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History of African American Studies at OHIO

History of Activism

Martin Luther King Jr. at Athens conference in 1960
Image appears in the Ohio Alumnus, January 1960, caption: "Each day while the Conference was in session, a press conference was held each morning with newsmen and photographers from newspapers, radio and television attending. Above Martin Luther King answers a question for the newsmen. Seated beside Rev. King is Dr. Winburn Thomas, leader of the forum on racial tensions. Mr. 'Bola Ige, co-secretary of the conference, which is sponsored by the National Student Christian Federation, in on the right."

"At 4:30 am on December 27 a group of students from colleges and universities in the Western states stepped off the train in Athens and immediately checked in at Ohio University dormitories. By midnight the number had swelled to nearly 3,600, arriving by train, bus and automobile from every section of our country.

Next morning the delegation assembled for the most widely representative student conference held in the Western Hemisphere: the 18th Ecumenical Student Conference on the Christian World Mission..." Read more at the Ohio Alumnus.


Center for Afro-American Studies brochure, circa early 1970s
Center for Afro-American Studies brochure, circa early 1970s

History of the Department

Through the efforts of Black students and faculty, African American Studies at Ohio University was established in 1969 under the name Center for Afro-American Studies, which included the Black Studies Institute and Resource Center.


Grover Center student rally, Gordon Parks speaker, May 1970
Student rally in Grover Center following the May 4 Kent State shootings, with speaker Gordon Parks. Parks was at Ohio University as a guest speaker at Ohio University College of Communication's Communication Week, as well as a recipient of the college's Carr Van Anda Award. Following his planned Communication Week talk, Parks joined the striking students in Grover Center and also spoke there. Parks (1912-2006) was well known as a documentary photojournalist, working for FSA, then as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life Magazine. Image appears in Ohio University Alumni Journal, June 1970 with caption "LIFE photographer Gordon Parks, guest speaker during Communication Week, addressed a rally of some 4,000 students in Grover Center after his talk in Memorial Auditorium." Read more at the OHIO Alumni Journal.

Students presented University President Vernon Alden, with a list of demands. One of those demands resulted in an undergraduate program focused on the life, history and culture of people of African descent. The center was subsequently renamed the African American Studies Institute and later department. The African American Studies Institute, later African American Studies Department, graduated its first undergraduate, Curtis Richardson, in 1971.

It remains one of a few programs with departmental status in the state of Ohio.

A centerpiece of that legacy is the faculty's shared vision and philosophy with the National Council for Black Studies, which is to promote academic excellence and social responsibility in the areas of teaching, research, and service. The department is committed to producing persons who are capable of solving problems in American (and global) society.