Deceased October 31, 2018
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Popularly known as “C. P.” during his days at Amherst, Uthman Faruq Muhammad passed away on Oct. 31, 2018, in Chicago, after courageously battling cancer and diabetes-related complications. Born Calvin Peter Ward Jr. on April 3, 1948, in Canton, Miss., his family moved north in 1953 as part of the Great Migration, seeking greater freedom and economic opportunities. After initially settling in Gary, Ind., the family soon relocated to Chicago’s Southside. There Uthman attended a series of public schools, graduating from DuSable High School at the top of his class in 1966.
Uthman loved sports, especially football. While at Amherst, he played under the leadership of legendary coach, the late Jim Ostendarp, with the likes of Doug Swift ’70, Jean Fugett ’72 and Daniel “Mighty” Quinn ’70. He also loved debating issues relating to politics, history and the human condition. He would hold court during roundtable dinner sessions in Valentine Hall that lasted well beyond operating hours. On more than one occasion, the cleaning crew was compelled to kick him and his dozen or so companions out of the dining hall. Not to be undone, they would retreat to Valentine’s upper vestibule and debate, joke and jostle for as long as another hour before finally disbursing.
During his tenure as a student, Uthman made significant contributions to Amherst’s academic, social and cultural evolution. He was a founding member of the Afro-American Society, predecessor of the current Black Student Union and served as its president. His ongoing efforts were significant factors in establishing the Octagon as the official redesigned headquarters for that organization. But perhaps Uthman’s most precious legacy to Amherst was the leadership he provided as an architect of the protest movement that would forever change the College.
On Feb. 18, 1970, Uthman and black student representatives from throughout the Five College area led hundreds of students in the overnight seizure and occupation of several Amherst buildings in protest to the Five College Consortium’s failure to seriously address longstanding grievances regarding perceived academic and cultural-related deficiencies. That occupation was the catalyst for establishing, among other things, Amherst’s Department of Black Studies, an expanded Smith-Amherst Tutorial Program (SATP), which provided academic support and mentoring for the inner-city youth of nearby Springfield, and a commitment to increasing faculty and student diversity at Amherst and the other consortium institutions.
After Amherst, Uthman changed his name upon adopting Islam; earned an MBA from the University of Chicago and a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from Roosevelt University. For more than 35 years thereafter, he worked tirelessly and passionately as a community economic development activist, as well as a public school teacher in Newark and Chicago.
Uthman’s appointment to the Chicago Commercial District Development Commission by Mayor Harold Washington in the mid-1980s was heralded in the local media, as were his small business development achievements with the South Austin Madison Corporation (SAMCOR) and Westside Business Improvement Association (WBIA). Until the very end, he never stopped promoting community development and social justice—and he never stopped teaching, which he loved and considered his second calling, and he never stopped mentoring young people, whom he cherished.
As the co-author of this piece, I, Faruq Abdal-Sabur, would like to share a few very personal thoughts about Uthman that are probably representative of many other Amherst alums who formed a lifelong bond with him. I met Uthman in 1968, my freshman year at Amherst, when he was still C. P. Ward from the Southside of Chicago. I quickly came to see him as a unique person. He was extremely charismatic but could also be annoyingly opinionated. I didn’t really understand why at first, but I really liked him. Coming from Florida at such a tumultuous time in American history, Amherst was a foreign environment to me and just to meet someone that allowed me to lower my defenses and be myself meant everything to me. I soon came to realize that the remarkable thing about Uthman was that he was that kind of special person for a lot of people—not just me. We overlooked his human frailties and loved him for the incredible stress that he took on to help many of us to adjust, survive and thrive at Amherst. He was more than a friend. He was a counselor and a confidante. With all his human frailties, he will be greatly missed by all.
Uthman is survived by his five children: Jamillah Lamb (David); Bilal Muhammad ’98, Luqman Muhammad, Ismail Muhammad and Inshirah Overton ’02 (Aaron). Notably, Bilal and Inshirah are Amherst alums. Additional survivors include his five grandchildren; ex-wife Anisah Muhammad, who is the mother of his five children; his partner, Wilma Edwards; and a host of other relatives and friends.
No one can deny that Uthman infused flavor, flare and a bit of drama into everything he did. And a great many will attest that Amherst reunions will never be the same without him.
Irshad Abdal-Haqq ’72
Faruq Abdal-Sabur ’73