Sepia toned map of Southeast Ohio
Claiming an Education: Early Black American Humanists

African American Studies Begins at Ohio University

An Undergraduate Program, the First Black Tenured Professor, and Eventually a Department

Center for Afro-American Studies brochure, circa early 1970s. It highlights Undergraduate and Graduate programs, Black Studies Institute and Resource Center, Interaction, Courses and Other Programs and Activities
Center for Afro-American Studies brochure, circa early 1970s. Courtesy of Ohio University Digital Archives.

History of African American Studies

The Black Studies Institute: On Dec. 1, 1968, a group presented then Ohio University President Vernon Alden with a list of six demands. One of those demands was for a Black “curriculum with full University accreditation, which would be created, administered, and directed by black professors and students.” Today’s African American Studies Department at Ohio University is descended from the Black Studies Institute, originally established in 1969 as a result of the efforts of those Black students and faculty. 

Additional Demands: Their other five demands included: a Black residence hall, unrestricted admission of Black freshmen with financial aid granted as needed, a Black scholarship and recruitment program, a Black resource and service center, and the establishment of a Black student growth fund begun with the $35 Black students were paying quarterly into the general student fund. These were addressed through mediated negotiations over the following months and years.


1969 news release says Ohio University's senior administrative officers committed themselves to the establishment of a Black Studies Institute, announced President Vernon R. Alden.
1969 news release. Courtesy of Ohio University Digital Archives.

An Executive Dean of Afro-American Affairs: On April 25, 1969, Ohio University announced its approval of the new Black Studies Institute along with the promise to hire an executive dean of Afro-American Affairs and to secure $250,000 in funding with classes set to begin that fall. Indeed, the efforts of Ohio University’s Black students and faculty resulted in an undergraduate program, which today describes itself as “an interdisciplinary academic enterprise focused on the rigorous study of the life, history and culture of people of African descent.” Harry Morgan appears to have served as the first dean, beginning in 1970. He left Ohio University in 1972 and went on to a notable career in early childhood education at Syracuse University and then at the University of West Georgia. 


Harry Morgan, dean of African American Studies, Ohio University, 1970
Harry Morgan, dean of African American Studies, Ohio University, 1970. Courtesy of Ohio University Archives.

Departmental Status: Back at Ohio University, the Black Studies Institute graduated its first undergraduate, Curtis Richardson, in 1971. The center was subsequently renamed the African American Studies Institute and later, department. The African American Studies Department today remains one of a few such programs with departmental status in the state of Ohio.

Dr. Francine Childs


Francine Childs in academic regalia

First Tenured Black Professor: In 1977 Francine Cheryl Childs became the first tenured Black Professor at OHIO. Childs joined the faculty in 1974 as an Associate Professor of Black Studies in the new Afro American Studies program. She was named Peace Corps Black Educator of the Year in 1989 and received the Presidential Award for outstanding scholarship and service to the African global community and contributions to the promotion and development of Black Studies in 1992. 

A Legacy: Today, the Ohio University Francine Childs Diversity Leadership Award is named in her honor.

See more about Dr. Childs' impact at OHIO.

Preserving the history of the African American Studies Department

See the new African American Studies Department’s collection, which documents the history of that department from 1969 through the present in the Ohio University Libraries Archives and Special Collection.


Read Margaret Spetz's blog about her Spring 2023 semester working on the collection.

Illustration in an early Afro American Studies brochure