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Collection Overview

Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:Dept. of African American Studies records
Call Number:A118

Historical Note

The Department of Afro-American Studies was created in 1973 by the College of Liberal Arts in response to the demands of Northeastern's African American students and a nation-wide trend towards the foundation of ethnic studies departments. The African-American Institute had been offering courses in “Black Studies” with a wide variety of topics including music, cultural relations, African history, African American Literature, and Swahili. These courses were consolidated and accredited by the University in the new Department. By the mid-1970s, over 40 courses were offered.

During the 1970s, the Department worked to establish itself and appeal to a wide range of student interests by offering courses on the African American experience in literature, art, music, history, politics, and film. For its first seven years, the Department and the African-American Institute were closely linked, sharing resources and, often, staff members. The Department worked co-operatively with the Institute, the African American Master Artists-in-Residence program, and, after 1972, Project Ujima, a program designed to assist non-traditional college freshmen acclimate to university level work, to provide a variety of services, classes, and events for Northeastern students and the surrounding Roxbury community. When the program was started in 1972, it was known as “The Summer Program” and was not formally named until 1974. In 1975, the Department changed its name to the African American Studies Department.

By 1980, the Department had six faculty members and had broadened its course offerings and relationship to other University departments, offering cross-disciplinary courses with the history and music departments. In the early 1980s, the Department suffered considerable attrition, losing most of its full-time faculty positions and being listed in the course catalog as an “Interdisciplinary Program” rather than as a department. In 1982, there was a motion by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to abolish the Department; after protests by students, Dr. Ozzie Edwards, the head of the Department, and Verdaya Mitchell-Brown, the African-American Institute librarian, the motion was reversed by President Kenneth Ryder. The program was renamed the Department of African American Studies in 1989.

By 1990 the number of full-time faculty members in the African American Studies program had increased and the Department began to reach out to area educators, offering summer institutes for Boston-area teachers on topics in African and African American history and literature. The summer Nubian Institutes, begun in 1993, culminated in the online Nubianet project ( and a collaboration with the Education Development Center to develop the DigNubia educational website ( In 1994, the Department created the John Coltrane Memorial Concert Educational Outreach Program, a companion program to the annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert. The aim of the Outreach Program is to bring live music performance into selected Boston area schools. By the mid-1990s, the Department had 13 faculty members, many of them with cross-disciplinary appointments, including in the history and music departments.

The Department currently has six full-time faculty and draws on a nation-wide scholarly community for visiting scholars and lecturers. The Department also oversees the John Coltrane Memorial Concert, the Stormy Monday colloquia series, and the Model African Union which involve students, staff, and faculty members in cultural and political events. In 2003, a survey by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education ranked the Department in the top 15% of African American studies departments for the breadth of courses and the number of science courses offered. In 2008, the Department created the Afro-Caribbean Music Project which gives students a chance to travel and perform field research in the Caribbean during a summer semester. The students work with faculty members at various locations in the Caribbean to capture musical performances and oral histories from musicians, performers, historians, and local public figures.
1973Department founded as Afro-American Studies.
1974“The Summer Program” institutionalized as Project Ujima.
1975Name changes to African American Studies Department.
1978First chair of Department, Ramona Edelin, leaves.
1980sLoses “department” status; called “Interdisciplinary Program.”
1989Name changes to Department of African American Studies.
1993First Summer Institute on Nubia.
1994John Coltrane Memorial Concert Educational Outreach Program founded.
1998Co-hosts Ninth International Conference of Nubian Studies with the Museum of Fine Arts.
2003Survey by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education ranks the Department in the top 15% nationally for breadth of courses and number of science courses offered.
2008Afro-Caribbean Music Project founded.
Chronology of Chairs and Coordinators
1973-1978Ramona Edelin
1978-1979William D. McLaurin (Acting Chair)
1979-1981Holly M. Carter (Acting Chair)
1981-1985Holly M. Carter
1985-1987Ozzie L. Edwards (Chair and Coordinator)
1987-1991?Leonard Brown (Acting Chair)
1991-1995Ronald W. Bailey
1995-1997Patrick Manning (Acting Chair)
1997-1998Ronald W. Bailey (Acting Chair)
1998-2003Robert L. Hall
2003-2006Kwamina Panford
2006-2009Robert L. Hall (Acting Chair)
2009-Emmett G. Price

“Department of African American Studies: Afro-Caribbean Music Research Project (ACMRP),” (accessed July 2010).

“Department of African American Studies: History,” (accessed June 2010).

“John D. O'Bryant African-American Institute: History,” (accessed June 2010).

“John D. O'Bryant African-American Institute: Ujima Scholars,” (accessed June 2010).