On Thursday September 25, 1969 an article in The News, Boston University’s newspaper, announced that “a program leading to the Master of Arts degree in Afro-American Studies is being offered by the University this year for the first time.” The first seeds of the program, which enrolled four students in its first year, had been sown back in February of 1968 when an African American student had approached Dr. Adelaide Cromwell (known then as Dr. Hill) about the need for some kind of department at Boston University to focus on African American Studies.
That year was a volatile one in American and African American history, and no less so at Boston University. The United States had been in a jungle war in Vietnam for three years, and opposition to the war was growing across the country. On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson responded to swelling anti-war sentiment manifested in the New Hampshire primary election by announcing his decision not to seek another term. Less than a week later, on April 4, Boston University alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. On April 11, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. Violence continued through the summer, however, with the assassination of presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy and rioting at the Democratic National Convention in August.
In the wake of this turmoil, Boston University established the first graduate African American Studies Program in the country, an initiative that was the result of conversations between Dr. Cromwell and Deans William J. Newman and Calvin B.T. Lee. The program combined university coursework with field assignments in the greater Boston community. Community engagement was particularly important to Dr. Cromwell who stated that “you want the community to care, to feel that they have the right to tell you if something is wrong.” In 1976 the program expanded to offer a joint MA degree with Journalism under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
African American Studies Today
Today, the African American Studies Program offers the Master of Arts degree in the African American Experience in Global and Comparative Perspective, and an undergraduate minor. Courses, research, and public lectures and colloquia address the global dimensions of the African American experience, including connections between African Americans and other global populations; cultural exchanges; the African American influence in the world; the impact of global forces on the shaping of African American history and culture; and the critical interrogation of race and ethnic identities globally.
As part of its mission the program promotes appreciation of the value of the African American experience to the global community through the recruitment of international students, fellows, and visiting scholars, and through collaboration with foreign faculty, universities, institutes, and educational agencies interested in international education. At the same time, the program works to develop the global consciousness of all Americans. Our program is an ideal home for all intellectual workers dedicated to the study of human connectedness.
(Adapted from research done by Mary Anne Boelcskevy).