By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
He was a lifelong learner, gathering information and experiences not only for his own career advancement and personal edification, but for the benefit and betterment of others.
Dr. David Covin, professor emeritus of government and ethnic studies at Sacramento State, is being remembered for his many contributions to the university and the wider community. Dr. Covin passed away June 3. He was 82.
David Covin was born in Evanston, Illinois, on Oct. 3, 1940. His path to community work began as a young man taking part in the civil rights movement that transformed him and the nation.
As a student, he was a founder of the Black Student Union and the Black Studies Program at Washington State University. He was also co-chair of the Boulder, Colorado, chapter of the Congress of Racial Equity and aided in voter registration efforts in Jackson, Mississippi, and Birmingham, Alabama. He also participated in the March on Montgomery in 1965.
Dr. Covin continued to be a leader upon moving to the Sacramento area in the 1970s. At Sacramento State he taught government classes and helped found ethnic studies and Pan African studies programs. He also co-founded the university’s Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program.
His contributions reached beyond the campus.
“Through his leadership and vision, Sacramento witnessed and benefited from the Sacramento Black Book Fair, Blue Nile Press, Congress of African Peoples’ convenings, the Black Parallel School Board, Sacramento’s first and only Black think tank, The Black Group,” shared longtime friend and colleague Faye Wilson Kennedy.
Dr. Covin also was one of three surviving original members of the Sacramento Area Black Caucus Inc., a group that has preserved Black culture and advocated for the community’s civil and human rights since 1972. Late OBSERVER publisher Dr. William H. Lee also was a founding member.
Dr. Covin recruited Wilson Kennedy and her husband Carl Pinkston in the 1980s in an attempt to have the next generation buy into the cause and carry on the group’s mission.
“Dr. Covin, particularly when we were younger, he would always help us remember that, in relation to other people, we were much more privileged,” Wilson Kennedy recalled. “Even though we didn’t think we were privileged, we were because we had gone to college, we had graduated, we had jobs. We had housing and some of us were buying homes. He encouraged us to take our privilege and particularly our skills, no matter what profession we had, and go back into the community and use it. For me, I taught preschool and kindergarten and for others, they got politically active. It was about taking what you have and using it in the community to benefit not yourself, but others.”
Dr. Cecil Canton, a recently retired Sac State criminal justice professor, remembered Dr. Covin fondly and lauded his work at the university, which he often did in tandem with another retired Black educator, Dr. Otis Scott.
“David and Otis Scott were very powerful people in terms of the Black community,” said Dr. Canton, who came to Sac State in the 1990s.
By the time he arrived, Dr. Covin and Dr. Scott had helped establish the Black Staff and Faculty Association decades before and championed the need for more Black professors. While Dr. Canton didn’t interact with Dr. Covin much outside of those association meetings, he referred to him and Dr. Scott as “stand-up people” who advocated for what they believed in and used their status as tenured educators to demand change.
“David was kind of a quiet guy, but very solid. He didn’t say much, but when he did, you listened because he was a very, very thoughtful guy. Otis was more forceful. When I think of David and Otis, I think of them both, though, as quiet giants. Their presence was so important.
“Their value was that they were there – or we knew that they were there,” Dr. Canton continued. “They had battled during their time. They were well thought of. People talked about them with a great deal of pride and esteem.”
Dr. Scott and Dr. Covin enjoyed a friendship that spanned nearly four decades. Prior to joining the university faculty, Dr. Scott was a student of Dr. Covin’s. The class was Research in the African American Community. Dr. Scott, who retired in 2009, remembers his project topic being “The Meaning Of Black Power.”
“As an instructor David was the kind of instructor that would encourage students to find knowledge,” Dr. Scott said. “Hee would give you the tools and the information, but he encouraged students to pursue knowledge and not expect to be spoon fed by the instructor. I really appreciated that approach.”
Dr. Scott would go on to teach and serve at Sacramento State for 36 years. Because of their works on and off campus, Dr. Covin and Dr. Scott’s names are inextricably linked.
“We worked together for a long time,” Dr. Scott said. “He was one of my closest colleagues and a good friend.”
In the waning years of the civil rights movement, the two found opportunities to focus on social justice. Collaborations included a television program that aired on the local PBS affiliate, KVIE. The show dealt with various issues and challenges facing the African American community. Dr. Scott also recalls teaming up with Dr. Covin and another Black professor, Dr. Eugene Redmond to host a Third World Writers symposium that brought the best and brightest scholars from across the country to Sacramento State.
Dr. Scott called his late friend a “dynamic change agent.” Dr. Covin, he says, modeled educational excellence for all students and opened the eyes of many a White student who wouldn’t have gotten the exposure otherwise.
“David was fearless,” he said. “He was unafraid of identifying issues in education– the dropout rate, the suspension of rates of Black students, particularly our young Black men.”
“Issues that are still relevant today.
“They will remain relevant as long as racism is a dominating force in the lives of Black people. David was not afraid to take on issues whether it be workplace issues or the status of Black employees at various agencies in this area,” Dr. Scott continued.
Dr. Ernest Uwazie, chair of the university’s division of criminal justice and director of the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution, counts Dr. Covin as a role model.
“He’ll surely be missed. He is one of the reasons I stayed at Sac State for 32 years,” Dr. Uwazie said.
Dr. Covin assumed local and national leadership roles throughout his career. He was co-editor of the National Political Science Review, past president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, the founding co-principal investigator of the Race and Democracy in the Americas Project, served as a board member of the Black Science Resource Center, and acted as a trustee of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1977-1992. Locally, he served as a board member of the Women’s Civic Improvement Center and education co-chair of the Sacramento Black Community Activist Committee.
Dr. Covin is listed in Who’s Who in the West, Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in Black America. His work earned him countless accolades. In 2003 The OBSERVER named Dr. Covin a Community Legend for his contributions in academia. The avid reader also was honored by the Sacramento Area Black Caucus Inc. in 2003 with the dedication of its Dr. David Covin Community Library.
Dr. Covin wore many hats, including that of an author. His books include “Black Politics After the Civil Rights Movement,” “The United Black Movement In Brazil.” and novels “Raisins in Milk”; “Princes of the Road,” which tells the story of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; “Prodigal”; “Wimbey’s Corner”; and “Brown Sky,” Dr. Covin’s first book, about an all-Black platoon stationed in Arkansas during World War II.
Outside the classroom and his administrative offices, he was a devoted husband and father of two daughters.
“He was a ‘girl dad’ long before that was even a term,” Holly Covin Jacobson said. “[He was a] fierce advocate for his daughters and supported our ambitions, whether it be in athletics or academic leadership. It also means he was a feminist in the true sense of the term. We never felt there were arbitrary barriers for our dreams.”
When they encountered real barriers, the Covin girls felt equipped to navigate them. “He taught us what a loving marriage looks like when each partner loves and respects the other. We saw that every single day of our lives,” Covin Jacobson said. “It is how I learned what I needed from a spouse and how to also be a good spouse.”
Dr. Covin was preceded in death by his parents Odell and Lela Johnson and his daughter Wendy Covin. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Judy Bentinck Smith, and daughter Holly (Steve); grandchildren Nicola, Will and Claire; sister Jacquie (Mark) and niece Artemisia.