Fields, A. Belden | University of Illinois Archives
Biographical sketch written by A. Belden Fields (March 2017)
A. Belden Fields was born in Chicago on September 30, 1937. He attended public schools in Chicago, graduating from Senn High School in January 1956. He then attended the University of Illinois in Chicago, which was located on Navy Pier. After two and a half years at "The Pier," he finished his BA on the Urbana campus. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
Immediately after graduation, he worked as a case worker for the Cook County Department of Aid at Cabrini Green Homes, a huge public housing complex for poor people, from February through August of 1960. In September, he began his graduate studies in political science at Yale on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He did his dissertation research at the Foundation Nationale des Sciences Politiques in Paris from 1963 to 1965 and received his PhD from Yale in 1968.
He joined the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana, in September 1965 and spent his entire teaching career there. He received teaching awards at the departmental, College of Liberal Arts, and all-campus levels, including the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. For many years, he supervised student internships in the British Parliament and the French National Assembly, as well as in other French institutions. In addition to articles, essays, and conference papers, he authored four books: Student Politics in France; Trotskyism and Maoism: Theory and Practice in France and the United States; Rethinking Human Rights for the New Millennium; and, with Walter Feinberg, Education and Democratic Theory. He continues to be a member of the editorial review board of The Human Rights Quarterly.
He was an activist on campus throughout his career at the university. In 1968, he co-founded the Citizens for Racial Justice (CRJ) and chaired its Committee on Non-Academic Employment, trying to get the U of I to hire more minority people in non-academic positions, while other committees dealt with trying to bring more minority students and professors to the university. He was also a member of the University Senate for a number of years. For four of those years, he served on the Senate Committee on Equal Opportunity and proposed the addition of "Inclusion" to the name of the committee, which he chaired for two years. He was an advocate of abolishing the chief as a university mascot. He also served on the Chancellor's Committee on Equal Opportunity for several years after his retirement in 2000.
In the 1960s, he co-founded the Faculty Committee Against the War in Vietnam, and was one of thirteen professors censored by the Board of Trustees in 1970 for their statement criticizing the "constantly expanding slaughter in Vietnam and Cambodia, the systematic elimination of black militants in the United States, the murder of four students and the wounding of many more by the National Guard at Kent State University, and the shattered body of Mr. Edgar Hoults (an African American shot dead by the Champaign police) in our own community" and calling the Nixon administration a "criminal regime."
In the 1980s, he was one of the founders of the Faculty Committee on Central America, which then merged with the largely student group to become the Peoples Alliance on Central America, a solidarity group opposed to human rights violations and U.S. intervention in Central America. He supported the Sanctuary Movement aimed at protecting victims of oppression and forcing the U.S. government to uphold its own laws and international legal obligations.
In the 1980s, he was a co-founder of the Union of Professional Employees, which changed its name to the Campus Faculty Association in 2009. He served on its Executive Committee and as its delegate to the Champaign County AFL-CIO for over two decades.
He was also a community activist, working on human rights issues, especially as they pertain to labor and minorities. In the 1980s, he chaired the Champaign County AFL-CIO's Union Label Committee, which was a force in the lettuce and grape boycotts, and served as both treasurer and recording secretary of the county AFL-CIO. He was a co-founder of Socialist Forum, a democratic socialist discussion and action group. He was co-chair of the local Living Wage Campaign in the 1990s and was a founding member of the Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, an outgrowth of the Living Wage Campaign. He was active in the Education for Employment's Summer Construction Task Force, designed to get more minority youth and young women interested in the construction trades.
He worked with C/U Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ), primarily on injustices in the criminal justice system and often represented CUCPJ at meetings of the Midwest Coalition on Human Rights. He was co-founder and editor/facilitator/writer for the Public I, a monthly newspaper of the C/U Independent Media Center. He has also been a journalistic contributor to the national website OpEd News and the Champaign Urbana News-Gazette's Commentary and Letters sections.
A member of the University YMCA, he served on its Friday Forum Committee for several years, and in 2004 received the Frederick Miller Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service from the Y. In 2013, he received the Victor J. Stone Bill of Rights Award for a lifetime of service to the cause of civil liberties from the Champaign County chapter of the ACLU.Â In 2016 he helped form the Friends of Champaign County Nursing Home, which established a foundation for the nursing home.