Journal of African American Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 89–110 | Cite as

Passing on the Radical Legacy of Black Studies at the University of Massachusetts: The W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, 1968–1971



The story of the Black Student Movement at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), as demonstrated by the records of 1968–1971, my own administrative files, and interviews of several UMass Black Studies student activists of the period, enables us to understand more clearly the radical legacy of the origin of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies. Arguably, most salient in this legacy are four lessons and achievements. The first lesson included the resistance, resiliency, and resourcefulness of the principal graduate co-founders of the department, Michael Thelwell and Bernard Bell, in seeking to manage threatening conflicts to radical yet peaceful reforms in education and in validating non-traditional students, faculty, and curricula. The second was our uneven and, ultimately, moderately successful efforts to emulate and unite synergistically Du Bois’ standards of political activism and scholarly excellence while valorizing the recruitment and retention of high-risk students and a few uniquely qualified non-credentialed scholar/activist faculty. And the third and fourth achievements were the agency of the Black Student Movement in founding, respectively, the most unique department and consortium of five Black Studies departments in the nation.


Radical legacy Black studies Afro-American studies 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Liberal Arts Research Professor of English, Department of English, Burrowes BuildingThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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