Director, Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies

Dr. Charles M. Payne directs the Cornwall Center and is the Henry Rutgers Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies. His interests include urban education and school reform, social inequality, social change and modern African American history. His books include So Much Reform, So Little Change, (Harvard Education Publishing Group, 2008) which examines the persistence of failure in urban schools, and a co-edited anthology, Teach Freedom: The African American Tradition of Education for Liberation (Teachers College Press, 2008), which is concerned with education as a tool for liberation from Reconstruction through Black Panther Liberation Schools. He is also the author of Getting What We Ask For: The Ambiguity of Success and Failure in Urban Education (Greenwood, 1984) and I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (University of California, 1995). The latter has won awards from the Southern Regional Council, Choice Magazine, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America. 

He is co-author of Debating the Civil Rights Movement (Rowan and Littlefield, 1999) and co-editor of Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850 -1950 (NYU, 2003).  His most recent book is a co-edited anthology, Dignity-Affirming Education: Cultivating the Somebodiness of Students and Educators (Teachers College Press, 2022).  He has been named to Edu-Scholars’ list of scholars “contributing most substantially to public debates about education” every year from 2015- 2020.

In 2022-23, he expects to complete a collection of essays, When the World Comes For Your Children: Defending Black Children in the Age of Trumpism. His next book project, Schooling the Ghetto: Fifty Years of “Reforming” Urban Schools is a continuation of the discussion from So Much Reform, an attempt to synthesize what we should have learned about improving the schooling and life outcomes of children from disenfranchised communities. He is also working on an exploration of how schooling for minorities in France, the United Kingdom, and Hungary compares to the United States.

Payne is one of the leaders of the Freedom School Project which advocates the creation of educational spaces, which are affirmative, dignity-centered, agency-building. He was among the founders of the Education for Liberation Network.  He co-directed the Carter G. Woodson Institute, which involved University of Chicago faculty in the professional development of Chicago Public School teachers.

He has won a number of teaching awards, including being named to the Bass Society of Fellows for Excellence in Teaching and Research at Duke University and holding the Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern. In 2021, the University of Chicago Committee on Education established the Charles M. Payne B.A. Thesis Prize for the best undergraduate thesis submitted by students enrolled in the Education and Society program. He chaired the African American Studies departments at Northwestern and Duke. He served briefly as Chief Education Officer at Chicago Public Schools.

Payne grew up in South Jersey, graduating from Millville High school.  He is inordinately proud of the fact that he earned one of the country’s first bachelor’s degrees in African American Studies, from Syracuse University in 1970. His doctorate in sociology is from Northwestern.