The Founding of the Department
As is the case for most Black Studies departments, the founding of our department was precipitated by dedicated students on the Northeastern campus who demanded programs and courses that dealt with their Black heritage. This demand was necessitated by the dearth of courses centered on Black issues in the curriculum of Northeastern and other US universities.
When the department was first established in 1973, it was listed in Northeastern University catalogs as “Afro-American Studies” and it had one faculty, Professor Ramona H. Edlin, who was also the Chair. After two years, the department’s name was changed to African-American Studies Department to reflect the breath of the new curriculum that covered Africa in addition to North America, especially the Black experience in the US. Two new faculty also joined the department. These were Professors Stanlake Samkange and Daniel Nyangani. In 1976, the faculty grew to five with the hiring of Professors Holly M. Carter and William D. McLaurin with Professor Edlin continuing as Chair. In 1978, when Professor Edlin left the department, Professor McLaurin assumed the Chairship. However, both McLaurin and Samkange left in 1979 while the following new Professors were hired: Joseph D. Warren, V.A. Wood, C.W. Arnold and Robert Hayden. Professor Carter became the new Chair, while two new faculty were added to the department in the persons of JoAnn Gray and Gregory Ricks in 1980-81. The next year, Professor Jordan Gerbre-Medhin was appointed to the department.
The First Turbulent Years (The Early 1980s)
The well being of the department parallels that of most Black Studies Departments in the US. It also seems to be not too different from the fortunes of the majority of the Black population. The department has experienced periods of decline and spurts in growth since its founding in 1973. From 1982-84 the department experienced its first episode of turbulence. For example, in the 1982-83 course catalog there was no mention or listing of the department. The department was then listed as “an Interdisciplinary Program” and the faculty was reduced to three. The situation got more aggravated when one more faculty was lost in 1983-84 and only two professors were left.
In 1985-86, the future of the department begun to brighten a little more as two new faculty, Professors E.D. Brown and Patrick Manning, were hired to join Professors Carter and Gebre-Medhin. Dr. Ozzie L. Edwards became “the Coordinator” (not the Chair of Department).
The Revitalization of the Late 1980s
Since 1989-90, the department has retained the African-American Studies Department name reflecting the focus on the lives, experiences and history of people in the African Diaspora and in Africa. Thus in spite of varying fortunes, the department has steadfastly sought to cover the Black experience in North America, the Caribbean and most of the 54 countries of Africa. This has been made possible largely due to the struggles and diligent efforts of individuals and groups at Northeastern University. Some of these efforts culminated in the revitalization of the 1988-94 period marked by the naming of Professor Ronald Bailey as Chair. That was followed by a growth in the faculty to 13 professors. These included professors with joint appointments in Music, English and History Departments and a total of eight newly hired faculty. The department also had many visiting and research associates including international scholars who complemented the strength and expertise of the full-time faculty. The repertoire of courses grew in both size and diversity to include African language courses.
After the mid-1990s, the department began experiencing a decline in the size of the faculty due to several faculty-taking appointments, often as chairs, at other universities. The department lost five full-time faculty members who were not replaced with new hires.
Through the late 1990s and early 2000s the department has worked hard to stabilize and continue the innovative path of excellence in teaching, research and service to our students and communities. In recognition of the department’s bona fide interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary and diverse curriculum, a survey by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Summer 2003), ranked the department in the top 15% for breadth of courses and the large number of science- related courses taught.