The Founding of the Department of African and African American Studies

On April 9, 1968, a few days after the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., members of the Harvard Association of African and Afro-American Students (AFRO) published "Four Requests on Fair Harvard" in the Harvard Crimson calling for the university to establish courses relevant to black students and increase the number of black students and faculty. On April 14, 1968, the Ad Hoc Committee of Black Students was formed to advocate for these demands. 

Meetings between members of AFRO and Dean Franklin Ford resulted in the appointment of the Faculty Committee on African and Afro-American Studies (also known as the Rosovsky Committee). Chaired by professor of economics Henry Rosovsky, the Committee consulted with black students on campus about creating a program on the black experience. The resulting report (also known as the Rosovsky Report) was published on January 20, 1969, and included recommendations on establishing an Afro-American Studies Program, increasing course offerings in African Studies, creating a social and cultural center for black students, and increasing the enrollment of black graduate students. 

In May 1968 Dean Ford appointed a Standing Committee to Develop the Afro-American Studies Department to govern the development of the program. The Committee consisted of seven faculty members with Ford serving as chair. The first version of the Afro-American Studies Program created by the Committee combined it with an existing field of concentration. Many members of the Association of African and Afro-American Students criticized this decision, believing Afro-American Studies could stand alone as a legitimate field of study. 

Black students continued to advocate for an Afro-American Studies Program through activism, demonstrations, and revisions to the original Afro-American Studies Program proposal. On April 22, 1969, the faculty of Arts and Sciences approved student demands to establish a Department of Afro-American Studies. A field of concentration in Afro-American Studies was made available to students starting with the class of 1972. The faculty also voted to expand the Standing Committee on Afro-American Studies to include three students chosen by the Association of African and Afro-American Students and three students chosen by and from concentrators in the field. The Committee functions were to:

  • Oversee expansion of library resources in Afro-American Studies
  • Develop the Afro-American Research Institute
  • Solicit funds for department chairs
  • Work towards a consortium of university Afro-American resources in greater Boston
  • Seek out and immediately hire temporary consultants knowledgeable in Afro-American Studies and personally involved in the Afro-American experience to assist in the development of the program
  • Nominate the first four to six appointments in the department, two of which must be tenured 

Department of African and African American Studies timeline, 1968-2010