In his youth, Professor Lindon Barrett loved fuzzy wool sweaters. His friend Jackie Popplestone remembers that he bought nearly every sweater in Dapper Dan’s, the clothing store where she and Barrett worked. Popplestone recalls that one night, while she and Barrett were working together, Barrett said he wanted to expose her to a new kind of music and blared the song “Fuck You Symphony” by Millie Jackson over the store’s PA system.
Barrett believed that brilliance wasn’t limited to the university community, and often told his students that bright people could be found anywhere, from a college campus to the streets of Long Beach to a 24-hour donut shop. He regaled his students with stories of his conversations with the homeless people he befriended at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“He was as compassionate off campus as he was on campus,” said former student and UC Irvine alumnus Tim Wright.
Students and friends remember Barrett for his passion toward life and literature, exuberance, and for his opinionated attitude. Mischievous and daring, Barrett was the kind of person who danced with friends in parking lots and in cars.
On July 13, 2008, police entered Barrett’s Long Beach apartment after receiving calls from neighbors who had noticed a strong smell emanating from Barrett’s home. Upon entering, police found the body of a 46-year-old man. The body was badly decomposed, suggesting that the man had been dead for several days. An autopsy report later confirmed that Lindon Barrett had been strangled to death with a shoelace inside of his home.
Police noticed that Barrett’s black Lexus sedan was missing from his apartment, suggesting that Barrett’s murderer may have stolen the car. Police found the car in Long Beach; after watching the car to see who entered the vehicle, they arrested Long Beach resident Marlon Martinez. A number of details are unclear, including how Barrett and Martinez knew each other, and in what capacity; if the act was premeditated; the attacker’s motive for the crime; and why Barrett was with Martinez on the night of his death. Martinez, 20, pled innocent to a charge of first degree murder. He has been held without bail since July, and was arraigned last Tuesday, Jan. 6.
During the summer, Barrett often spent his days at San Onofre State Beach. Barrett maintained a laid-back attitude: He was consistently five to 10 minutes late to class, and he would pause his lectures to go outside and smoke a cigarette. This casual attitude, combined with his commentary on current social and political issues and his wit, made many students feel comfortable in his class. His sarcasm carried an educated tone.
He was an extraordinary though controversial professor and scholar, and he questioned the way society analyzed race and challenged his students to do the same. “His class was at 8 a.m., and I didn’t have a car so I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to take the bus so that I could attend class. He was the only professor whose class motivated me to do something like that,” Wright said.
Barrett’s intellectual and academic passions were the concepts of race and slavery, and he dedicated his lectures to helping students understand slavery. Barrett kept a balance of fun and seriousness in his classes.
“Even though he was hilarious and laid-back, his lectures were serious,” Wright said.
His liberal political views infiltrated his teaching style, a bias that many students found refreshing, but others found abrasive. One student interpreted Barrett’s political theories and observations as Marxism and believed that the professor’s liberal bias was excessive and unnecessary.
Barrett was born in 1961 in Guyana, and moved to England with his family a year later. In 1966, the family moved to Winnipeg, Canada, where Barrett grew up and graduated from high school. He obtained a bachelor’s degree from York University, followed by a master’s degree from the University of Denver and finally a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. Barrett co-founded the African-American Studies program at UCI in 1994 and was promoted to director in 2004. Barrett remained director of the UCI African-American Studies program until 2007, when he left UCI to become an English professor at UC Riverside. At the time of his death, Barrett was still teaching at UCR.
Lindon’s Ph.D. advisor John W. Roberts remembered Barrett’s character.
“[Although] a Canadian by residence, he demonstrated constantly the tough-minded, hard-working West Indian temperament and ethic that he inherited from his devoted parents, and of which he remained very proud. Perhaps this is why he worked so hard to bring new understandings, to develop new approaches and to instill respect for what it has meant and continues to mean to be of African heritage in what we call the New World. His devotion to this work was not merely an academic exercise; it was an act of love for family and community of nurture — a giving back for all he had been given.”
Former English Department Chair Jerome Christensen reflected on Barrett’s influence on UCI’s academic community.
“Lindon was a pioneer at UCI where he was an activist scholar whose groundbreaking work, penetrating intelligence, passionate commitment and charismatic presence educated minds and changed lives,” Christensen said.
Barrett’s defining characteristic was his compassion and humanity; he inspired the human spirit as much as he stimulated the mind.
“Of course his scholarship was brilliant and fierce, but he also brought that intensity and soul to human interactions and that was what impressed me so,” said poet and friend Farid Matuk.
Christensen summed up a thought expressed by many of Barrett’s friends, family and colleagues: “Lindon is irreplaceable, but we are fortunate that the light that he spread during his life will in memory dispel the darkness into which we have all been cast by his death.”