Toward a Black University: 40 Years of Africana

We would first to like to applaud The (Howard University) Hilltop for recognizing, acknowledging, and remembering the legacy of Africana Studies. We must always remember the work and sacrifice of Nathan Hare, Acklyn Lynch, Russell Adams, Ron Walters, and countless others who have contributed to the creation and maintenance of Africana studies at Howard and many other universities.

The students and some faculty of Howard, however, had their eyes set on a larger goal. The idea of starting Africana studies was centered on a larger idea of creating a truly Black university. In fact, Tuesday’s article alluded to this idea.

A series of conferences dealing with this very idea were held on campus in the late 1960s, and in 2007 the Kwame Ture Society refreshed this idea. At these conferences, scholars, activists, and community members explained the need for African people to have more control over their academic curriculum. This would entail creating an academic curriculum that not only began with the teaching of African history, but encapsulated African worldviews, philosophies, and teachings. It expands the academic understanding of African people by recognizing their distinct governance structures, ways in which they engaged in cultural meaning making, their movement and memory, how they utilized science and technology, their relationship to different social structures, and their inherent ways of knowing. A truly Black university is a university that attempts to speak in academic language that engages African people to achieve their highest potential. A truly Black university does not seek to ‘blacken’ current institutions, rather it seeks to socialize and educate based upon distinct African ways of knowing. It does not start philosophy in Greece, history in slavery, and view hip-hop as a negative phenomenon in the Black community. It is a university that recognizes and our relationship to the current social structure. It is a university that views the African experience as circular rather than linear.

For Africana scholars, there is obviously much work left to do in achieving the objective articulated by Anthony Glittens in his 1968, Hilltop interview. First we must do the work of establishing normative theory in the discipline of Africana Studies.

In 1968, Black Studies became an established program at San Francisco State University under the direction of Nathan Hare who was expelled from Howard University for inflaming students with the idea of Black Studies and promoting its institutionalization on Howard University’s campus. Nathan Hare while at Howard University and later at San Francisco State University reflected on issues within the discipline. Two years after the inception of the Black Studies program Nathan Hare continued to ponder its direction in the 1970 article entitled “Questions and Answers about Black Studies”; he attempted to answer the questions of what a black studies curriculum look like should? Who should instruct in black studies? Are white people welcomed in the discipline? If so, should they instruct or remain students?

Hare was preceded in 1969 by John W. Blassingame who in his article entitled “Black Studies: An Intellectual Crisis” questioned who should be the authoritative voice in Black Studies and what are the objectives of Black Studies? In 1980, Philip T.K. Daniel also attempted to conceptualize the agenda, direction and foundation of Black Studies, by raising the issue that there is no common ‘disciplinary thread’ in Black Studies.

Aforementioned are just a few articles on the questioning of Black Studies and the attempts to re-conceptualize the objective, the function and the direction of Black Studies in the hopes of creating a foundation in which we can establish systemic change in the black community. This is a 40 year discussion that has not lead to any progressive or productive change, or resolutions. In short, there are gatekeepers in Africana Studies who are promoting themselves instead of creating foundations to promote the community.

Howard must challenge these current arrangements and answer the aforementioned questions if it truly wants to establish Africana Studies, toward a truly Black university. This starts with effective leadership. We hope that this will inspire us to think seriously about our part in the creation of a secure foundation embedded in the tradition of Baba John Henrik Clarke, Baba Asa G. Hilliard III, Baba Jacob Carruthers, Baba Yosef A. A. Ben Jochannan, Baba Carter G. Woodson, Baba Cheikh Anta Diop, Baba Theophile Obenga, Baba Martin R. Delaney, Mama Maria M. Stewart, Mama Fannie Lou Hamer, Baba Paul Robeson, Baba Marcus Garvey, Baba Malcolm X, Baba Greg Kimathi Carr, Baba Mario Beatty and Mama Ida B. Wells, Mama Nzinga Ratbisha Heru, Mama Valenthia Watkins-Beatty, Baba Kwame Ture, Baba Boukman, Mama Zora Neale Hurston, Baba Nat Turner, Baba Jules Harrell, Mama Marimba Ani, Baba Ayei Kwei Armah and many many more scholars.

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by Courtney Javois and Josh Myers

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