Temple University’s African American Studies department (AAS) has had a long and distinguished history.
The Department of AAS was established back in the 1970s, but as a small program with only a few faculty members.
However, by the mid-1980s, Temple’s AAS had emerged as one of the leading African American Studies departments in the nation.
During a recent interview, Dr. Abu Abarry, an AAS professor of 14 years who teaches African and African American literature, modern African history and folklore, recounted the early days of AAS.
Abarry explained how AAS not only became a renowned division of Temple, but also how its reputation became well known both nationally and internationally.
“It was at first a non-degree granting program which offered courses at the undergraduate level and also offered remedial courses for members of the community,” said Dr. Abarry.
By the early 1980s, the AAS, or The Department of Pan-African Studies, as it was then known, was experiencing structural difficulties.
However, a professor by the name of Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, who moved from State University of New York, Buffalo, assisted in remodeling the department.
Because of Dr. Asante’s efforts, the support of his faculty and Temple’s administration, AAS was able to receive more funding and was even able to recruit more teachers who had special qualifications and a general aspect of the AAS.
“When Dr. Asante became the chair of the AAS in 1985, he presented a new vision to the department,” Dr. Abarry said.
It was also at this time that many new courses for the department were developed.
Between the years of 1985-1987, AAS was finally able to offer students an AAS undergraduate degree.
In 1988, the graduate program was introduced as well.
Temple’s AAS then became the first department in the country to offer a Ph.D. degree in African American Studies.
“Temple has produced more than 60 Ph.D.s who are now teaching in various parts of the U.S., Europe and Africa,” said Dr. Abarry.
After directing the department for 12 years, Dr. Asante continued as chairman of AAS until he retired in 1997.
He was first succeeded by Dr. Joyce Joyce and then by Dr. Nathaniel Norment Jr. in 2000.
According to Abarry, Dr. Norment worked hard to attract even more students to AAS, and made the department open and friendly towards students and faculty.
His efforts proved quite successful when AAS’s enrollment increased and it became immensely popular among both the graduate and undergraduate students.
In addition, Dr. Norment also stressed the importance of community service for AAS.
Dr. Sonja Peterson-Lewis currently holds the chair seat of the undergraduate program while Dr. Ella Forbes chairs the graduate program.
Dr. Asante currently chairs the Personnel Committee.
Dr. Abarry himself contributed to the development of AAS in its early years.
Between the years of 1990-1997, he served as the associate chairman of the department and from 1996-1998 he was also the graduate director.
Furthermore, it was Dr. Abarry who developed the Temple in Ghana program in 1992.
“Since 1993, this program has taken Temple and non-Temple students on a six week study tour in Ghana,” Dr. Abarry said.
Roshida Hernandez, a junior who took “Africa in the 20th Century,” last semester, strongly encouraged other students to take classes within the department.
“I think it’s good that we are getting black representation here at Temple,” Hernandez said.
“I think that it is important that not only African American students, but all students of all races should be aware of our culture and history.”
According to its mission statement, AAS’s goal is to “prepare its majors and minors to take roles of effective agency, participation, and leadership in the intellectual, research and social activist domains of professional and community life.”
Amber Grier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org