This article is an interview of Francine Childs. She was the first Black full professor at Ohio University, and she was the first-and only-woman to chair the Department of African American Studies. This interview specifically focuses on her challenges as a faculty member and as the chair concerning gender and racial equality during the early stage of Black Studies programs in the United States. In 2012, the Department of African American Studies at Ohio University will celebrate its 43rd anniversary, its longevity in part due to her dedication at the helm.
Singer Bob Marley's first hit was "No Woman, No Cry," released with the Wailers in 1975. It achieved popularity worldwide for its easygoing reggae tune and can be heard on YouTube. However, this song also had a strong social message: for women to refrain from crying in spite of the world's problems.
At about the same time, in 1974, Dr. Francine Childs joined the faculty of Ohio University (OU) in Athens, Ohio, as an associate professor of Black Studies. She became the first Black full professor at the school. Further, she became the first female chair of the Department of African American Studies (Chunnu, 2010). Ohio University, founded in 1804, is the oldest institution of higher education not only in the state of Ohio, but also in the Northwest Territory. It was one of the few universities during the antebellum era that admitted Black students. John Newton Templeton, for example, was the first Black to graduate from the institution in 1828 (37 years before the end of the American Civil War) (Hollow, 2004; Hoover, 1954). However, it was not until 140 years after the university's founding, in 1968, that the university started its African American Studies department. At that point, there was a demand for Black Studies programs and classes throughout the country (For instance, San Francisco State University started such a program in 1966.)
Historically, early reggae music was the voice of equality and social justice in the wake of the decolonization of Jamaica (Bradley, 2002). In somewhat the same hopeful spirit, Black Studies programs in the United States (as well as other ethnic and gender studies programs) were conceptualized from an ideological standpoint of social justice. Such programs seek to debunk the ideology that a European-centered lens is the only way to view the world (Alkalimat, 2007; Christian, 2007).
But sometimes social justice aims become mired in contradictions. For example, some reggae music, once the voice of equality, has now become intertwined with misogyny and homophobia (Boyce & Chunnu, 2012; Kapp, 1992). Likewise, Black Studies programs, despite their goal of social justice, have also, in some degree, been subjected to institutional sexism and racism. For example, Dr. Childs experienced racism at the college level, in addition to sexism at the departmental level. This is her story.
Did you play a role in Black Studies, in the construction of the discipline, before you came to Ohio University? Were you involved in the 1960s?
I was involved as a student. But because I was at Historically Black Colleges, it was a whole different setting. Before I came to OU, I was the dean of students at Wiley College. I worked closely with students, taking them to different forums and organizing them, helping them to organize in the community.
Around the 1960s movement?
I was active as an undergraduate student; that's where I first met Dr. King. Then I went back to my school and organized a protest. One of my friends was working at the 7-Eleven store, but he was not working for the company because the company was not hiring Blacks. Rather, a White manager at the store was paying a Black student out of his pocket to work there. This 7-Eleven store was right across the street from our campus. It was in the heart of the Black neighborhood. So I said, "Oh, no, this can't happen." I was a graduating senior, too. …