Black Studies Past & Present

Posted on May 17, 2013 by


Black Studies Past & Present    

By Amenseph JP Wks


Upon doing a general review and look into the history of Black Studies one will squaresfind that intensive academic efforts to reconstruct Black-African American history are said to have begun in the late 19th century; A time period that has provided great voices to the cause in the likes of W.E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Lorenzo Dow Turner, Martin Delaney and many more…

From its beginning, Black studies were established as a systematic way of studying Black people in the world; such as their history, culture, sociology, and religion. It was the study of the Black experience, culture and lifestyle. Black Studies exposed the effects of society on that experience and the realities of the Black experience within society.  Black studies served to eradicate many racial stereotypes. The result of this became a movement that grew out of the mass rebellions of black college students and faculty, in search of scholarship change. It became the field of study that analyzed and treated the past and present achievements, cultural characteristics, and issues of people of African descent in North America, the Diaspora, and Africa. This field of study challenged the socio-historical and cultural content and definition of western ideology. Ultimately, Black studies progressed throughout a field of academic and intellectual endeavors, variously labeled as Africana Studies, Afro-American Studies, African American Studies, Black Liberation Studies, Pan-African Studies and Black Nationalism; this was a direct product of the social movements of the 1950s and 1960s. The quests for African liberation, the civil rights movements, Black power and Black arts movements created an Black powerambience in which activist members of the faculties at colleges and universities and Black students who had come of age during the late 1960s sought to foster revolutionary changes in the traditional curricula. In search of relevance, black organizations sprang up on most major campuses around the nation and demanded courses in Black history and culture. Black students began to shun traditional European and European American courses in hopes of not only establishing Blacks’ contributions to history and society, but also of engendering robustly ecumenical perspectives in the curricula.

From these beginnings, the existence of Black Studies have been met with great resistance and opposition, as its creation came into being in a confrontational environment in American universities. However, bold efforts and statements were made from this movement stating the demands of the Black community to be educated realistically, where no form of education which attempts to lie to the Black masses or otherwise mis-educate them will be accepted.

Black studies curriculum having become a part of American education has progressed on many levels.  Black studies incorporated courses in African -American history, literature, and literary criticism, and were later complimented by other courses that spoke more directly to the Black experience in sociology, political science, psychology, and economics. As resources would permit, courses in art, music, language, and on other geographical areas of the African Diaspora became available.

The growth of Black studies became very influential and paved a way in the areas of self determination in Black education. Through the course of time, the academic agenda, devotion and/or platform for Black studies fell victim to what is a state of decline.  The maintaining of the goals and endeavors that have defined Black studies became increasingly difficult and has been victimized. 

Those involved in the progression of Black studies argue that, not only have their voices been marginalized, but the history of African Americans’ experiences and contributions to American history and Western culture have prejudicially and commonly missing from the texts and the curricula. Thus, Black studies functions as a supplementary academic component for the sole purpose of adding the African experience to traditional disciplines. Today Black study departments are disappearing from campuses across the nation due to finances; lack of Black leadership and organizing; the neglect of Black/African concerns, and integrated dispositions.

black study forumImplicit to Black studies is the notion that the African Diaspora experience has been ignored or has not been accurately portrayed in academia or popular culture. From the earliest period of the field to the present, this movement has had two main objectives:  first, to counteract the effects of white racism in the area of group elevation; and second, to generate a stronger sense of Black identity and community as a way of multiplying the group’s leverage in the liberation struggle.

Today we are also faced with lack of social and cultural preparation of students enrolling in colleges and universities; the insufficiency in Black student enrollments, along with the deficiency of graduation rates with those who embrace that experience.  The future of Black scholars incorporated into Black studies continues to lessen and therefore contributes to the decline of what was a significant movement in the area of education. One of the important goals of the scholars and community organizations of this period is to continue to counteract the negative images and representations of Blacks that are institutionalized within academia and society.

The development of Black studies from the very outset was marked by Blacks being compelled to evaluate the largely racist nature of established education in America. Due to European cultural hegemony, Blacks in America and Africans in the Diaspora have found the issue of perspective and relevance to be perennially problematic. While the experience of oppression and exploitation imposed a movement away from an African center, it was this experience that ultimately produced the conditions for the emergence of an African-centered consciousness. The history of Black studies established and supported Black culture centers. Today in traditional institutions the focus has become more of and embraces multicultural and diverse agendas. Conventionally, diversity studies have proven to undermine African autonomy.

For generations, African American parents have told their children that theGraduatessurest path to professional advancement is a college education. While that statement may be true, it should not be at the cost of alienating the effectiveness of what Black studies have represented and present for socio-economic and cultural advancements of the Black experience within society.  For the Black experience and realities to move forward with the drive and motivation that initiated what Black studies was and what it needs to become, there is a need to maximize and maintain current and effective models of libratory pedagogy. The Black studies and experience should not be delayed until one has an opportunity to go to college. That experience must begin from the earliest of opportunities in order to aggrandize the worth, relevance and continuity of Black studies. Some of these models are brought to fruition with the existence of independent schools – structured around African centered disciplines; Saturday schools programs – established with material to correct the public school agenda; study groups – providing a degree of ongoing and intense research toward Afrikan world views.

All of this is to get us back to where we were in the areas of dedication, intensification and the ability to build institutions being self determined and autonomous.  There must be an active and persistent voice and presentation of Black studies today, but not with the mindset of relying solely on others to provide the resources and accreditation. These models also provide an opportunity for students to have a viable access to resources of Black studies prior to college enrollment and before it’s too late. This must also be seen as more than an intellectual venture but as a model for how to use Black studies in everyday life. Black studies today should reconnect the individual with understanding the state of oppression, by identifying who is the oppressor and knowing what are the tools of the oppressor; how long that system has been in position of control, and how it became established and accepted. Black studies should be institutionalized today with the ability to provide correct knowledge, history and information that is self determined and autonomous.

Black studies should become the system that embraces the meaning of the Adinkra symbol


AYAA symbol of endurance and resourcefulness;

Like the fern is a hardy plant that can grow in difficult places.

Black Studies should be like the individual who wears this symbol suggesting that he has endured many adversities and outlasted much difficulty.