African American Studies Turns 35
When Ronald Foreman was hired in 1970 as the founding director of the African American Studies Program, it was a time of great struggle for blacks on campus. "There were very few black students here at that time," says Foreman, a retired English professor and one of the first three tenure-track black professors at UF. "We were trying to get our colleagues, whoever they might be -- white, black, blue, green -- to understand that diversity was what we wanted to have at the University of Florida."
This year, as African American studies celebrates its 35th anniversary, the program continues to grow. In 2003, it hired Stephanie Evans, who has a joint appointment with the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, in its second ever faculty position. Other recent hires include Faye Harrison from the University of Tennessee and William Baber from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro -- who are both joining the program during the 2004-2005 academic year. Within the next two years, says Interim Director Marilyn Thomas-Houston, the program expects to boast six or seven new faculty members.
"I have all praises for Dean Neil Sullivan," Thomas-Houston says. "He has really supported the program so we can develop. Once we have a solid faculty group, we can then offer a degree. Our goal is to offer both a BA and a BS."
The program currently offers an undergraduate certificate to students pursuing an interdisciplinary major, and courses such as Hip-Hop Theory and Methods, Poetry by Women of Color and Researching African-American History are taught. The focus of the program is on the historical and socio-cultural experiences of people of African origin living in the US, including Haitians, West Indians, and blacks from South and Central America.
African American studies offered its first courses in 1969, just one year after San Francisco State University established the first African American Studies Program in the nation. "African American Studies Programs all over the country were really born out of a struggle," Thomas-Houston says. "It was part of the civil rights movement and part of the student protests of the 1960s. So for us to be celebrating 35 years is remarkable. The University of Florida can be proud that our history goes back so far."
In honor of its anniversary in 2004, the program organized a variety of events for the community. In January, it kicked off a year-long celebration with "Speaking in the Name of Martin," a concert honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., held in observance of the civil rights legend's birthday. Sponsored by the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, it featured artists included Chuck D, co-creator of pioneering political rap group Public Enemy; the Boys Choir of Tallahassee; Platinum Souls, an Atlanta gospel hip-hop group; and spoken word artists Kayo and Iyeoka. The program also recieved a donation from Saturn of Gainesville which was used to fund, in part, the Ronald Foreman Lecture Series, DigNubia, an interactive archaeological exhibit for middle school children at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, and the Langston Hughes Poetry Project, which established poetry circles in the community to discuss the famed poet's work.
Most events sponsored by the program have been designed with the general public in mind, in addition to the university community. "We want to bridge the gap between what happens in academia and the lived experiences of people," Thomas-Houston says. "So we have planned events for the community that, while they have an academic foundation, are in a format and structure the general public will be attracted to."
During the upcoming fall 2004 semester, the program is planning to hold African-American movie nights, guest speakers, an open house and a closing event in February 2005. Visit www.clas.ufl.edu/afam for more information and event updates.