Dr. Charles C. Warfield "became a freedom fighter, an odds buster, and a dream maker." So says fellow civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., who spoke during a memorial service for Warfield at Western Michigan University Friday evening. Warfield died June 5 at the age of 77.
Warfield's early career included service as a public school teacher, followed by more than 40 years as a professor of educational leadership at WMU. Warfield retired from the university as an associate professor in 2013.
In 2009, he was elected president of the Kalamazoo Metropolitan Branch of the NAACP and was also active in the organization at the state and national level. During his career, Warfield also served on the Kalamazoo School Board, helping oversee the district where he began his education career as a second-grade teacher. He also worked with many area community organizations and was an ordained minister. In the late 1970's, Warfield became chief of staff and director of program operations at Jackson's Operation PUSH in Chicago.
Jackson says Warfield faced long odds during his 77 years because of his race. Because he was black, Jaxckson says, "He wasn't supposed to learn, to get a Ph.D., (or) teach children, black and white. He was a freedom fighter who used his education to expose contradictions." Jackson says Warfield "did a lot with a little but deserved much more." And he says people should honor Warfield's memory by registering to vote and turning out on Election Day, and going to help people in places like Flint, "where babies are drinking dirty water."
Kalamazoo-area leaders also praised Warfield at the memorial service in WMU's Miller Auditorium. Western Michigan University President John Dunn says Warfield loved bringing people together. And retired WMU professor Don Thompson, who worked with Warfield at the university, says he "saw the correct vision and went after it," adding that Warfield's struggle for civil rights put him on "the right side of history."
Kalamazoo School Superintendent Michael Rice says Warfield can't be replaced, and that the entire community must work together to make up for the wisdom that it has lost.
Michigan NAACP President Yvonne White also called Warfield a "freedom fighter." She says the statewide organization had planned to surprise Warfield this fall with an award as its local chapter president-of-the-year. That honor will be presented instead to Warfield's family in September. He leaves his wife Dr. Martha Warfield, a trustee on the Kalamazoo School Board, and two children.
Warfield's name will live on through a endowed scholarship at WMU announced during the memorial service by fraternities, including Alpha Phi Alpha, that he joined when he was a student at the university.