Bone by Bone: Linking the Glorious Past of African-American Women to Today's Scholarly Achievements

By Rusher, Annette W. | Black Issues in Higher Education, July 26, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Bone by Bone: Linking the Glorious Past of African-American Women to Today's Scholarly Achievements


Rusher, Annette W., Black Issues in Higher Education


Bone By Bone: Linking the Glorious Past of African-American Women to. Today's Scholarly Achievements

Over 150 years ago, Maria W. Stewart became the first African-American woman to lecture in public on political issues and to leave copies of her texts for public scrutiny. Today, Alice Walker, a scholar with an equally formidable reputation, recently stated, "A people do not throw their geniuses away -- if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists, scholars and witnesses for the future to collect them for the sake of our children; if necessary bone by bone."

Stewart, Walker, Fannie B. Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Toni Morrison, Barbara Smith and Ida B. Wells, in spite of their oppression, have produced volumes of scholarly works to benefit African Americans, and in particular, the Black woman.

Contemporary African-American women scholars have taken up the "torch of wisdom" and continue to run with it. Audrey Williams, Patricia Wilham, Julianne Malveaux, Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Joyce Ladner are just a few of the African-American women scholars actively publishing scholarly works in journals and producing books.

With such a rich, but limited, history of African-American scholars in our past coupled with the growing number of scholars present today, there is still a paucity of scholarly activity produced by African-American women and African-American women administrators in higher education.

The Stigma

Since the Black colleges' early inception, many changes have taken place for African Americans in education. The civil rights movement made minority issues matters of public and scholarly concern. The early 1970s initiated the formal collection of data on African Americans in higher education. Statistics show that there are more college-educated African-American women than men, and more African-American women occupying professional positions than African-American men.

Reports show that African-American women and men were perceived or stereotyped as being less qualified and that they were treated with disrespect by their white colleagues. The stigma was even tougher on African-American women in both types of institutions (historically Black and traditionally white) because they were treated superficially and viewed in terms of their sexuality -- they were perceived as lacking the ability for attaining either status or power. Color also had a negative impact on workplace performance and career advancement.

African-American females, in spite of many obstacles, have continually acquired advanced degrees. In 1986, they received 61 percent of the doctorates awarded to Black candidates. One possible reason for this may be what Reginald Wilson of the American Council of Education identifies as "the decision of faculty in selecting their peers." That is, when identifying people to be their academic peers, white males appear to select African-American females over African-American males.

Howard University, an icon among historically Black colleges and universities, is credited with educating some of the most prominent African-American women of our time. However, Howard kept part of its history alive when it recently appointed Dr. H. Patrick Swygert as chief executive officer. Howard University has never selected a woman as chief executive officer in its 127-year history. A recent article in Black Issues In Higher Education acknowledged that educators, Black and white, male and female, have acknowledged that Black institutions are slow in promoting the careers of women.

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