Vol. II, No. 2

Vol. II, No. 1

Vol. I, No. 2

Vol. I, No. 1




African-American Studies Program

Vanderbilt University

February 1998 ~ Vol. II, No. 2


The Black Female and the Harlem Renaissance

It was during the 1920ís that a "New Negro" came into being. With the end of World War I and the beginning of the roaring twenties, black Americans flocked from the rural South to the urban North in search of a better life. The capital of this new world had become Harlem, New York, and it was here that African-American life and culture experienced a rebirth during the Harlem Renaissance.

The bulk of immigrants to Harlem consisted of intellectuals, writers, artists, musicians, and entertainers. This included the elite group of middle class black Americans described by W.E.B. Du Bois as the "Talented Tenth." This group, although under the leadership of Du Bois, Alain Locke, and other male figures, included women who were leaders and influential figures in their own right. The problem, according to Carole Marks, director of Black Studies and associate professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, was that women’s roles varied distinctly from those of their male associates. The acceptable role of the female in the Harlem Renaissance was that of salon hostess or entertainer. Therefore, women writers and other "non-hostesses" were either ignored as contributors to the movement or forced into the shadows and background of the movement’s success. In truth, the African-American female was a vital and integral part of the Harlem Renaissance who deserved far more than to be transgressed by the African-American male and society as a whole.

The most prolific outcome of the Harlem Renaissance was the abundance of new literature by, and about, African-Americans. The number of black female writers, essayists, poets, novelists, and playwrights whose work was granted some form of publication (usually in journals) during this time was unprecedented, but it remained less than those of their male counterparts. The plethora of women writers included Georgia Douglas Johnson, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, Anne Spencer, Gwendolyn Bennett, Helene Johnson, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Elise Johnson McDougald, Dorothy West and numerous others. However, within this group, labeling and criticizing certain works and writers as "not good enough" still caused a stratification problem. For example, the poetry of Georgia Douglas Johnson embraced the aspects of love and womanhood which were deemed acceptable subjects for women to discuss. Anne Spencer’s poetry, on the other hand, labeled her a feminist. Larsen’s Quicksand, Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Fauset’s There Is Confusion provided an accurate depiction of the problems African-American women faced during the 1920’s and 1930’s. These novels contained autobiographical elements, such that the reader could easily place the characters in a precise historical and social setting. Thus, although the writings by women were often characterized as "romanticized" tales and downplayed by the African-American male leaders and writers, they provided a basis for learning and understanding more about the period as a whole and the women involved in it.

It was not only women writers who made great contributions to the era. Other females including Florence Mills, Gladys Bentley, and A’Lelia Walker, Harlem’s own "joy goddess," established a more defined role of the black woman in social and entertainment spheres. However, the numerous works by African-American women writers of the Harlem Renaissance, which remain highly accessible, revealed truths about the time, people, and places that only the black woman could tell. Moreover, the black women writers of the Harlem Renaissance walked in the footsteps of Phyllis Wheatley and Francis E.W. Harper thus forming a path that Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and others would follow. Their work formed a foundation for studying, understanding, and uplifting the social and historical role of the African-American woman in our society.


The Burden of Black Womanhood by artist Aaron Douglas appeared on the cover of a 1927 issue of the NAACP’s Crisis magazine. With Jessie Fauset acting as literary editor, the magazine often designated sections for issues, articles, and stories written by and concerning African-American women during the Harlem Renaissance. With African pyramids and a slave cabin of the past, and a new industrialized city of the present at the female figure’s feet, The Burden of Black Womanhood symbolized the black woman’s historical role of being the center and strength of the black community. In the midst of racism and sexism, the African-American woman of yesterday and today continued to bear weight of the world and the pains of her people on her shoulders.

Akwasi Osei

Associate Professor

Delaware State University

"Bridges Across the Sea:

The Political Economy of the Black World" 

Monday, March 16, 1998

Calhoun 117

3:10 p.m.

Sponsoredby the African-American Studies Program and the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center

The African-American Studies Program is hosting an

 Open House

 Tuesday, March 31, 1998

Noon - 2 p.m.

209 Garland Hall 

Come learn more about classes, majors, minors, and study abroad opportunities.

Refreshments served



In the years following the close of the Harlem Renaissance, many of the movements’ most prominent figures continued their work as leaders and promoters of the prosperity of African-Americans here in Nashville, Tennessee. James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, Aaron Douglas, Arna Bontemps and others joined the community and aided in the further establishment of Fisk University.


**AAST NEWS Editor: Melinda Wilson

**For more information about the African-American Studies Program contact Professor Francis Dodoo, Program Director at (615) 322-7626. The African-American Studies Program Office is located in 201 Garland Hall.


Kirschke, Amy H. Aaron Douglas: Art, Race, and the Harlem Renaissance. United States: Jackson University Press, 1995.

Lewis, David Levering. When Harlem Was In Vogue. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Marks, Carole. "Dark Hidden Beauty: Black Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance." Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 17 Nov. 1997.

Shockley, Ann Allen. Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide. United States: Meridan Books, 1988.




African-American Studies Program

Vanderbilt University

October 1997 ~ Vol. II, No. 1


 Stories Do Tell

In the African tradition and the African-American culture, storytelling is more than entertainment. In the lives of people of African descent, storytelling holds strong historical and cultural significance. The narration of stories traces back to the griot traditon of oral history in Africa in which the village griot learns, verbally recounts, and passes on to generations the entire history of a village and a people. Therefore, oral traditons and storytelling are in fact a legacy in the African-American experience. Still today, narration plays an important role in understanding history; frequently, much of an individual’s learning takes place outside of the classroom. One can sometimes learn more about the past by simply engaging in a conversation with an elder in the present. For example, a great deal of our knowledge about the period of enslavement in America comes from surviving slave narratives that were recorded after Reconstruction. From interviewing and talking with former slaves, the true living conditions, workdays, harshness, and completeness of slavery is revealed. The following are two such slave narratives that enable the reader to briefly experience the life of an American slave:


Age 94, when interviewed by Everett R. Pierce, 2125 Calhoun Street, Columbia S.C.

My marster, Marster Joe Beard, was a good man, but he wasn’t one of the richest men. He only had six slaves, three men and three women. But he had a big plantation and would borrow slaves from his brother-in-law, on the adjoining platation, to help with the crops.

I was the youngest slave, so Missy Grace, that’s Marster Joe’s wife, keep me in the house most of the time, to cook and keep the house cleaned up. I milked the cow and worked in the garden, too. Marster was good to all he slaves, but Missy Grace was mean to us. She whip us a heap of times when we ain’t done nothing bad to be whipped for. When she got to whip me, she tie my wrists together with a rope and put that rope through a big staple in the ceiling and draw me up off the floor and give me a hundred lashes. I think about my old mammy heap of times now and how I’s seen her whipped, with the blood dripping off her.

All that us slaves know how to do was to work hard. We never learn to read and write. Nor we never had no church to go to, only sometimes the white folks let us go to their church, but we never join in the singing. We just set and listened to them preach and pray.

The graveyard was right by the church and a heap of the colored people was scared to go by it at night. They say they see ghosts and hants and spirits, but I ain’t never seen none. I more scared of live people than I is dead ones; dead people ain’t going to harm you.

. . .We ain’t had no celebration after we was freed. We ain’t know we was free till a good while after. We ain’t know it till General Wheeler come through and tell us. After that, the marster and missus let all the slaves go ’cepting me; they kept me to work in the house and garden.


Age 93, when interviewed by Chlotilde R. Martin, in Beaufort County, S.C.

When gun shoot on Bay Point for Freedom, Ibeen seventeen-year-old working slave. I born on B. Fripp Plantation, on St. Helena Island. My father belong to Mr. Marion Fripp, and my mother belong to Mr. Old B. Fripp. I don’t know how mucher land, neither how much slave he have, but he have two big plantation and many slave--more’n a hundred slave.

Slave live on street--two row of house with two room to the house. My father and mother ain’t marry. Slave don’t marry; they just live together. All slave have for stay on plantation in daytime, but when work done, can visit wife on other plantation. Have pass, so patrol won’t get ’um. . .

Every slave have task [quarter acre] to do, sometime one task, and sometime three. You have for work thill task through. When cotton done make, you have other task. . .

On Saturday night, every slave that work gets peck pf corn and pea, and sometime meat and clabber. You never see any sugar, neither coffee, in slavery. You has straw in your mattress, but they give you blanket. Every year, in Christmas month, you gets four or five yard cloth, according to how you is. Out of that, you make your clote [clothes]. You wears the same clote till next year. You wear it in winter and summer, Sunday and everyday. You don’t get no coat, but they give you shoe. . .

Slave work till dark on Saturday just like any other day. I still does work till dark on Saturday. But on Sunday, slave don’t work. On Fourth of July, slave work till twelve o’clock and then knocks off. On Sunday, slave can visit back and forth on the plantations. . .

I work in field on Marster Johnnie Fripp plantation. Sometime we sing when us work. One song we sing been go like this:

Go way, Old Man

Go way, Old Man;

Where you been all day?

If you treat me good,

I’ll stay till the Judgement Day.

But if you treat me bad,

I’ll sure to run away. . .


Need more information about the African-American Studies Program?

Visit our webpage at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/Aframst/aframst.htm



The African-American Studies Program is participating in a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to study abroad in Africa this summer. The Vanderbilt in Ghana Program allows students to spend one summer semester (May 28- July 3, 1998) living on the campus of the University of Ghana at Legon, earning up to six credit hours, and taking field trips and excursions to historic sites and villages. For more information about "Ghana: A Literary and Cultural Experience," contact Professor Sheila Smith-McKoy in the English Department at 343-3187.

The African-American Studies

Program would like to thank all

students, staff, and faculty who

attended our Open House on

October 28, 1997.



We recognize and appreciate your

continued support.

 Carole Marks

Director and Associate Professor Black American Studies and Sociology

University of Delaware

"Dark, Hidden Beauty: Black Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance"

 Monday, November 17, 1997

4:10 pm

Garland 101

 Sponsored by the African-American and Women’s Studies Programs, the Departments of English, History, and Sociology

Refreshments served


Slave Narratives taken from:

Hurmence, Belinda, ed. Before Freedom, When I Just Can Remember. United States: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1989.

**AAST NEWS Editor:Melinda Wilson

**For more information about the African-American Studies Program contact Professor Francis Dodoo, Program Director at (615) 322-7626. The African-American Studies Program Office is located in 201 Garland Hall.




African-American Studies Program

Vanderbilt University

March 1997 ~ Vol. I, No. 2


 What To Do With The Degree

I love the expression on people's faces when I tell them I go to "Vanderbilt" University. However, that expression is quickly outdone when I tell them I am majoring in African-American Studies. I can tell I've struck a chord of curiosity in their minds, for their eyes light up and they ask, "What are you going to do with that?" I have come to anticipate and resent this question because it is always asked as if to say, "You are going to a school that produces doctors and lawyers, and you are majoring in that? As an African-American student, when someone asks me what I am going to do with a degree in African-American Studies, he or she is actually asking me what am I going to do with knowledge about myself.

One of the greatest concerns of Vanderbilt students is finding a good job after graduation. So what kind of career will someone have if they know everything about race relations throughout history, art, and culture and nothing about the "real world." The truth of the matter is that one who majors or minors in African-American Studies, like other similar interdisciplinary fields, can find an interesting and legitimate job in the "real world." Most African-American Studies majors and minors couple their learnings with another field of study in an effort to concentrate on a particular career goal. For example, Josh Levinson is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in African-American Studies. With his Vanderbilt degree, he plans to pursue a career in politics; however, he believes his minor will be an assets in his field. Josh says, "Political science is my passion, and African-Americans make up a large portion of the Democratic Party. My minor will help me understand their struggles, so we can make political advancements as a collective unit." Students also couple African-American Studies with other areas because corporate America seeks individuals with a wide range of knowledge, who can comfortably and successfully work with people of different races, and who are still qualified to write computer programs, head a public relations department, increase production sales, or meet other career requirements.

The majority of African-American Studies majors decide to further their education at the graduate level. Some choose to enter law or medical school in hopes of aiding the African-American community with legal affairs or health issues. Others may become teachers or administrators at all educational levels. As we move into the twenty-first century, American institutions of higher education are becoming more populated by third world groups. More mentors are needed to teach the young minds who do not resemble America's founding fathers about themselves and their role in the United States society. In addition, as the United States becomes more internationally involved, the federal government is anxiously looking for people to work in conjunction with third world areas. Therefore, understanding the histories and cultures of various groups of people is an advantage when seeking jobs with the federal government. Vanderbilt's African-American Studies Program requires majors in the field to complete classes in African Studies to prepare for such career opportunities. Lastly, African-American Studies Programs at Vanderbilt and other universities are concerned with the stability and prosperity of the African-American family and community. Therefore, it is highly likely that students who receive a degree in African-American Studies will work directly with community services, public organizations, and other private agencies that focus on the welfare of African-Americans. If someone who had no knowledge about the black experience in America were to enter an all black neighborhood to counsel children, he or she would not have the patience nor perspective needed to truly understand and aid the child unless he or she had an educational background in African-American Studies.

African-American Studies Programs and Departments were first implemented into university and college cirriculums in the late 1960's as a result of the Student Movement. It continues to be a growing field of study with endless possibilities. Yes, Vanderbilt University has a program in African-American Studies through which anyone can take classes, major, or minor. I invite everyone to explore our offering of courses if not to learn more about themselves, then to at least learn more about the people you will see and interact with for the rest of your lives.


The African-American Studies Program is hosting an Open House

Tuesday, April1, 1997


209 Garland Hall

Come learn more about classes, majors, minors, and study abroad opportunities.

Refreshments served


What kind of credit can Engineering students receive for taking African-American Studies courses?


Engineering students may take AAST courses to satisfy Humanities and Social Science electives requirements.


Did you know Vanderbilt's African-American Studies Program offers study abroad opportunities in Ghana? Did you know you could spend an entire semester studying at the University of Ghana while receiving academic credit?


The African Transition to Democracy and Development

 In late January, George Ayittey, Professor of Economics at American University and President of the Free Africa Foundation, visited Vanderbilt as a guest speaker. He spoke to an audience of approximately thirty faculty members and students about the contemporary conditions in African societies, politics, and economics. His address entitled, "Africa Doomed," received both positive and negative responses from those in attendance. Professor Mahgoub Mahmoud, a professor of African-American Studies at Vanderbilt University, offers his response to Ayittey's lecture:

Professor George Ayittey (1) criticized African leaders for their corruption and abuses of power; (2) emphasized the purity and creativity of rural Africa; and (3) called for an Africa free from foreign dependency and the state management of African urbanites.

There is a bit of truth in all these views. However, corruption and abuses of power are not confined to Africa; they exist and are condemned everywhere all over the globe. African leaders, such as Nkrumah, Nasser, Nyerere, Sekou Toure', etc., have definitely passed through the difficult dilemmas of the Cold-War era. Their decisions were not consistently successful, but they were undoubtedly nationalists leaders with great morality and solid Africanality.

The potentialities of African people, rural and urban, are not questionable. But the problem is pertinent to the availability of the means needed to boost their participation in political and economic development. Ayittey's vision to develop Africa is largely composed of rural migrants who virtually live like their counterparts in the rural areas in poverty and deprivation.

The solution must therefore accommodate the contributions of all these forces: The urban modernists, especially the private sector or national capital, the intellectuals or professional groups, and the international input in terms of necessary technical and financial support.

Any serious emancipation from the poverty which embraced 34% of the 500 million people of Africa should accelerate growth within a framework of a democratic system of rule, as Ayittey correctly claimed. Contrary to Ayittey's vision, nevertheless, democratic rule would only complete its mission in Africa if it would succeed in attracting foreign investment through a flourishing private sector to accumulate the wealth needed to trigger national development, while preserving at the same time the right to the enjoyment of full freedoms and human rights to all sections of the African people.

The rural population would not be able to fulfill these commitments on its own initiative as Ayittey dreams, let alone the complicated tasks of running a modern democratic government in the competitive system of our world today. 


***AAST NEWS Editor: Melinda Wilson

Dr. Felix Boateng, Professor Francis Dodoo, and Professor Mahgoub Mahmoud also contributed to this report.

***For more information about the African-American Studies Program contact Pam Wilson, Program Assistant or Professor Francis Dodoo, Program Director at (615) 322-7626. The African-American Studies Program Office is located in 201 Garland Hall.




African-American Studies Program

Vanderbilt University

January1997 ~ Vol. I, No. 1


 Beyond the Bubble

When I tell people what courses I am taking this semester and the courses I have taken in the past, they are immediately intrigued. Survey of Jazz, Harlem Renaissance, Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the U.S., and Africa Since 1800 are just some of the titles from my course load. So what is my major? African-American Studies, and yes, I do attend Vanderbilt University. We do have a major and minor in African-American Studies! I have found that many students are unaware of the program's existence here at Vanderbilt, although I believe many have a certain amount of interest or curiosity in disciplines and courses about race and/or racial and ethnic groups. Well, African-American Studies benefits everyone, and the program is open to all students.

There are many reasons why all students,black, white, yellow, and brown should take advantage of the African and African-American Studies courses offered here Vanderbilt. First, many of the courses also count towards CPLE,which is the first requirement many students try to fulfill when deciding what classes to take. Currently, there are at least eighteen different AAST classes that satisfy CPLE writing, humanities, history, social science, and freshmen seminar requirements. This is of great advantage to a student who needs to fulfill a requirement and wants to take a class that will be an intellectual challenge. Many AAST classes force students to think about and evaluate circumstances in our society from a non-European perspective. This is important because many of us have been educated in a way that ignores the lives and contributions of Native-Americans, African-Americans, women and other minority groups. Classes like those relating to African-American Studies provide an appreciation for and understanding of those groups. Second, it is no secret that race relations on the Vanderbilt campus are often deemed "problematic" because diversity at Vanderbilt sometimes looks more like "different" and "divided." There are numerous races, ethnic groups, and minorities on this campus. While we are all equal, we are not the same. Moreover, as Maya Angelou writes, "We are more alike my friends, / than we are unalike." There is a special and unique way in which all races and ethnic groups are both connected and similar. If the Vanderbilt community truly wishes to lessen any racial tension that may exist on this campus, then it must develop a greater appreciation and awareness of its own diversity. The best way to do this is through the one reason we are all here -- education. As students living and working with people of different backgrounds, it is vital to recognize the ways in which all persons are alike, different, and why. This means taking classes in Native-American Studies, Asian-American Studies, Latin-American Studies, and African-American Studies because one is then able to learn, appreciate, and understand the struggles and histories of these people, and relate them more clearly to his/her own. No one can change what he or she does not understand; therefore, we must educate ourselves, so we will understand. Then, perhaps "diversity" can take on a new meaning at Vanderbilt.

The study of African-Americans and other groups goes beyond the Vanderbilt University community. This is an idea that I like to refer to as "Beyond the Bubble," for sometimes we mistake college for the "real world." As the American society moves closer to the twenty-first century many changes are occurring. For example, ethnic studies classes are slowly but surely becoming a required part of high school and college curriculums. It is becoming apparent that our old history textbooks did in fact marginalize a few groups. Also, the people who make up the "minority" are soon to collectively become the "majority" in many major United States cities. The population of our country is growing, but much of that growth is among people of color. Therefore, one must ask himself or herself two main questions about life "Beyond the Bubble." "Will I be able to help my nine year old son with his class report on Madame C.J. Walker," and "Will I be comfortable if my dream home ends up in a middle or upper class neighborhood where my next door neighbors are Asian-American, the couple across the street is Caucasian, and the family three doors down is African-American?" If these two questions are difficult to answer, then you may be one person who continues to live in a "bubble."

George Ayittey

Associate Professor of Economics

American University

"Africa Doomed?"

Wednesday, January 29,1997

at 3:00p.m.

in Calhoun 109

sponsored by the Graduate School and African-American Studies Program

Refreshments served


Don't you have to take classes at Fisk University?


No. Vanderbilt's African-American Studies Program has altered its requirements and expanded its course offerings, so students do not have to go to Fisk. A major or minor can be completed on our campus; however, the option to take classes at Fisk is still available.


Last semester, the following Vanderbilt students joined Caroline Davis, Joshua Levinson, Carla Palmer, Telesa Taylor, Monique Williams, and Melinda Wilson in the African-American Studies Program. Welcome Aboard!!!

Lana Cella

Katherine Bush

Michael Calloway

LaShanna Farley

Dayciaa Smith

Bakar Wilson

Thank You

The African-American Studies Program would like to thank all students and faculty who attended our open house in October and/or our semester social. We appreciate you taking time away from your busy schedules to join us, and we hope to see you again at our next open house later this semester.


Did you know that many classes in African-American Studies count toward CPLE credit? Did you know that you may already be only a few credit hours away from completeing a minor in African-American Studies?


Bishop Joseph Johnson was the first African-American student admitted to Vanderbilt University in 1951. It was in his honor and memory that the Black Cultural Center was named and dedicated.

**AAST NEWS Editor: Melinda Wilson

Dr. Felix Boateng and Professor Francis Dodoo also contributed to this report.

**For more information about the African-American Studies Program contact Pam Wilson, Program Assistant or Professor Francis Dodoo, Program Director at (615) 322-7626. The African-American Studies Program Office is located in 201 Garland Hall.


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