History of the African-American Studies Program at Chicago State University

In the late 1960s, Black students at Chicago State University along with hundreds of other African Black students across the United States started to protest for the inclusion of African American Studies in the university curriculum. Many formerly all white universities had begun to admit significant numbers of Black students who did not see themselves reflected in the curriculum. As a predominantly white university founded in 1867, Chicago State had little or no reflection of the African American experience in its curriculum. As racial tension mounted because of dissatisfaction with the university’s response to demands for change, Black students at Chicago State decided to take direct action. In March of 1969, in order to underscore the seriousness of their demands, Black students at Chicago State launched a protest by setting fires in the Stewart Building, which was located on CSU’s former campus. Additionally, they seized control of the administration building and held Dean Theodore Stolarz and Erik Sharr, then Assistants to President Byrd, hostage for several hours.

As a first step toward establishing programs that focused on the African American experience, the university established what was referred to as a Committee on Black Studies. Eventually, based on the recommendations of this committee, the university established a Coordinator’s position and a full-time person was hired to coordinate the Black Studies Program and the Black Cultural Center. By the early 1970s, the College had identified approximately thirty courses that students could take that were related to black culture and the black experience. Also, it began to offer a concentration in Black Studies that required a minimum of fifteen credit hours.

This arrangement lasted through the 1980s and into the middle of the 1990s when the university, in 1996, created a full-fledged department of African American Studies with its own courses. Currently, in 2008, the department offers both a major and a minor in the discipline and is planning to develop a masters degree within the next five years. It offers a variety of courses that focus on the Black experience which include courses on Black Chicago, W.E.B. DuBois and Pan Africanism, Black Women in Africa and the Diaspora, Educational Issues in Black Community, Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Cultural Diversity and the American Experience, and African and African American Leadership. Its goal is to continue to offer students at Chicago State a first class intellectual foundational grounding in the African Diasporic experience that is second to none in the nation.

Bart McSwine