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Dr. Bryce-Laporte was the founding director in 1973 of the Research Institute on Immigration and Ethnic Studies at the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1969, he was the founding director of the African American Studies Department at Yale University at a time of burgeoning interest in African American studies and of heightened racial tension.


His students at Yale between 1969 and 1972 included Henry Louis Gates Jr., the well-known Harvard University professor and director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, and Kurt Schmoke, the general counsel and vice president of Howard University and former mayor of Baltimore.

“He was a truly inspiring teacher,” Schmoke said in an interview. “He introduced us to a field of black literature and black authors we had known nothing about.”

After Yale, Dr. Bryce-Laporte came to the Smithsonian, initially with the first group of Woodrow Wilson International Scholars. He was a key figure in making the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall a celebration of the ethnic diversity of American culture, said Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for history, art and culture.

Dr. Bryce-Laporte’s life story, as a black Panamanian immigrant to the United States, Kurin said, reflected the African diaspora that became the focus of his professional scholarship.  Roy Simon Bryce-Laporte was born Sept. 9, 1933, in Panama City. His ancestors had been taken as slaves from Africa to the West Indies and from there moved to Panama looking for work during the construction of the Panama Canal early in the 20th century.

His marriage to Dorotea Lowe ended in divorce.Survivors include his companion, Marian D. Holness of Atco, N.J.; three children, Camila Bryce-Laporte Morris of Silver Spring, Robertino Bryce-Laporte of New York City and Rene Bryce-Laporte of Washington; a brother; two sisters; and three grandchildren.

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Founder of African-American Studies Dept. at Yale Dies at 78  was originally published on