Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Celebrating Our Elders: Pan-African Studies Looks Back with Elders, Professor Jan Carew, Dr. Robert Douglas, Dr. Susan Herlin, Dean J. Blaine Hudson, and Dr. Yvonne Jones

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Celebrating Our Elders: Pan-African Studies Looks Back with Elders, Professor Jan Carew, Dr. Robert Douglas, Dr. Susan Herlin, Dean J. Blaine Hudson, and Dr. Yvonne Jones

Article excerpt

Introduction: Our Celebration

On September 5, 2013, the University of Louisville's Department of Pan-African Studies (PAS) celebrated its 40th anniversary in the Elaine Chao Auditorium of the Ekstrom Library. In embarking on this 40th year, we took the time to celebrate our "Elders" and the overfill crowd of students, faculty members, administrators, and community supporters joined us in honoring people who were key to the development and sustenance of the department. Virtually and in person, the audience heard from those who set the tone of the vibrant studies for which our Department has come to be known. Like the Sankofa bird turning its head to look back, we acknowledge our roots and draw strength and inspiration from them as we go forward.

Two of our "Elders," Professor Jan Carew at 92 and Dean J. Blaine Hudson at 63, had left us within the past academic year, but whose mark on the field and on the Department could not have been more significant. Thus, while we did not have the benefit of their physical presence, we prepared a virtual presentation to bring them into the auditorium, to remind us of their trailblazing and to help us celebrate this auspicious occasion. In addition to these trailblazers, three of our "Elders:" Dr. Robert Douglas, Dr. Susan Herlin, and Dr. Yvonne Jones, shared their experiences spanning the 40 years of the Department's existence. With the addition of follow-up interviews of the latter three and archival materials, we get a glimpse of the lives and times of not only these five important scholars and community members, but also of a department that ebbed and flowed like its sister Black Studies departments across the nation.

Professor Jan Carew

A virtual Jan Carew came up on screen, at the time in his 70s, in one of his lectures on the Black-Seminole alliances in Florida in the first half of the 19th century. Professor Carew admonished the audience, "white historiography divides us. [but] we need to focus on the unities in struggle that took place in history." Continuing the point, he observed, "One of the interesting things about white historiography, this Eurocentric historiography, is that it hones in on the things that separate us. They separate us from ourselves ... from our ancestors. from our history...from our families. They divide us into little fragments." Challenging this, he said, "my historiography hones in on just this point. Because the logic of the situation is that, if people who were oppressed-like the Native Americans were and like the African ancestors were-obviously they resisted that oppression! And, obviously, as intelligent human beings, it occurred to them that by uniting against a common foe, they would have greater strength in the struggle." But this was not just an historical capsule, as Professor Carew reminded us, "You're going to find this uniting of the oppressed threading its way through the entire history for five centuries" (Carew, 2014).

Professor Carew lived a life committed to art and social change that stretched from his early years in British Guiana, spanning across four continents, and interacting with many of the world's Black leaders and thinkers of the 20th century. Originally from British Guiana (now known as Guyana) in South America, Professor Carew came to the United States initially as a student just after World War II. He began Pre-Med studies at Howard University in Washington, DC, but frustrated with the racism and Jim Crow humiliations, he moved further north to study at Western Reserve University in Cleveland. But, again, confronted by Northern racist restrictions, he began to look for alternatives. Having made friends with the son of the Czech Counsel General, he welcomed the possibility of a scholarship to study at Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Like many struggling people in developing societies in the first half of the 20th century, he had a curiosity about the Socialist model of constructing new, more humane societies. …

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