Shocking tragedies and political turmoil in recent years have brought a renewed visibility to the necessary work of African American Studies, from the nationwide protests against racial violence to the debates among legislators about how race and history should be discussed in the classroom. Yet the 2021-2022 academic year at the University of South Carolina was also marked by an incredible opportunity to reflect meaningfully on the way that African American Studies has served as a resource for greater truth and knowledge on our campus. In commemorating 50 years at UofSC, the AFAM Studies faculty, staff, students, and alumni succeeded in turning this milestone anniversary into a spotlight, one that could bring attention to the history of our program, its relationship to the community, and the profound impact of our research and teaching across disciplines.
Our celebration was bookended by events that emphasized student achievements, including the recognition of our two Dr. Grace Jordan McFadden Award recipients, Kayla King and Reylan Cook. We hosted roundtable discussions with founders and former directors of AFAM Studies as well as current professors. We watched football at our first homecoming tailgate, shared documentary films and book talks, and took a group of students and faculty to walk through Pearl Fryar’s Garden in Bishopville, South Carolina. Featured throughout the year were several visiting scholars who worked with our students, including cultural theorist and poet Fred Moten, curator Kelli Morgan, and performance scholar Thomas DeFrantz. We were even recognized during the half-time show at the Gamecock Women’s Basketball Game.
Most importantly, we educated the public about the enduring legacy of Black Studies and the pioneering figures that helped to build its foundation on this campus and around the world. Culminating the year was our annual Robert Smalls Lecture featuring educator and activist Angela Y. Davis in conversation with Nikky Finney. Before a crowd of nearly 600 people, African American Studies at UofSC took center stage and provided a tangible reminder of the far-reaching influence and value of the program’s efforts since 1971.
Our celebration would not have been possible without the unwavering support of the College of Arts & Sciences and I would like to thank Dean Joel Samuels for prioritizing African American Studies this year. I am particularly grateful to the 50th Anniversary Committee of Nancy Tolson, Seulghee Lee, Thaddeus Davis, and Tanya Wideman-Davis for initiating the theme and schedule of events. Thank you to AFAM office staff members Lindsay Arave and Frenché Brewer, to AFAM/IAAR Co-Director Kimberly Simmons, to Megan Plott and Morgan Watson from CAS External Relations, and to Bryan Gentry and his CAS Communications team. Thanks also to our AFAM Student Ambassadors Destiny Stewart, Kayla King, Yalashia Gantt, and LeAnna Williams. And finally, a very special thank you to Jillian Hinderliter for going above and beyond in organizing and implementing our activities this year.