Department of African-American Studies

During the 1960s, African American students noted that all of Northeastern’s social science and humanities courses focused on western civilization. Members of the university’s Afro-American Society were upset with the omission of African American history and cultural values in the curriculum. One of the society’s first accomplishments was to demand the establishment of a course that focused on the history of African Americans. Since there was were no African American faculty members in the History Department, the association agreed to allow a qualified white instructor to teach the course. American Negro History was taught for the first time in winter quarter, 1969 by Prof. Donald M. Jacobs. This was the first step in forming the Department of African-American Studies.

With mounting insistence from the university’s African American students, George Rowland class of 1973 chief among them, courses of interest were slowly implemented into the curriculum. The second and third demands of the 13 demands gained the students an African American literature course and the ability to reevaluate all social-science and humanities courses. Also, the tenth demand created language courses in Swahili and Arabic.

Black Studies Department Formed
Black Studies Department Awaits Deciding Vote
Black Students Get Afro-American Studies Center


President Knowles formed the Black Studies Proposal Committee to develop a plan for forming a department. The committee comprised two members of the Liberal Arts Curriculum Committee (professors Maurice A. Gilmore and David Schmitt), two appointees of the Faculty Senate (Dean Charles F. Haley and Prof. Donald M. Jacobs), Robert A. Shepard, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and two representatives of the African-American Institute (Dean Gregory T. Ricks and Prof. Ramona H. Edelin)

Knowing that many universities and colleges across the country had started black studies departments that failed, Edelin (PhD, Boston University) and Ricks (MA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), director of the African-American Institute, conducted research and spoke to many African American educators in their efforts to create a feasible and long lasting program. The proposal for the department was approved by the College of Liberal Arts, the Faculty Senate, and President Knowles and the trustees. In the 1973-74 academic year, the department, which was listed in the Northeastern University catalog as Afro-American Studies became operational. It offered 36 courses (in addition to 24 relevant courses in other departments) and had a staff of four full-time and 13 part-time instructors. Ramona Edelin was the department’s first chair. Classes were held at the African-American Institute’s library in the Norfolk House; later, they moved to the fourth floor of 11 Leon St.

Black Studies Expanded
Black Studies Progress
Black Studies Department Adds to Rounded Education