Professor Advocates for Africana Curriculum
By Alton Hornsby Jr. ’61
...The college assumes special responsibility for teaching
the history and culture of black people.
—Morehouse College mission statement
As a young faculty member returning to his alma mater, Lance Shipman ’95, assistant professor of chemistry, assessed the academic and social climates of the College in the October 2004 issue of Inside Morehouse. In a similar vein, I decided to reflect on my own student days here—1957 to 1961—as well as the changing atmosphere of the College during the 36 years since I returned as a faculty member.
My concerns are largely with the current changes to the General Studies or Core curriculum and other academic activities in relation to their impact not only on the culture of the community, but also on its national and global roles in liberal arts education.
At Morehouse, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, academic life largely mirrored the experiences and perspectives of then-President Benjamin E. Mays and a handful of influential administrators. Its emphasis was on Western Civilization—what we would later call Eurocentric studies. This is not to suggest that African American influences were totally absent from Morehouse academic life. A principal text for freshman orientation and freshman English classes was the late president Hugh M. Gloster Sr.’s ’31 anthology, My Life, My Country, My World. While the book was based in Western thought and heavily patriotic, it also included “Negro” references.
And while some instructors inserted Africana materials into their classes, black influences were also seen in Chapel assembly and worship services. A broad array of international scholars and activists shared the Chapel pulpit, including Alan Paton, author of Cry the Beloved Country.
But the real impetus for an African-centered curriculum was a bi-product of the modern Civil Rights Movement, including the student-faculty takeover of a Morehouse Board of Trustees meeting in 1969. That protest led to a new African American Studies program for the Atlanta University Center. But by the mid-1980s, the program needed a new curriculum and some Morehouse faculty and student activists renewed their calls for “a black curriculum.”
The result was the appointment of a faculty-student taskforce that recommended sweeping changes to include a general studies course on the Pan-African World, an Africana program and College-wide infusion of African American elements throughout the curriculum. In 1993, shortly after a taskforce recommended the implementation of the new curriculum, an African American Studies major was approved and began enrolling students.
During the current deliberations on revising the Core Curriculum, there is a proposal for a required course in African American Studies, but no suggestion for the full implementation of an African-centered curriculum.
During my matriculation, Mays and other College leaders have always stressed to us the importance of identity, the “Who Am I?” question. The Morehouse creed emphasizes helping students to seek and find answers to the question of identity. In American society, the assimilation of minorities, especially African Americans, has not been fully attained. With the possible exception of the workplace, black American life is largely spent in the insular black communities of the nation. Hence, it is there that the quest for identity and the core cultural values inherent to those communities must be principally sought.
Morehouse can play a pivotal role in this quest by providing a curriculum and other academic activities that fully explore the African roots of civilization, generally, and black culture, specifically—including the life, history and fundamental values of people of African descent in the United States of America. Morehouse can remain one of the best of all liberal arts colleges in the nation, period—but we should also be the best center for the transmission and promotion of African-centered learning in the world.
Alton Hornsby Jr. ’61 is the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of History and has edited a new book titled A Companion to African American History.
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