This weekend, alumni, students and guests will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Africana Studies program (formerly known as Afro-American Studies), the Black Students Union (BSU, formerly known as the African American Society) and the John Brown Russwurm African American Center.
In this special section, the Orient highlights this weekend’s programs, shares the experiences of former and present Black students and honors the past 50 years of the College’s multicultural community.
Fifty years of Africana Studies, John Brown Russwurm African American Center and the Black Student Union
Af/Am/50 will begin today with various lectures, performances and panels, and will end on Sunday. Highlights include a keynote address by Geoffrey Canada ’74, H ’07, a dinner reception with DeRay Mckesson ’07, a concert featuring multi-Grammy nominated musician Marsha Ambrosius and a conversation with President Clayton Rose and Kenneth Chenault ’73, H’96. There will also be an Af/Am/50 ball, a party at the John Brown Russwurm African American Center, exhibit talks at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and various alumni roundtables.
In the fall of 1969, Robert Johnson ’71 became the first president of the African American Society (AAS). Fifty years later, Amani Hite ’20 holds the position of president of the Black Student Union (BSU, formerly the African American Society). The Orient sat down with Johnson and Hite separately and asked questions about their experiences as presidents of AAS and BSU, respectively, half a century apart.
Since its founding in 1969, the Black Student Union (BSU, formerly the African American Society), has played a prominent role in campus life. From organizing the annual Ebony Ball to inviting speakers to campus, including Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou, BSU members actively contribute to intellectual and social life at Bowdoin.
The Orient sent out a survey to all BSU members and interviewed 15 members in person to hear their thoughts about their experiences at Bowdoin. The following quotes represent the voices and opinions of these students
It was by chance that Peter M. Small Associate Professor of Africana Studies Tess Chakkalakal and Associate Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry first conceived the idea for the course, “Black Women’s Lives as the History of Africana Studies: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century” which they now co-teach.
Tamara Nikuradse ’84, P’21 carefully organizes the library in her fifth grade classroom at Dana Hall, an all girls school in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
“I feel that my one of my responsibilities, especially as a woman of color, is to expose the students to other cultures and histories of other people. I try to make sure that I have books that have protagonists from different races,” she said as she listed off titles.
Together, Nikuradse and her students read books about sharecroppers in Mississippi, riots in Illinois and boycotts in Alabama. They get to know characters who are refugees from the Middle East, immigrants from Central America and expatriates from Eastern Europe. They make videos about the 1963 Children’s March, the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Little Rock Nine.
Black Arts will take center stage at a panel on Saturday morning as two Bowdoin alumni discuss their careers in film and music and the role of activism in their work. The event, titled “Black Arts: A Canvas for Social Activism,” will feature singer-songwriter Coretta King ’12 and film actor, writer and producer George Ellzey Jr. ’13.
Marsha Ambrosius, a multi-Grammy-nominated R&B musician will perform tonight as part of the Af/Am/50 celebrations.
Benjamin Harris, director of the Student Center for Multicultural Life, organized the event with input from the Af/Am/50 Committee, a group of staff, current students, faculty and alumni.
“We all agreed that R&B would be nice—something really cool and laid-back,” said Amani Hite ’20, president of the Black Student Union (BSU) and a student representative on the Af/Am/50 Committee. “Marsha Ambrosius was perfect for us. She’s a big deal, especially in R&B, so everyone’s super excited about seeing her.”
This weekend, as alumni from the past five decades gather on campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Africana Studies program, the Russwurm African American Center and the African American Society, four students—Aisha Rickford ’20, Nate DeMoranville ’20, Marcus Williams ’21 and Marina Henke ’19—will be seeking to document their stories.
Over the last 50 years, 141 students majored in Africana Studies.
From the Archives