Emeritus UCSC philosophy professor honored at Oxford University as All Souls College’s first African Prize scholar

UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor of philosophy William Abraham
A portrait of UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor of philosophy William Abraham now hangs at Oxford University’s All Souls College between noted English judge William Blackstone (right), and Sir Sarvepalli Radharishnan, the former president of India (left).
In 1959, UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor of philosophy William Abraham won a Prize Fellowship at Oxford University’s All Souls College—an award recognized by many as the ultimate post graduate achievement at the renowned institution.

In doing so, the Ghanaian academic became the first African to receive this honor, and in fact remains the only African Prize Fellow to date.

This summer, nearly 60 years later, Abraham returned to Oxford where he was honored with the unveiling of a commissioned portrait that now resides at All Souls College among other luminaries of the college. It hangs between Sir Radharishnan (the former president of India) and noted English judge William Blackstone.

The unveiling of the portrait was preceded by a conversation about diversity with Edward Mortimer, a senior editor of the London Times and former speech-writer for the late secretary-general of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Kofi Annan. The event was attended by more than 100 guests, including John Kufuor, the former president of Ghana, and Sam Gyimah, the British Minister for Higher Education

Born in Ghana in 1934, Abraham studied philosophy at the University of Ghana Legon, and then at Oxford, before returning to Ghana in 1962 at the request of Kwame Nkrumah, the president of Ghana. In 1966, Nkrumah was ousted in a military coup, and Abraham was imprisoned for nine months. He came to the United States in 1968 and eventually settled in California, joining the UC Santa Cruz faculty as a full philosophy professor in 1973.

“I was excited at the prospect of teaching at UC Santa Cruz,” Abraham recalled. “I had heard that the faculty were mostly distinguished refugees from other universities, who had vibrant ideas about the nature and methods of higher education. Even more attractive to me was the fact that it was harder to gain acceptance into UCSC than Berkeley, the crown jewel of the university system. That was both an opportunity and a challenge. I had taught at the University of Oxford, which was similarly highly selective.” 

“The physical campus was a wonder,” Abraham added. “I was already familiar with the college system from Oxford. The impression I had was that the builders cut down only those trees that they needed to in order to put up the buildings. I was taken by the ecological stewardship connoted in that. I felt a bonding with my students and cherished the general collegiality of my colleagues. I even turned down an offer from Northwestern University in my very first year at UC Santa Cruz. I am fortunate to have been able to spend the rest of my academic life in the environment and shelter of UC Santa Cruz.”

Abraham retired as a UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor of philosophy in 1994 and now lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.