Coalition for Economic Empowerment seeks establishment of African American Studies program

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

The Coalition for Economic Empowerment is a Black activist group, which has been conducting strategic study, organizing and planning sessions for nearly a decade. It is actively seeking to begin a new effort, or to revive the aborted Jackson State University plan for a required African American Studies program at the college level. The idea is one that is long overdue. The Coalition, which meets on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Afrikan Art Gallery (800 North Farish Street), welcomes ideas and support in its effort.

In the late-1960s, there were many well-publicized protests to get African American courses and programs established on college and university campuses around the country. It was ironic that many Black colleges and universities passed on the idea, some stating that their entire mission and curriculum were directed toward the end of acquainting students with their Black history and fully practicing their Black culture.

In the Jackson area, Tougaloo College was continuing its tradition of staging events that promoted the liberal arts and growing civil rights movement. It continued to support civil rights organizations. In fact, it was such an effective ally in the movement until state agencies used all types of tactics to put a stop to it, or have the college closed. Tougaloo’s only handicap was that it continued to be a relatively small college. By the 1970s, it was even smaller compared to Jackson State College.

Millsaps College, Belhaven College, and Mississippi College were the other senior colleges in the area. All three were white colleges and therefore not willing to engage in any African American Studies curriculum efforts, although Millsaps did hold a few small, almost clandestine interracial gatherings along the lines of advancing improved race relations.

In that context, Jackson State established the Institute for the Study of the History, Life and Culture of Black People in 1968. It was under the leadership of noted author Margaret Walker Alexander. Unlike many Black Studies programs demanded by Black activists and established on white campuses, the Institute sponsored in-depth research projects and major public events dealing with Black people, especially those in America in the twentieth century. In that sense, it was filling a scholarship void that had often been observable for some time.

On the other hand, the institute was not dealing with the curriculum in particular. That effort instead was undertaken as a group of 13 historically Black colleges came together in 1967 in what was called, the Thirteen Colleges Curriculum Program.

The Thirteen Colleges Curriculum Program, which eventually grew to include 35 colleges and universities, had as a major purpose the re-writing of the freshman curriculum in such a manner that its social science and humanities courses would be more relevant to the life and experiences of students from low to middle-income backgrounds. It was an effort that lent truth to the assertion that these students were indeed being exposed to the history and culture of African American people. Unfortunately, the program was based upon grant funds and existed for only six years. After that time, curriculum matters went back to business as usual.

Meanwhile, Jackson Sate University, as did other HBCUs, had courses that addressed the Black experience and proceeded to create other courses within a relatively short period of time. In that context and based upon that reality, it employed as provost, Dr. Carol Surles, who initiated an effort to bring those separate courses together as requirements for all undergraduate students. This would have been a first of its kind, unlike what was happening at Tougaloo, Millsaps and elsewhere.

On September 17, 1990, 33 years ago this week, a task force which Surles had named recommended that Blacks in American History 360, Blacks in American History 361 and/or Survey of Black Studies 111, along with at least two Black Experience-related courses from the fields of art, drama, economics, literature, music, political science, and sociology be required of all undergraduate students. Unfortunately, Dr. Surles was never able to approve and implement the recommendations because the college board had her summarily removed in the spring and her successor allowed the proposal to die. In the face of an unfriendly commissioner and board, no further efforts were made to create a required curriculum in African American Studies.

With that information in mind, and considering the continued need for such knowledge and the increased attacks on critical race theory, the Coalition on Economic Empowerment urgently seeks the establishment of African American Studies programs for college students in the Jackson area. The same request has been of and continues to be a need in the Jackson Public School District as well.

Republish This Story

Copy and Paste the below text.

Coalition for Economic Empowerment seeks establishment of African American Studies program

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
September 18, 2023