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50+ Years of Africana Studies at UT

AFST Celebrating 50 YearsFaculty with the Africana studies program will launch the official start of “50+ Years of Africana Studies at UT,” a celebration of the program and the discipline of Africana studies, February 2021. Spanning the next two years, programming will include several events (hosted via Zoom for 2021 and in-person, hopefully, for 2022), aimed at engaging the UT and Knoxville communities in academic, cultural, and social dissemination of knowledge about the program and Africana studies.

The first event for the celebration will take place Monday, February 1 at 7 p.m. and feature former chairs of the program discussing its history from 1969 to 2004. Learn more about the event online at

Africana Studies at UT

At UT, the Africana studies program was initially called the Afro-American studies program when it began in the 1968-1969 academic year. The program offered two courses: one about the Afro-American family and the other about Black history. By the next academic year, the program offered courses in the Departments of English and Religious Studies. Through a $10,000 grant secured by Professor Edwin Redkey, then chair of American studies, the program launched officially, offering a minor in Afro-American studies. Professor Marvin Peek was appointed in 1971 as the first official head of the program.

The program’s name changed to African and African American studies during the 1990s, under the leadership of Professor Cynthia Fleming, who arrived at UT in 1992 as the program’s first tenure-track faculty member and a joint hire in the Department of History. The program’s current name, Africana studies, changed under the leadership of Professor Wornie Reed who sought to keep the program current by following trends in the larger discipline, which were leading to a more diasporic focus, by providing global offerings that complemented the initial focus on African American studies in the context of the United States.

As a larger discipline comprised of interdisciplinary studies and research, the program known today as the Africana studies program, comprises faculty members who represent expertise in teaching and research in diverse peoples of the African diaspora (American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, European, and African), with specializations in far-ranging discipline, that include, but are not limited to, anthropology, history, language, literature, political science, religion, and sociology.

The program is an independent academic unit in the College of Arts and Sciences, serving as one of several interdisciplinary programs (IDPs). Offering courses to more than 650 undergraduate students, they also may choose to major or minor in Africana studies. Graduate students also may choose to earn a graduate certificate in Africana studies. Students who would like to supplement their on-campus learning experience also have the opportunity to participate in the study abroad program, which emphasizes service learning and coursework in African languages and culture, to enhance their fuller understanding of the African presence around the world.

The program also has historically featured national and international researchers and speakers, who enrich our students’ and community’s learning experiences. As the flagship campus for the University of Tennessee, we have a rich history of collaborations with the Knoxville community, and we believe that learning opportunities can be extended through our outreach and engagement with Knoxville’s local community, especially as we continue to learn more about and engage with the rich history and contemporary presence of Knoxville’s Black community.

“It is my esteemed honor to be appointed our new chair of the UT Africana studies program,” said Shayla Nunnally, professor of political science. “I aim to continue this strong legacy of leadership through working diligently with our faculty, students, and broader Vols and Tennessean communities.”

February is Black History Month

In addition to the launch of the 50+ years of celebrating Africana studies at UT, February 1 marks the start of Black History Month. The Office of Multicultural Student Life is partnering with several units across campus to host events throughout the month. Learn more on their website at

The annual Frederick Douglass Day celebration takes place February 12. This year’s topic is A Celebration of Black Literary History and Transcribe-a-thon. This year we will be transcribing the papers of Mary Church Terrell. Terrell was a foundational Black activist, educator, thinker, and writer. Mary Church Terrell helped to create Douglass Day back in 1895. Soon after, she also helped found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the NAACP. Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee.

FDD 2021 Celebration

Friday, February 12
12 – 2 PM via Zoom 
Registration required:

Joining the LiveStream from the Colored Conventions Project, we will be celebrating not only Douglass’s birthday, but also Mary Church Terrell, nineteenth century Black women writer and activist. We will participate in a transcribe-a-thon of Terrell’s works!

FDD is organized by the Colored Conventions Project, and you can find more details at

Content about the Africana studies program is repurposed from the Africana studies winter 2021 newsletter