Remembering Professor Mark E. Mack

If it were not for a medical hold on my account preventing me from registering early for classes, I probably would have never been exposed to professor Mark E. Mack’s biological anthropology class. Nearly all of the classes I needed for my first semester at Howard were filled. With hardly any options, I chose biological anthropology as my general elective. Let me emphasize that journalism majors only get ONE elective. My academic adviser told me it would be a difficult, but interesting class. That course would not only be challenging and mentally stimulating, but it would be life changing.

Regardless of who the professor was, the class would have been interesting, but having Mack as an instructor was an experience in itself. Mack was unquestionably passionate about the subject. He not only taught us the material, but he allowed space for self-learning, urging us to read the text prior to class.

In addition to teaching us diligence in preparing for class, Mack taught us discipline. Certainly adamant on punctuality, he started class on time and had a low tolerance for tardiness and poor attendance. I recall a specific lab day towards the end of the semester in which I had arrived to the lab about five minutes before the official class time, and Mack had already locked the door.

You did not want to earn low grades on exams. Yes, students are concerned about what grade they will receive in the class and how it will affect their GPAs, but if you had Mack for class, you would be afraid of his reaction. Upon grading a particular exam, Mack verbalized an expletive-filled rant and dismissed the class for its unsatisfactory performance. I feel sorry for that afternoon class, but luckily it was not my class.

His reaction was a bit extreme, but as I mentioned previously, Mack was passionate about anthropology and wanted his students to grasp the material and succeed. Mack was tough and strict, but it was in good reason. In essence, biological anthropology is about US! When we are learning anthropology, we are learning about ourselves, and I believe professor Mack taught his classes with this in mind.

We learned through archaeological evidence that humans originated from Africa. This was an important lesson in debunking the myth of White superiority and Black inferiority. Mack exposed us to historical racism within the field of biology, how Eurocentric scientists have attempted to promote Black inferiority through science. Some of these examples can be found in one of my previous posts, “Race, Racism and Science.”

We learned the differences between race, ethnicity and nationality as well as the dilemma of choosing your race/ethnicity on the census form. Mack used our class’s inability to fill out maps of Africa with the continent’s countries as a point that we should not classify ourselves as “African American” if we do not know anything about Africa. And unlike other biology professors, teachers, etc., Mack taught us about evolution, but he stopped short in suggesting that we believe evolution. A supporter of the creationism theory, he would say, “I ain’t going to hell y’all.” And, I’m not going either.

Mack was definitely a contender in his field. Along with teaching, he was the curator of the W. Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory at Howard University. He served as the Osteological Supervisor for the Foley Square New York African Burial Ground project, and he worked on the Archeological Survey of the Walter C. Pierce Community Park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Most importantly, Mark Mack was a loving husband and father who took pride in his family. His daughter was born during the semester that I had his class. I remember the smile on his face and the joy he had when he told us the good news. Last October, I had the chance to see her on campus with her father.  Around this time, President Obama apologized for the Guatemala syphilis experiment. Standing next to the football field, Mack and I briefly discussed the craziness of this revelation.

Outside of class, Mack was a cool brother. He would “dap me up” in Douglass Hall or express love while posting up outside of the building. Mack wanted his students to succeed and to make change in the global community. Anthropology has nothing to do with my major, but the class taught me about myself. It was one of the most difficult classes I have taken at Howard, and it is the ONLY class I got a C in. But, I do not regret taking the course. It was one of the best choices I made, but I do regret earning that C. Mack left his legacy and mark at Howard University and will be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace Professor Mack

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