There are no words to express the sadness that we feel at the news of the sudden death of our friend and former colleague Dr. Pellom McDaniels III. Pellom worked as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City from 2007-2012. He was loved universally by the faculty, students, and staff at UMKC.
It was a privilege and honor for us to work with Pellom. He was larger than life and seemed to have boundless reserves of energy that he focused on his beloved family and his life’s work. Although he was perhaps best known in Kansas City as a Chiefs defensive lineman, we most admired Pellom for his accomplishments as a scholar, an artist, a poet, and a community leader. Beyond the roles he cherished most — being a father and a husband— it is through his academic and creative work that Pellom made his greatest impact.
Pellom was one of those rare individuals who successfully reinvented himself. After an impressive career in professional sports, he redirected his energies to researching the histories of African Americans and other underrepresented people and bringing their experiences to the attention of broad public audiences. He used sports and culture as a lens through which to focus on issues of race and masculinity. His infectious enthusiasm for the past was an inspiration to both his students and the public audiences he reached through exhibits and public lectures.
While at UMKC, Pellom worked closely with students to curate two popular traveling exhibits – Bar-B-Que, Baseball, and Jazz: African American History and Life in Kansas City, Missouri, 1914-1938 and They Came to Fight: African Americans and the Great World War. In 2013, he published The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy, a cultural biography of an enslaved Kentuckian who became one of the most famous jockeys of his time. A talented visual artist and poet, Pellom conveyed the themes of his scholarship through a variety of artistic forms. While in Kansas City, he started two successful community programs — Arts for Smarts and the Fish Out of Water Writing Club — to encourage children to engage in visual arts and writing. He also served on the boards of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
Pellom was a fantastic colleague and a marvelous ambassador for UMKC and Kansas City. In 2012, Pellom returned to Emory University in Atlanta, where he had earned his PhD in American Studies, to serve as the curator of African American collections at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library and as a faculty member in the African American Studies department. He continued his efforts to share African American history and culture by building Emory’s African American collections, developing programming, and curating exhibits.
On behalf of all of the faculty, students, and staff associated with the UMKC History Department, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to Navvab, Ellington, and Sofia as well as to Pellom’s extended family, Emory colleagues, friends, and former teammates. Pellom was an exceptional husband, father, scholar, colleague, friend, and humanitarian. He will be sorely missed.