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February 04, 2011

CWRU’s Afro-American Studies Program

1968 - a tumultuous a year! The assassination of a presidential candidate who was the brother of an assassinated president; the assassination of a preeminent civil rights leader. The civil rights movement. The women’s rights movement. The Vietnam War. Riots in cities across the nation: Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago. Demands across the nation for reform and changes in higher education. Enter a year-old university, itself suffering the pangs of a new marriage between a technological institute and a university.

In December 1968 the newly-formed Afro-American Society at CWRU presented demands to university president Robert W. Morse in letters dated December 2 and December 5, 1968. Among them was the “Institution of courses in the curriculum leading to a degree in Afro-American studies.”[1] Morse, in his letter of 12/13/1968, agreed that the university should be more effective in “incorporating Afro-American culture in its courses and academic programs.” He requested the Joint Curriculum Committee (of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Case Faculty) set up a task force to promote the development of new courses and explore the feasibility of a major in Afro-American studies. “The Task Force on Afro-American Curriculum was appointed by the Joint Curriculum Committee on February 24, 1969. “[2]

Courses with Afro-American content were already offered at the university, however, the administration and the Afro-American Society were in agreement that “considerable strengthening of the Afro-American components in various parts of the University curriculum is needed.”[3]

John McCluskey was appointed as the first head of the program. The program became a part of the Division of Special Interdisciplinary Studies. In the Fall semester 1969 McCluskey taught 2 courses: Myth and Ritual in Afro-American Culture I and Afro-American Cultural Expressions.

The program was listed as a minor beginning in 1972 and published a research journal, Ju Ju.

Enrollment grew from 77 in 4 courses in 1969/70 to 280 in 18 courses in 1970/71. Courses included: Black Renaissance, Black Communications, Poverty & Health in the Inner City, Dynamics of Social Stratification in a Black Society, Law as it relates to Black Community, and others. The highest enrollment was 301 in 20 courses in the 1974/75 academic year.

This success was short-lived however, as college enrollments across the country dropped. Financial problems continued at the university throughout the 1970s and support for the program waned. In 1976, the program’s chairman, James N. Kerri, resigned. Afro-American Studies was one of several programs at the university that were discontinued in the 1970s, including Urban Studies and Applied Social Sciences, Architecture, and Education.

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Afro-American Studies Program brochure

[1] Letter, Case Western Reserve University Afro-American Society to President Morse, 12/2/1968; Letter, Case Western Reserve University Afro-American Society to President Morse, 12/5/1968
[2] Report of the Task Force on Afro-American Curriculum, 12/1/1969
[3] Letter, Robert W. Morse to Members of The Afro-American Society of Case Western Reserve University, 12/13/1968

Other African American History Month recollections include John Sykes Fayette and African-American Society

Posted by hxy2 at February 4, 2011 03:39 PM

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