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U.S. Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Black Studies Programs

MU observes Black History Month with acclaimed author Noliwe Rooks lecture on Black Studies in the 21st Century

Feb. 3, 2009

Story Contact:  Jeffrey Beeson, (573) 882- 9144,

COLUMBIA, Mo. - In January, the world watched and welcomed the first black president of the United States. This month, another historic moment in African-American history will be celebrated as colleges and universities nationwide commemorate the 40th anniversary of Black Studies in the United States. University of Missouri leaders also are celebrating this national anniversary with a month-long series during Black History Month.

"A quest for change, a concern for freedom and justice for all Americans, and the opportunity to become more culturally aware were the issues that ignited the integration of academic institutions," said Wilma King, Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professor and interim director of MU's Black Studies. "These same issues sparked the introduction of a program that emphasized critical analysis of the history, current condition and future possibilities for blacks in America known as Black Studies."

Nathan Hare, a socially active professor from San Francisco State University, founded the first Black Studies Program in 1968, which became a department a year later. Between 1969 and 1973, roughly 600 programs and departments were created. Currently, approximately 200 Black Studies disciplines throughout the United States strive to discover the African roots of humanity, challenge the status quo and critique social policy. Through their courses, the faculty are able to accomplish their goals through cultural grounding, academic excellence and social responsibility.

"The central mission of the Black Studies Program is to prepare students to critically understand the experiences of people of African descent in the United States, Africa and the Diaspora," said David Brunsma, interim assistant director of Black Studies. "The program’s interdisciplinary design encourages specialization within the university's broad liberal arts curriculum."

At MU, students and faculty were the catalyst for creating a greater African-American presence. The Legion of Black Collegians was created by undergraduates who wanted to experience the total scope of American history at a college that was a truly inclusive institution. With the help of Arvarh Strickland, professor of history, and the Ethnic Minorities Committee, critical changes occurred on the MU campus including minority representation on committees, the creation of a Black Culture Center, and the establishment of a Black Studies program 39 years ago.

"The Black Studies approach has, from its beginnings, been embedded within the tradition of the scholar-activist," Brunsma said. "A tradition of pursuing knowledge not for knowledge’s sake, but pursuing knowledge for the good it can do for the black community and humanity at large."

Among the events in February are viewings and discussions of African-American films and a presentation from Noliwe Rooks, the associate director of African-American Studies at Princeton University. The critically acclaimed author will present, "Back to the Future: Black Studies in the 21st Century."


Editor's Note: See calendar for a complete schedule of Black History Month events.