanin, are targeted in nine major areas of activity including politics, law, entertainment, labor, sex, and war. Her premier work included a collection of essays penned over the course of more than 20 years. For many, Welsing’s scholarship made sense of the mental issues black people continued to endure one generation after Jim Crow. It also inspired Public Enemy’s album Fear of a Black Planet, introducing her to legions of young people.
In the decades since she developed what’s known as the Theory of Color Confrontation, Welsing has unflinchingly defended her position to white and black detractors alike, contending that back people’s failure to understand the totality of racism impedes progress and maintains the status quo. In 1973, she debated Dr. William Shockley, physicist and proponent of eugenics, debunking most of his points and pushing him into abject obscurity.
The Millennial generation became familiar with Welsing’s work after her appearance in the Hidden Colors documentary series. In recent years, they counted among a significant number of people in the audience during her lectures across the country.
“She had this infectious energy and came ready to deliver this message about white supremacy and racism,” Millennial singer, rapper, and songwriter Jeni Calhoun, told AllEyesOnDC. Last August, she met Welsing during a lecture at Fisk University in Nashville during which the warrior-scholar signed a copy of The Isis Papers.
“The first time I came across The Isis Papers, I wasn’t ready for the knowledge,” said Calhoun, an employee of Jazzy 88.1 WFSK, located on Fisk’s campus. “Now that I’ve come back to it, it has a different message because I have a higher level of consciousness. I love how Dr. Welsing always broke down stuff and showed us how racism affects us on all fronts. I see all of the propaganda and things they’re doing to keep us enslaved in this system.”
After Welsing succumbed to complications from her stroke, students and fans took to social media to mourn who they considered a legend and staunch advocate for black people. A multigenerational gathering of more than 200 community members took place at the Blackburn Center earlier this month in place of Welsing Institute. That evening, guests poured libations, told stories about the late Welsing, watched YouTube videos of her interviews, and purchased copies of The Isis Papers.
Two more events, a 40-day ascension ceremony and memorial service, are scheduled for February and March respectively. Despite minimal acknowledgment of Welsing’s work by the mainstream establishment, her influence among those who consider themselves “conscious” remains strong, making a large turnout at future events a strong possibility.
“If she was white, Dr. Welsing’s passing would be on the front page of the New York Times and all over CNN,” Dr. Gregory Carr, chair of Afro-American studies at Howard, told AllEyesOnDC. “The critique of whiteness has become so vogue but it’s something she and Neely Fuller pioneered. With The Cress Theory, Dr. Welsing was attempting to answer the call for a social science paradigm to analyze racism. That’s why she identifies as one of the great theoreticians of the 20th Century.”
Carr, critical of how social media diminished young people’s will to read and organize interpersonally, said that youth could best honor Welsing by eradicating the white supremacist system methodically, not only in times of tragedy. “Organizing is based on collective study and work. That’s what Dr. Welsing often talked about,” Carr said. “There was always a mix of talking and work but that’s all it is now. What we have to do now is commit ourselves to real time organizing and building between generations.”
Technology enthusiast and podcaster Big Baba Rob shared Carr’s sentiments, telling AllEyesOnDC that he wants to honor her memory by acting in the manner she often encouraged her audience to exemplify: respectful of one another.
“Dr. Welsing wanted us to be smarter and act better as a people,” said Big Baba Rob, 42. “She wanted us to be aware and fight. Her lectures and book analyze where we are as human beings. We have to educate ourselves. We’re being dumbed down and things are setting us up for failure. That’s why we must continue to fight.”