Jeanette R. Davidson
University of Oklahoma
The story of African American Studies is one of strength, resilience, accomplishment, and empowerment. African American Studies scholars have, and will continue to have, unique and far-reaching contributions within universities—intellectually, aesthetically, spiritually, politically, and culturally. At the same time, in many ways, African American Studies exemplifies the quintessential story of race in the United States, with all the challenges, power dynamics, and hard-fought successes too long in coming. As with the larger national context, so goes it for African American Studies. We have come a long way, but still have a long way to go.
With a history reaching back to Black intellectual education pioneers like W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, E. Franklin Frazier, and many others, within the field of education and in other professional arenas, and reaching beyond to scholars, activists, and artists in Africa and the Diaspora, African American Studies has a remarkable foundation.1 Building on that foundation, professors and students, and people from the community, in the late 1960s demanded that education within the “ivory towers” become relevant to Black students and other students of color, with their efforts coming to fruition in the birth of formal Black Studies.2 Since then, African American Studies has continued to grow. In measurable ways, development in scholarship, curriculum building, and creative production has been extraordinary.
To understand African American Studies, one must understand the historical context, the ongoing political and institutional struggle existing for programs and departments. One must also recognize how these