Our Intellectual Moorings

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Our Intellectual Moorings: Today in the academy, including some Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it is possible to earn a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline or field of study and not be knowledgeable of the contributions of individuals of African descent to that specific discipline. Regardless of the area of study, Africans and African Americans were largely responsible for the shaping of each and every discipline in the academy. Where they were not responsible for shaping it, they succeeded in using the various modes of inquiry inherent in these disciplines to examine the African experience.

Africana studies stands out as the one discipline that seeks to draw from these intellectual moorings to shape a unique discipline designed to explore the intellectual, cultural, and social foundation of African people throughout the world. However, as Professor Jules Harrell has stated, “everyone cannot be in Africana studies”, so it is therefore important that we cultivate scholars in the tradition of the intellectual forbears of Africana studies, to use their discipline as intellectual instruments for social change and new ideas in scholarship.

In the discipline of History, Africans have been major contributors in terms of correcting the European scholarly fraud inherent in the field. Carter Godwin Woodson, known for creating and instituting Negro History Week, was also one of the most important intellectual forces in the field. Author of works such as The Negro in Our History, and Handbook for the Study of the Negro were early major works. Creation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and the Journal of the Negro history, later headed by Howard professor and legend Rayford Logan, were watershed moments in the study of African American history. However, historians such as William Wells Brown, George Washington Williams, Hosea Eaton, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and notably Martin Robinson Delany wrote seminal works in the field. These are just a few of the 19th century contributors to African American history. The American Negro Academy, headed by Alexander Crummell, is but one of the many organizations that advanced the study of African Americans. Delany, William Leo Hansberry, and Druscilla Dungee Houston among others pioneered the study of Ancient African history giving rise to a cadre of scholars that included Chiekh Anta Diop, John Henrik Clarke, Jacob Carruthers, Chancellor Williams and many others.

The great interdiscplinarian, William Edward Burghardt Dubois, was instrumental in the field of Sociology, his work The Philadelphia Negro stands alone. Other key African sociologists include Horace Mann-Bond, Horace Cayton, Charles Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, and St. Clair Drake. Drake, along with Zora Neal Hurston (known for creating The Hilltop), were two of the first African Americans trained in Anthropology. In the area of Philosophy, African Americans have also long been pioneers; Alain Locke was instrumental in the development of Africana Philosophy and a forerunner to Lucius Outlaw, and Howard’s own Segun Gbadegesin. African Americans have also produced scholars in Literature that broke new ground; chief among them is J. Saunders Redding, whose seminal work To Make a Poet Black, changed the game. African American literature owes much of its reawakening to Delany, Dubois, as well as Sterling Brown, James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Amiri Baraka, and Addison Gayle, Jr. The contributions in Linguistics by Lorenzo Dow Turner are monumental and the work of Theophile Obenga contributes to the understanding of Ebonics, not only in English but in all languages African people have adopted. Political science should include the seminal the works of W.E.B. Dubois, David Walker, Maria Stewart, and the work of Ronald W. Walters and Mack Jones. Charles Hamilton Houston should be known as a pioneer and not a footnote in the study of Law. In African American education, names such as Asa Hilliard and Barbara Sizemore must enter the conversation. In Psychology, the name Allison Davis is one of a slew of African American psychologists whose names should resonate for their contributions to the field. Recent contributions in this field by Na’Im Akbar, Asa Hilliard, Wade Nobles, should be studied by all. In Business and Economics, the name Hubert Henry Harrison should enter the conversation for his contributions to economic theory. In Mathematics, contributors such as Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz should be known. In Communications, a study of individuals such as Gil Noble in broadcast journalism would greatly shape the minds of students in the field. In the arts, Romare Bearden (visual), Jacob Lawrence (visual), Alvin Ailey (dance), Haile Gerima (film), and in music and drama such as August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, among countless others should be known and studied. Medicine should continue to elevate the works of Daniel Hale Williams, Charles Drew, as well as the countless African American non-traditional physicians from the 18th and 19th centuries.

This list is by all means not nearly exhaustive of the intellectual contributions of Africans and African Americans to the academy, it however shows the range of African intellectual ability much of which is ignored in the traditional disciplines. As African Americans in the academy it becomes our job to understand their contributions and in many cases update their analysis to present day conditions in our society to advance the common humanity of African people across the world.

*Carruthers, Jacob. (1999) Intellectual Warfare. Chicago: Third World Press.
*Hilliard, Asa. (1995) The Maroon Within Us . Baltimore: Black Classic Press.
*Norment, Nathaniel (2007) The African American Studies Reader. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press

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