Dr. Ransford W. Palmer passed away on January 22, 2023 at the age of 90, leaving behind a legacy of leadership, scholarship and service to the profession and community that is unsurpassed. With his beloved wife of 58 years, Dr. Palmer reared three children who have been creative and successful in their education and careers. Three grandchildren added a sparkle to his life. He is most remembered professionally for his role in founding the Howard University Ph.D. program in economics, the only such program at an HBCU (Green & Thompson, 2017). He was also instrumental in the formation of the Howard University Economics Department Alumni Association, a unique department-based alumni organization that has supported the Department for 22 years.
The Life of Dr. Palmer
As a young, gifted student at St. Jago High School in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Dr. Palmer earned a scholarship to Marquette University in Wisconsin. After completing his baccalaureate and graduate degrees in economics at Marquette, Dr. Palmer completed his doctoral degree in economics at Clark University in Massachusetts. He was subsequently recruited to a faculty position by the Catholic University of America where he quickly rose through the ranks, attaining tenure. He also began lecturing on fiscal policy in the graduate program of Howard University in 1968. He was later recruited to serve as Chair of the Department in 1973, also undertaking short posts as Associate Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Director of the Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center over his 40 years of service to the university. He retired in 2013. He gifted us all with his memoirs detailing his life’s journey, Beyond the Horizon: A Jamaican Immigrant Chases His Dream in America (Palmer, 2012). His field of research was Caribbean economic development, beginning with his first book in 1968, The Jamaican Economy (Palmer, 1968), and concluding with his eighth and last scholarly book, The Repositioning of US-Caribbean Relations in the New World Order (Palmer, 1997).
Role in National Coalition on Caribbean Affairs
In addition to his academic contributions, Dr. Palmer served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition on Caribbean Affairs (NCOCA). NCOCA addresses political and economic issues that impact the Caribbean communities within the United States and throughout the Caribbean region. Dr. Palmer spearheaded several NCOCA initiatives with the U.S. federal government (executive and legislative branches); the Caribbean Community; the Organization of American States; United Nations Association-National Capital Area; Trans-Africa Forum; and the Ralph Bunche Center for International Affairs at Howard University. Recognizing that tourism is a main pillar of the Caribbean economy, Dr. Palmer also ensured NCOCA engaged firmly to support the viability of this vital economic sector.
Forming the Ph.D. Program at Howard University and Its Legacy
The late 1960s and early 1970s were marked by intensive discussions among African American economists, including leaders of the Caucus of Black Economics, Inc. (later renamed as the National Economic Association) determined to launch a Ph.D. program in economics at an HBCU. Howard University was the natural choice for this effort. There were different ideas about the desired focus for such a program, and ultimately Dr. Palmer was recruited to chair the department and lead the institutional effort to secure both funding from the Ford Foundation and the commitment from the University to permanently establish the program (Green & Thompson, 2017). Under his leadership, the program took on the broad vision of economic development, both in urban areas in U.S. and in the African diaspora more broadly. The initial fields of urban economics and development economics were expanded in later years to include labor, international, and monetary economic fields. Since the first economics Ph.D. was awarded in 1980, over 150 students have gone on to earn a Howard Ph.D. in economics, including over 90 African Americans. These proud sons and daughters of Howard have gone on to careers in academia, research, and government, both in the U.S. and internationally. A powerful legacy for Dr. Palmer, indeed!
Green, R.D. & Thompson, A. (2017). Streams of racial progress: The discipline of economics at Howard University at its sesquicentennial. Negro Educational Review, 68, 1-4, 31-55.
Palmer, R.W. (2012). Beyond the Horizon: A Jamaican Immigrant Chases His Dream in America. NJ: Edwards Brothers Malloy, Xlibris.com.
Palmer, R.W., (1968). The Jamaican Economy. Praeger special studies in international economics and development. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers.
Palmer, R.W., (1997). The Repositioning of US-Caribbean Relations in the New World Order. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.