Intro to Afro-American Studies



You have to be careful, very careful, introducing the truth to the Black man who has never previously heard the truth about himself, his own kind, and the white man.... The Black brother is so brainwashed that he may even be repelled when he first hears the truth.

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965


Afro-American Studies is an academic field that combines general intellectual history, academic scholarship in the social sciences and the humanities, and a radical movement for fundamental educational reform. This chapter will summarize the general scope and content of the field and introduce the approach used in the remaining chapters.


Afro-American Studies covers the entire American hemisphere, including North, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, and northern countries like New Foundland and Greenland.  In this text the main focus will be on the United States, but it should always be kept in mind that there are nearly 103 million Black people of African descent throughout the Americas, of which only 27% are in the U.S.A., while 47% are in Brazil.

There is a great deal of diversity in this Black population spread throughout the hemisphere, but there is one general point of unity. All of these Black populations derive from an African origin. Black people come from Africa as compared to white people who come from Europe.

In the world experience of Africans, subjugation by hostile people and migration have led to great crises. First, as a result of their subjugation, their past has been distorted or simply omitted from the libraries and curricula. Second, the living descendents of Africans who live outside Africa are faced with an identity crisis because they have been stripped of their cultural heritage and forced to use languages which are not conducive to maintaining links with Africa.

In the United States today, there is also a crisis of identity in terms of what name to use for African descendents. It can be thought of as a naming crisis. Table 2 lists eight names that have been used since the 18th century. Many have been omitted, especially the derogatory names like "nigger," "jigaboo," "spade, "coon,"darky," "spook," "swartzes," "blackie," etc.  These types of negative names can be found for all nationalities in the United States.
Rationales exist for these diverse names, although each must be viewed within its historical context.  For example, the term "African" was used during the 18th century because slaves were still being brought from Africa itself. This was a direct form of naming. After the mid-twentieth century victorious struggles that liberated most African countries, some Black people in western countries chose to call themselves "Africans" to identify with both their origins and the contemporary politics of African liberation. It is the same term, but each historical context and the material condition of the people generated its own meaning.


Table 1

Region - Country Total Population (000's) % Black
North America    
U.S.A. 234,193 11.9
Mexico 75,702 1.0
Canada 24,882 0.1
Central America    
Panama 2,058 65.0
Belize 154 60.0
Nicaragua 2,812 9.0
Honduras 4,276 2.0
Costa Rica 2,624 2.0
El Salvador 4,685 0.1
Guatemala 7,714 0.0
South America    
Brazil 131,303 37.0
Ecquador 8,811 6.0
Venezuela 17,993 5.5
Peru 19,161 3.0
Colombia 27,663 2.0
Bolivia 5,883 2.0
Uruguay 2,916 0.5
Paraguay 3,526 0.4
Argentina 29,627 0.1
Chile 11,486 0.1
Haiti 5,945 99.0
Barbados 256 97.0
French Guiana 66 95.0
Jamaica 2,255 93.0
Guadeloupe 317 90.0
Marinique 312 90.0
Dominican Republic 5,762 84.0
Cuba 9,796 62.0
Trinidad & Tobago 1,176 57.0
Guyana 850 43.0


Table 2

Name Organizational example
AFRICAN African Methodist Episcopal Church
COLORED National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
NEGRO National Council for Negro Women
NONWHITE Journal of Non-white Concerns in Personnel and Guidance
MINORITY National Organization of Minority Architects
AFRO-AMERICAN Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History
AFRICAN-AMERICAN DuSable Museum of African American History
BLACK Coalition of Black Trade Unionists


The critical issue is the power to define. Some focus more on the practical character of names, the difficulty of making a change, and status recognition based on existing societal norms. A different focus makes naming a matter of political control, a critical principle of self-determination. The difference can be demonstrated with the name "Negro." DuBois argued in the 1920s that the name "Negro" was acceptable, as long as it was capitalized. Richard Moore, in his book The Name Negro: Its Origin and Evil Use (1960) condemns the name and argues that a preferred name is "Afro-American" (although he disagrees with the hyphen). His point is that Black people must name themselves, because "dogs and slaves are named by their masters; free men name themselves!"

In the 1960s, the issue of naming was one of the important struggles reflecting a cultural identity crisis. Faced with white racism, the Civil Rights Movement was an expression of "Negroes" fighting to integrate themselves into white society. By 1966, this struggle was transformed into a liberation movement for Black people. The Nation of Islam, mainly represented by Malcolm X, carried out widespread publicity to convince the "so called Negro" to become "Black." Black became popular, a positive affirmation of self. This was a symbolic victory for the masses of people, since for historical reasons the Black middle class was brown or tan in skin color. Black was a replacement for subordination to white that was reflected in the terms "nonwhite" and "minority."

"Afro-American" and "African American" were more historically specific terms to describe a synthesis of Africa with America and to replace "Negro" and of course "colored." ("Colored" is really a misnomer since if you were not colored you'd be colorless and that means invisible. The issue has always been what color!) This field of study thus is called Afro-American Studies. In the early campus struggle against white racism to set up programs, it was named Black Studies, and many programs retain their original name. Also in use are Africana Studies and Pan African Studies.

In addition to the general issue of who is being studied and what they are to be called, the issue of who is the constituency for an Afro-American Studies program should be considered. This is linked to the special purposes Afro-American Studies serves in the general academic curriculum. In general, Afro-American Studies has two main objectives:


1. to rewrite American history and reconceptualize the essential features of American society;

2. to establish the intellectual and academic space for Black people to tell their own story.

Afro-American Studies is also important because of its impact on affirmative action. Blacks constitute only 4.3% of faculty and only 8.8% of students in U.S. higher education. The presence of an Afro-American Studies program encourages Black employment and attendance. On virtually every campus, the activities of Black faculty members are related to Afro-American Studies and Black students are likely to enroll in at least one course before they graduate. Black students need to be tied into scholarship on the basis of an anti-racist affirmation of their own experience as part of the overall human condition. Further, their study must be the basis for reinterpreting the overall American experience, especially correcting the centuries of racist distortions and omissions. White students, believing liberal generalities at best and racist stereotypes at worst, are the most ignorant of the Black experience. Their gain from Afro-American Studies is essential if recurring crises of racial ignorance and conflict are to be avoided.  Apart from students, there are many others who would benefit, from Afro-American Studies. For instance, everyone who desires to work in government - whether it is making or implementing policy - should have knowledge of the Black experience. All future legislators, administrators, and most mayors should be required to take Afro-American Studies because much of their legislative and policy-implementing activities deal with Black people. Similarly, people in business or labor should take Afro-American Studies. Blacks constitute a growing market for business, and they are an essential component of the trade union movement (Blacks are even more unionized than whites when you compare them industry by industry). This general text in Afro-American Studies is designed to meet people's need to understand the Black experience. Before considering the specific content of that experience, one should have some grasp of the broad field of Afro-American Studies. We thus turn to a discussion of Afro-American intellectual history, Afro-American scholarship within the traditional academic disciplines, and the radical movement for Black Studies in the 1960s and 1970s.


We will then discuss the conceptual framework that is used in this text to analyze the Black Experience.  The conceptual framework is both a model for unity in Afro-American Studies and the basic structure of the chapters that follow.


Afro-American intellectual history in the U.S.A. Is being rewritten and even now is only partially being given the academic attention that it deserves. It is the history of Black men and women fighting to establish professional careers as scholars, journalists, writers, etc. They had to fight against racism and discrimination.  For these reasons this is a history that mainstream white scholarship has not included.

The institutional concentration of a Black intellectual tradition took place in graduate education and dissertation research. This was supplemented by newspapers, magazines and journals, and specialized organizations. Blacks who got higher degrees have been overwhelmingly in the social sciences, education, and the humanities. Further, most of their research has been on the Black experience. Harry Greene, in Holders of Doctorates Among American Negroes (1946), lists all Black doctorates between 1876 and 1943. Of 77 dissertations in the social sciences, 56% were on the Black experience; 67% out of 71 in education; 21% out of 43 in language and literature; and 15% out of 26 in psychology and philosophy. This graduate research has been a point of tension between intellectual currents within the Black community and the academic mainstream. It is therefore one of the most intense and dynamic indicators of, how important and deepIy rooted is the desire of Black people to study the Black experience.

The overall written record of Black intellectual history is perhaps most easily traced in journals that specialize in some aspect of Afro-American Studies. (See Appendix A form a list of the top 26 journals in Afro-American Studies.) This began with the Journal of Negro History, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1916, and includes Phylon, founded by W.E. B. DuBois in 1940. The number of journals has expanded greatly since the 1960s, even though aspects of the Black experience have been increasingly integrated into mainstream journals. The growth of these journals is proof of a continuing commitment to the field.  Afro-American Studies is a field anchored in a professional journal literature, just as are all other recognized fields in the contemporary academic setting.


Table 3 

  No. Percent
  Pre-Black Studies Movement 1916-1961 7 26.9
  Early Black Studies Movement 1967-1974 9 34.6
  Recent Black Studies Movement 10 38.5

There are also a number of published bibliographies that give a codified view of the entire field. These range from A Bibliography of the Negro in Africa and America by Monroe Work (1928, 700 pages) to Blacks in America: Bibliographical Essays by James McPherson, et al. (1971, 430 pages). The most recent reference tool is Black Access: A Bibliography of Afro-American Bibliographies by Richard Newman. (See Appendix B for a list of key bibliographies.)

We will highlight the contours of this intellectual history by briefly discussing four key individuals: W. E. B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, E. Franklin Frazier, and Langston Hughes. DuBois and Woodson, both trained in history, were mainly broad generalists who focused on the role of race in history, especially for Black people in the United States. Hughes and Frazier, of a later generation, made outstanding intellectual contributions. Hughes was trained in the humanities and Frazier was in the social sciences. One of the critical similarities among these intellectuals is that they all produced a paradigmatic text of the Black experience. A paradigmatic text is a coherent survey of the main aspects of the Black experience throughout the dynamic historical stages, from Africa to the Afro-American present. It constitutes an overall treatment of the Black Experience.



William Edward Burghart DuBois (1868-1963)

W. E. B. DuBois was a world-class intellectual of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, and clearly the most dominant Black intellectual of all time. He was educated at Fisk University and Harvard University, the best Black and white institutions of higher education. One example of the racism he faced was that Harvard admitted him as a college junior, only giving him two years credit for his four years of study at Fisk. After two years of study at the University of Berlin, he went on to be the first Black Ph.D. in the social sciences in the U.S.A.

His work is best exemplified by two sets of conferences that made a great impact in terms of both understanding the Black experience and changing the world for Black people.  DuBois was a leading force in the five major Pan-African Congresses held to develop a world-wide movement for African liberation (see Chapter 15). He was also the leading figure in the Atlanta University Conferences held between 1898 and 1930 to summarize research and public policy regarding the conditions of life for Black people in the U.S.A. during the early decades of the 20th century. The proceedings of each Atlanta University Conference were published, and together they constitute the beginning of modern applied research on the Black experience. This work was the early origin of Black Studies.

DuBois lived 95 years, and he published during 80 of those years. His contribution can be seen in the breadth of his research concerning the Black experience.

Selected Works by DuBois

  The World and Africa (1947)

  The suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America    1638-1870 (1896)
  John Brown (1909)
  Black Reconstruction in America (1935 )

  The Negros of Farmville, Virginia (1898)
  The Negro Landholder of Georgia (1901)
  The Negro Farmer (1906)

  The Philadelphia Negro (1899)



He had hoped to culminate all of his research in a major encyclopedia. He proposed an Encyclopedia Africana in 1909, but he could not secure funding. He planned an Encyclopedia of Colored People in 1934, but was only able to publish a preparatory volume by 1944. In 1959, he was invited by Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana (West Africa), to work on the Encyclopedia Africana. He was working on the project when he died in 1963. His entire dramatic story, nearly a century long, was recorded in two autobiographical volumes, Dusk of Dawn (1940) and The Autobiography of W E. B. DuBois (1968).

Perhaps the most important contribution made by DuBois was his relentless search for truth and his untiring devotion to the cause of clarifying the meaning of his people's experience. In 1903, he published a major collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk. From then on he was a critical interpreter of the Black experience. He went on to write several works of fiction, including a trilogy of novels called The Black Flame (1957, 1959, 1961).

DuBois led the life of an intellectual and an activist. He founded Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, and was its editor from November, 1910 to July, 1934. In 1940, he founded the academic journal Phylon (Greek for race) at Atlanta University and edited it from 1940 to 1944. His life epitomized academic excellence and political activism.


Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950)

Carter G. Woodson is known as the father of Black history. He not only made major contributions through his scholarly research, but he also was the key organizer in building a Black history movement. He was educated at Berea College, the University of Chicago, Harvard, and the Sorbonne (University of Paris), getting the Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912. His parents were ex- slaves, and he didn't enter high school until he was twenty years old.

Woodson made great contributions to research about Blacks, both by creating new data sets and by analyzing existing data.

Selected Works by Woodson


   African Heroes and Heroines (1939)


   Free Negro Owners of Slaves (1924

   Free Negro Heads of Families (1925)

  The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters Written During The Crisis 1800-1860 (1926)

  The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915)


  The Rural Negro (1930)


  A Century of Negro Migration (1918)

  The Negro as a Businessman (1929)

  The Negro Wage Earner (1930) with Lorenzo Greene

  The Negro Professional Man and the Community (1934)


The History of the Negro Church (1921)
  The Miseducation of the Negro

Woodson wrote the first general history that became a standard reference, The Negro in Our History (1922). Woodson published nineteen editions of this work. He also published an extensive study guide, The African Background Outlined (1936), which included a focus on Africa as well as the Black experience in the United States. At the time of his death, he was writing a projected six-volume, comprehensive historical study of the Black race. He maintained a stubborn allegiance to the facts, to rigorous historical methods, and to a desire to expose racist lies and distortions in the scholarly study of the Black experience.

No one person has created an intellectual movement comparable to the Black history movement organized by Carter G. Woodson. In 1915, he organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The following year, he began to publish a scholarly journal, The Journal of Negro History. He went on to found a publishing company, Associated Publishers, and by so doing completed the task of organizing professional resources for Black history. There was an organization, with a newsletter and an annual meeting; a professional journal for scholarly articles; and a publishing company for books.

He also took Black history out of the classroom into the Black community by founding Negro History Week, now Black History Month and Black Liberation Month. This was the major project that helped to spread an appreciation for Black history among the broad Black population, especially since the activity was based in schools and churches. Woodson combined academic scholarship with a broad commitment to community education. He fought against racism and for the development of a healthy Black consciousness rooted in a firm grasp of the historical record.

Edward Franklin Frazier (1894-1962)

E. Franklin Frazier was the most renowned Black social scientist of the 20th century. Further, he was elected president of the American Sociological Association (1948), indicating his white colleagues held him in the highest regard as well. He was educated at Howard University, Clark University, University of Copenhagen, and the University of Chicago where he earned a Ph.D. in sociology in 1931. Utilizing the most advanced research techniques of his time, he was a preeminent analyst of the changing patterns of race relations in both the United States and the world.

His books made strong contributions to understanding many aspects of the Afro-American experience.

Selected Works by Frazier

 Race and Culture Contacts in the Modern World

The Free Negro Family (L932)


The Negro Family in Chicago (1932)

 Negro Youth at the Crossways (1940)

 Black Bourgeoisie (1955)


 The Negro
Family in the United States (1939)

  The Negro Church in America (1964)

His major research was on the family. Frazier shared the puritanical values of his generation, and so his research is conditioned by a Black middle-class bias concerning proper behavior. While his work remains quite controversial, his analysis is comprehensive, historical, and based on the documentary testimony of Black people themselves.


The entire scholarly literature concerning Black people was summarized by Frazier in his major work, The Negro in the United States (1949). With the keen perception of a research social scientist, he brought together widely diverse information and organized a coherent pattern of structural change and institutional development, from the slave experience to the urban experience.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Langston Hughes could justifiably be called the Afro-American poet laureate of the 20th century. He not only won critical acclaim for his writing in virtually every genre, but he also wrote a newspaper column that had great popular appeal among the masses of Black people. Moreover, he translated other Black writers into English from Haitian French, Cuban Spanish, and Creole from New Orleans. Langston Hughes is known all over the world.

Selected Works by Hughes


I Wonder As I Wander (1956)

 The Big
Sea (1940)


  The Book of Negro Folklore (1958) with Arna Bontemps

  A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956) with Milton Meltzer

 The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949 (1949) with Arna Bontemps


 The Weary Blues (1926)

  Shakespeare in Harlem (1942)

  Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951)

 The Panther and the Lash


Mulatto (1935)

Tambourines to Glory (1963)


Not Without Laughter (1930)

Simple Speaks His Mind (1950)

Simple's Uncle Sam


The Ways of White Folks (1934)

Something in Common and Other Stories (1963)


Langston Hughes was both a poet and a political voice in the Black community. His orientation is clear from this 1934 essay entitled "Cowards from the Colleges," in which he commented on the political weakness of the Negro college And how change must come from students:  

More recently, I see in our papers where Fisk University, that great center of Negro education and of Jubilee fame has expelled Ishmael Flory, a graduate student from California on a special honor scholarship, because he dared organize a protest, against the University singers appearing in a Nashville Jim-crow theatre where colored people must go up a back alley to sit in the gallery. Probably also the University resented his organizing, through the Denmark Vesey Forurn, a silent protest parade denouncing the lynching of Cordie Cheek who was abducted almost at the very gates of the University.  

Hughes then made a prediction that was to come true nearly thirty years later in the southern students' sit-in movement (see Chapters 12 and 14):  

Frankly, I see no hope for a new spirit today in the majority of the Negro schools of the South unless the students themselves put it there.... the younger teachers, knowing well the existing evils, are as yet too afraid of their jobs to speak out, or to dare attempt to reform campus conditions.  

But Langston was also deeply mindful of the deep historical heritage that could serve as the basis for a strong Black consciousness. This was true even in the very first poem that he published, which was in the Crisis edited by DuBois:


I've known rivers:  
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.  
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.  
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.  
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.  
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.  
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden, in the sunset.  
I've know rivers:  
Ancient, dusky rivers.  
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes wrote this poem when he was only nineteen years old. He went on to capture the essence of the hopes and dreams, as well as the trials and tribulations, of Black people.




The second major source of intellectual work that makes up Afro-American Studies consists of the established disciplines of academic scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. There is also much to learn about the Black experience from scholars in the sciences and mathematics. This can be investigated further in the work by James Jay, Negroes in Science: Natural Science Doctorates, 1876-1969 (1971), Virginia K. Newell, et al., eds., Black Mathematicians and Their Works (1980), and Ivan Van Sertima, ed., Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern (1983).  But the main focus here is on the study of society.

Sociology has been a leading disciplinary contributor to the field of Afro-American Studies. Sociology also exemplifies the limitations of the established disciplines. Frazier (1968) and Lyman (1973) demonstrate that sociology did not embark upon a program of empirical research dealing with the Black experience until the 20th century.

Vander Zanden (1973) notes that sociological literature (and presumably courses based on that literature) reflected three themes: "(1) a description and documentation of Black disadvantage within American life; (2) an attack upon racist notions of black biological inferiority; and (3) an interpretation of Black disadvantages as derived from White prejudice and discrimination"

Pettigrew (1980), in summing up the historical development of the sociology of race relations, makes a penetrating critique of its limitations: 

In documenting black and other minority disadvantages, sociological work has emphasized static description far more than dynamic process; and it has stressed the reactive and pathological features of black life more than its proactive healthy features. Moreover, in attacking white racist notions and demonstrating white culpability, the literature has often focused on the individual level and such phenomena as prejudiced personalities at the expense of the institutional, and societal levels and such critical phenomena as group discrimination. 

Sociology merely typifies what has happened in other mainstream disciplines. In general, the mainstream disciplines have focused on the Black experience by emphasizing race relations from the point of view of the interests of white people. They have lacked a theoretical perspective that is dynamic and is focused on the politics of social change. The mainstream disciplines thus were unprepared to deal with both the intellectual concerns of Black people and the political actions of the masses of Black people.




One of the key features of Afro-American Studies is that it was created precisely for this reason. The tension between theory and practice is at the heart of the field. This tension is most clearly revealed in the two phrases, academic excellence and social responsibility. On the one hand, universal standards of scholarship guarantee that Afro-American Studies will earn and maintain its right to be a permanent part of university life.  On the other hand, it must maintain a positive moral posture regarding the quality of life in the Black community.  


The current phase of, Afro-American Studies has been nurtured by a radical social movement in opposition to institutional racism in U.S. higher education. But many people had called for it earlier. Arthur Schomburg, a collector of Black books after whom the famous collection of Black materials in New York is named, put it this way in 1913: 

We have chairs of almost everything, and believe we lack nothing, but we sadly need a chair of Negro history. The white institutions have their chair of history; it is the history of their people and whenever the Negro is mentioned in the text books it dwindles down to a foot note. . . . .
Where is our historian to give us, our side view and our chair of Negro Historv to teach our people our own history. We are at the mercy of the "flotsam and jetsam" of the white writers....
We need in the coming dawn the man, who will give us the background for our future, it matters not whether he comes from the cloisters of the university or from the rank and file of the fields. We await his coming.... 


By 1915, Carter G. Woodson had his activities going. And by the mid-1960s, a mass movement rising to meet this challenge was raging in the United States. Students had played a strong role in the Civil Rights Movement, and young activists were the main basis for the Black-consciousness developments. (See Edwards (1970), Gurin and Epps (1975), Orum (1972), and Tripp (1982).

Emerging from this context, the Black Studies movement has gone through four main stages of development:



Innovation - The origin of the movement came through social protest and disruption of the university. Blacks sought to attack and to change the policies and practices of institutional racism.

Experimentation - The initial actors in the protests for Black Studies sought to bring the general rhetorical orientation of the national movement within local campus administrative and cultural style. Many different types of academic structures and programs were developed on a trial and error basis.

Crisis - When the post-1960s fiscal and demographic shift hit higher education (less money and fewer students) Afro-American Studies was challenged for immediate results. It was faced with the prospects of diminished status and decreased resources (as was becoming common for all academic structures in the social sciences and the humanities).

Institutionalization - The strategic orientation for Afro-American Studies was developed in 1977 as "Academic Excellence and Social Responsibility." Under this banner, a set of professional standards began to put the field on a permanent academic foundation.



Several case studies have been done that helps to shed light on the innovation phase of the movement. Orrick (1969) describes the context of the first Black Studies program at San Francisco State University. Baraka (1984) sums this  up: 

Nathan Hare was . . . at San Francisco State during that period and he and Jimmy Garrett helped put together the first Black Studies program in the country. Humanitarian California? No, some niggers with guns had just walked into the California legislature. 

He is referring to the emergence of the Black Panther Party, which had a tremendous influence on the militancy of the Black student movement and its drive to create Black Studies on the campus (see Chapter 12). In this same context, Walton (1969) presents a documentary case study of the emergence of Black Studies at Merritt College in Oakland, California.

The case of Cornell University is described by Donald (1970) and Edwards (1980). Edwards tittles the chapter "Black Power and War Come to Cornell," because Black students were attacked by a cross-burning, Ku Klux Klan reign of terror and responded with an armed take-over of a campus building. This was the subject of a Newsweek cover story, which depicted armed Black students defending themselves against racist attacks and demanding Black Studies. This was not in a working-class community college; this was in the ivy league schools! Not the 1860s but the 1960s.



At the Black colleges, the situation was somewhat different because the Afro-American intellectual tradition had been based there. Here the contradiction expressed itself in generational terms and in challenging what was called the "predominantly Negro college" to become a Black university. Mays (1971) tells his version of the struggle at Atlanta University.  The essence of that struggle was contained in a statement the Trustees of Morehouse, Spelman, and Atlanta University signed after being held captive by a group of students and faculty for nearly thirty hours:

We, the undersigned, resign from the Board of Trustees of the schools within the Atlanta University Center. Our purpose in resigning is to enable the black community to control their own education and toward this end an entirely new process of control must be established. We recognize and support the necessity of Black Power in education, and so we step aside. This act will release us from all responsibility and leaves the schools in the hands of an interim committee of alumni, faculty and students to be elected from those respective groups.

This phase of the Black Studies movement was summed up in two collections of articles. The Negro Digest (March 1967, March 1968, and March 1969) published three special issues under the guest editorship of Gerald McWorter. The articles in these issues presented a critique of institutional racism and a vision of what a Black university that would be in a position of providing an alternative might be like. The proceedings of a conference at Yale University, Robinson (1969), were nationally significant because the Ford Foundation joined Yale in pulling together the leading activists of Black Studies with a leading group of white mainstream scholars. This conference resulted in greater mainstream legitimacy for Black Studies. It provided a useful critique of the mainstream and several examples of the types of scholarship to be developed in the field, and it led to a substantial investment in the field by the Ford Foundation.




The experimentation stage of Black Studies was marked by both its origins and the diversity of the academic mainstream. Most of the colleges and universities developed programs as a function of three things: (1) a demographic imperative (large Black student population or Black community that provided a demand); (2) a curriculum void (no courses being taught that dealt substantially with the Black experience); and (3) a protest movement (specific agitation to mobilize students to fight for Black courses). It follows that the nature of these three things, in conjunction with the overall local conditions, would produce a diversity of activity.

In general, Afro-American Studies includes the following variety of administrative structures:

1. Department: full academic units with academic majors, and a secure budget;

2. Institute/Center: a permanent, research-oriented special program with minimum financial support;

3. Program: formally organized program of activities with no permanent status;

4. Committee: informally organized program with no permanent security.

Each of these types of structures must be evaluated in terms of how it meets the needs of the local campus. In general, however, the critical question is the extent to which there is some multi-year commitment so that Afro-American Studies is secure from immediate political pressures and can be focused mainly on the academic performance of its faculty and students.

Three key works summed up this experimentation stage of Black Studies: Ford (197-3), Blassingame (1971), and Cortada (1974). These works were reactions to the diversity and apparent loss of academic quality that many attached to Black Studies because of its political origins. Each attempts to define a program that would be acceptable to the mainstream. At the same time, new forms of organization were developing to further develop the movement into something new, something that might help to transform all of higher education in the United States. An example of this is the Institute of the Black World, led by Vincent Harding. Black Studies scholars also were beginning to develop a professional literature discussing the character and future of the field (e.g., Frye (1976), Butler (1981), and Sims (1978)).



The institutionalization of the field is the current stage of Afro-American Studies, one likely to carry into the 21st century. This involves the issues of curriculum, program, professional standards, and theoretical coherence to the field.

Curriculum - A core curriculum model has been widely adopted as the academic foundation of the field, The Hall Report. This curriculum model is designed to provide a coherent framework for major and minor programs of study. As a field it covers the social sciences, historical analysis, and the humanities. There are several levels: an introductory course, survey and advanced courses in the substantive areas, and an integrative senior seminar in which the many aspects of Afro-American Studies are pulled together in a review of the current research in the field.  

Program - Many activities have developed as regular features of Afro-American Studies at most colleges. One of the most important ones is the expansion of Negro History Week into Black Liberation Month. Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926 in the context of a virtually total racist denial of the contributions of Black people to world history. As a result of the 1960s, the issue was popularized and Negro History Week was turned into Black History Month. This was carried even further by the national television production of "Roots" by Alex Haley watched by millions of people. The question became, history for what? This led to the origin of Black Liberation Month. Here is the explanation developed by Peoples College:



Black Liberation Month is our attempt to unite with the founders and supporters of Negro History Week, and join their emphasis on study with our emphasis on struggle. Moreover, the concept of Black Liberation Month more accurately reflects the needs of our movement, particularly the need to build on the massive participation of people in the upsurge of struggle during the 1960's.

Carter G. Woodson, noted Afro-American nationalist historian, founded Negro History Week in 1926. In addition to the newspaper column of J. A. Rodgers, this was the major source of information that Black people had about their history. Every year in schools, churches, civic and political organizations, Negro History Week has been a time for historical reading and discussion.

We believe that Negro History Week has made a great contribution to mass awareness of Black History. Moreover, the recognition of Negro History Week has caught on, and has become an intellectual tradition in the 20th century Afro-American experience. However, times have changed considerably since 1926. In political and cultural terms, the time has come to transform our orientation: from Negro to BLACK, from History to LIBERATION, from Week to MONTH.

The revolutionary upsurge of the 1960's is our most recent historical experience of massive militant protest. It continues to be a rich source of lessons for current and future struggles. BLACK LIBERATION MONTH unites with Woodson's effort, but does so by raising it to a higher level based on the lessons of the 1960's.

In sum, our study of history must be linked with the revolutionary history of the Black liberation movement. Our goal is not simply to symbolically institutionalize a change in our yearly calendar of events, but to use this month as one more way to raise the consciousness of the masses of people about the historical nature of exploitation and oppression, to unite people around a correct political line, and to mobilize people to actively take up the struggle for Black liberation.


Professionalism - The development of Black Studies has been mainly a reaction to the racism and conflict Blacks have experienced in other disciplines and areas of the university.  So it is particularly important to indicate the affirmative action taken by Black scholars to impose high quality professional standards on Black Studies. Professional achievement is a function mainly of research and publication, acceptance and approval of one's work in professional organizations that decide future developments, and productive organization of graduate level programs of study. In short, Black Studies is consolidating around professional journals, professional organizations, and graduate programs. Achievement is being judged on the basis of a shared value-orientation in the field. This is clearly spelled out in a 1981 study by McWorter, "The Professionalization of Achievement: Ranking of Black Studies Programs."



- Another aspect of the development of Black Studies is the theoretical coherence of the field. Alternative theoretical models that serve to organize ideas and guide research have been clarified. George (1984) deals with four models of race relations theory, including the ethnic group model, the caste model, the colonial model, and the Marxist model.

Different theories are most clearly found in the alternative texts that have developed in the field. Each text is an expression of a basic position in Afro-American Studies.  There are three fundamental points of unity: the central theme of Black Studies is "ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY"; Afro-American intellectual history is the foundation of the field; and Africa remains an important reference for the historical origin of the Afro-American experience and for comparative analysis as well.  But some differences do exist.

Karenga, (1982) provided a text based on his nationalist theory of Kawaida:

The seven basic subject areas of Black Studies then are: Black History; Black Religion; Black Social Organization; Black Politics; Black Economics; Black Creative Production (Black Art, Music and Literature) and Black Psychology... this conceptual framework is taken from Kawaida theory, a theory of cultural and social change.

Asante (1980) put forward a theory called "Afrocentricity," which consciously attempts to build on Kawaida.  Mumford (1978) presented a Marxist analysis. He focuses on making historical analysis of class and class struggle the basis for understanding the Black experience. His analysis especially concentrates on slavery, the lumpenproletariat, racism, and Africa.

Our text is based on a paradigm of unity for Black Studies, a framework in which all points of view can have the most useful coexistence. While maintaining a dynamic process of debate, everyone involved can remain united and committed to the field. This includes Marxists, nationalists, pan-Africanists, and old-fashioned civil rights integrationists as well. Further, our specific orientation is anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-capitalist. We are basing our analysis on most of our Black intellectual tradition and that leads us, as it did Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and W. E. B. DuBois, to a progressive socialist position. This text, therefore, has a definite point of view, but it presents the basis for clarity, understanding, and dialogue between different schools of thought and different disciplines.





This section is designed to introduce you to the specific conceptual framework of this text and its organization into chapters. A conceptual framework involves the clarification of theoretical ideas on the basis of which one proceeds to do an analysis. In a text that introduces the entire field of Afro-American Studies, it is necessary to have a conceptual framework that is inclusive of the entire subject matter. The conceptual framework focuses on two questions: What is the Black experience? How does it change?

The Black experience is the sum total of the content of Black peoples lives. There are four main levels of this experience, as can be see in Table 4.

Biology and Race 

On the biological level, the overall key variables are race, age, and gender. All biological traits are controlled by a genetic code found in every cell of a person's body. This genetic code is inherited from one's biological parents. A race or gender group is defined as a human population sharing specific physical traits (e.g., sexual organs for gender and skin color for race). A great controversy continues to rage in scientific circles regarding the relative importance of the view that human behavior is biologically determined versus the view that people become who they are as a result of socio-historical forces. This is known as the "nature versus nurture" debate.  

Table 4

Level of Human Reality Key Black Studies Concept

There is little convincing evidence that biological differences between races make a social or historical difference. Racial differences Almost always are put forward to explain inequality, where one racial group has a lower standard of living and less power. An argument of biological inferiority rationalizes the group's being on the bottom. The logic is that they are inferior, and they therefore belong on the bottom. This is not a scientific discussion of race, but RACISM, which is an ideology of racial inferiority. White racism is the overall position that Blacks are inferior and whites are superior. An example of how silly this is can be seen in South Africa, the most racist country in the world. The South African government restricts the freedom of everyone who isn't white. However, when the Japanese became economically powerful (as they are now in the automobile, steel, electronics, and computer fields), the racist white South Africans reconsidered. They wanted excellent trade relations with Japan so they decided to make the Japanese honorary white people!

Political Economy and Class

On the level of political economy, the central concept is class. Economic activities involve the production, distribution, and consumption of scarce material things needed for human survival and that otherwise serve human wants. Class is a historical relationship between groups of people. It is a relationship of power that determines who works, what they get from it, and what impact they can have on the society at large. There is a ruling class in every society, although different types of societies are not organized in the same way. In feudal Europe royal families made up the ruling class.  In traditional African society, this was often the case as well.  This is class rule based on heredity.  In a capitalist society, heredity is much less important.  Some mobility in and out of the ruling class occurs despite the status of one's family by birth.

The overwhelming majority of adults in the U.S.A. get up every morning and go to work. They have to do this because only by doing so will they earn an income necessary for their families' survival. Therefore, political economy is a universal feature of the human experience.


Society and Nationality

There are two major aspects of society: culture and social institutions. Culture refers to values and life style, whereas social institutions refer to roles and collective forms of social interaction. These are not temporary phenomena, but are permanent features of a society that are reproduced and transmitted across generations. Nationality (sometimes called ethnicity) is the particular identity of a group based on its culture and social institutions. Historically, such identity is correlated with economic interdependence and a common language. The issue of nationality is one of the key issues of the Afro-American experience in the U.S.A.

Ideology and Consciousness

How each of these three aspects of the human experience is known, thought about, and discussed is the focus of consciousness. This is the experience of the abstract, mental images that enable one to make choices and realize human freedom regarding the physical and social worlds. While the "brain" is a physical reality, it works as a "mind" full of ideas, conceptions, imagination, opinions, beliefs, etc. There can be no "mind" without a "brain," although it is possible to have a damaged brain or be mentally ill and to be what people call "out of your mind"

The most formal organization of one's consciousness is the realm of ideology. Ideology is a set of beliefs that serve to define physical, social, mental, and spiritual reality. Everyone in society has an ideological orientation, but only trained and disciplined thinkers have a comprehensive and coherent, ideological orientation.

The Black experience is the complex sum total of all aspects of the human experience as lived by Black people. The Afro-American experience has a beginning and a definite logic of change as can be seen in Figure B.

Historical change in the Afro-American experience has alternatively represented social cohesion and social disruption. Social cohesion is an established and relatively stable pattern of social life that is transmitted across generations. This is not social life without conflict, but rather social life that can be taught to the next generation.  Social disruption occurs when these patterns are broken and people have to adjust to a new environment, to a new set of relations, to a new way of life. Of course, out of every experience of disruption emerges a new form of social cohesion. This dynamic pattern of change, historical periodization, is universal for all Black people in the U.S.A. Every person and family can locate their own experience within this pattern (see p. 26). 



The overall framework constitutes a paradigm of unity in Afro-American Studies. This figure defines a logical space for the entire field of Afro-American Studies. The columns are historical stages marked with letters, and the rows are aspects of the Black experience marked with numbers. Each box (e.g., A-1 or G-4) is a logical connection of experience within a specific historical context. With this analytical tool, it is possible to have a conception of the entire field and begin to identify boxes and sets of boxes to codify and sum up existing research, as well as to chart the path for additional new research.

This is the basis for the organization of the chapters in this book. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with columns A and B. Chapter 4 deals with column C, Chapter 5 with column E, and Chapter 6 with column G, Chapters 5, 6, and 9-13 include columns D and F where appropriate. Chapters 7 and 8 deal with row 3, mainly G-3. Chapters 9, 10, 12, and 13 all deal with row 2, again mainly G-2. Chapter 11 takes an aspect of row 4 (gender) and relates it to other rows, especially row 2. Chapter 14 deals with rows 1 and 2, Chapter 15 deals with rows 1, 2, and 4, and Chapter 16 with rows 1, 2, and 3. In general, the above connection between the paradigm of unity and the chapters is suggestive because no chapter is confined to the specific limitation of a box. But the paradigm is the basis for locating a topic of debate or discussion in such a way that it is comprehensible across ideological lines.


Figure B



Each of the following chapters should be read in relationship to the paradigm of unity. Each of the chapters has a set of key concepts, a set of study questions, and a list of supplemental readings. All aspects of the chapter should be part of your study, but you should concentrate especially on anything you are not familiar with or have not really understood in the past. You also should be using a dictionary along with this text so that you can build your vocabulary. This is essential because learning the field of Afro-American Studies means learning new concepts so that your ideas can be expressed in a clear and precise manner.

The field of Afro-American Studies is an exciting Intellectual Adventure, an experience that will open new worlds of knowledge to both Blacks and whites. Welcome aboard!



Academic discipline Intellectual history
Black Liberation Month Nationality
Historical periodization Paradigm
Identity Political economy/Class
Ideology Race/Racism


1. What is Afro-American Studies?

2. Discuss and compare the intellectual origins of Afro-American Studies in the work of DuBois, Woodson, Frazier, and Hughes.

3. How did the movement for Black Studies develop? Describe the four stages (innovation, experimentation, crisis, and institutionalization).

4. What is the paradigm for unity in Black Studies? Explain historical periodization, aspects of society, social cohesion and social disruption.




1. W. E. B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W. E. B. DuBois: A Soliloquy of Viewing My Live from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York: International Publishers, 1968.

2. Vincent Harding, There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1981.

3. Langston Hughes, A Pictorial History of the Negro in the United States. New York: Crown, 1956.

4. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books, 1981 (first published in 1965).

5. Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States. New York: Viking Press, 1941.


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