Rudolph Byrd, 58: A prolific scholar of African-American culture

At one point, he even ran an agency at Atlanta City Hall.

"He was one of those rare scholars who believed that individual scholarship in and of itself was insufficient," said Earl Lewis, the provost of Emory University.

Mr. Byrd, an Emory professor for two decades, died Friday at Emory University Hospital after a long-running fight with cancer. He was 58.

He had just finished writing a series of lectures about race and sexuality to be presented at Harvard University. He was writing a biography of author Ernest Gaines, developing a monograph of the early novels of Alice Walker and collaborating with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on an anthology of African-American poetry.

"He was one of my best friends," Mr. Gates said Friday. The two met in a graduate seminar at Yale University nearly four decades ago, and their friendship grew into a working relationship. "Of all the people who write about African-American literature and culture, there is no one that I admired more, and whose work I valued more."

The two co-edited a new edition of the 1923 novel "Cane" by Jean Toomer. They published it this year with new research about Toomer's race, contending that archival evidence proved he was black. The New York Times described the research as an "intellectual grenade."

Mr. Byrd founded an institute at Emory named after the author and NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and was chair of the department of African-American studies. He also founded Emory's Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which provides financial support for undergraduates.

Years before his time at Emory, he worked in the administration of Atlanta's first black mayor. Maynard Jackson appointed him as head of the city's first office of international affairs, said Cecelia Corbin, who was a Jackson assistant.

Lately, Mr. Byrd had been connecting issues of race and sexuality, collaborating with scholars on topics involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, said Mr. Lewis, the Emory provost. Mr. Byrd planned to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard titled "Other Voices Within the Veil: The Emergence of the Black Queer Subject in 20th Century African-American Literature and Culture." Mr. Gates said the lectures will still be delivered -- by former Spelman College president Johnnetta Cole.

Mr. Byrd is survived by two sisters in Colorado, Meardis Wells of Denver and Andre Sloan of Henderson; two brothers, Michael Byrd of Lampasas, Texas, and Leonard Byrd of Aurora, Colo.; and his partner of three decades, Henry A. Leonard.