Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, March 15, 2010

Center for Afroamerican and African Studies
marks 40 years

The Center for Afroamerican and African Studies was born of a community partnership of sorts, and as CAAS celebrates its 40th anniversary Thursday-Saturday, that essential link to community will be at the heart of the festivities.

In 1970, as contemporary troubadours demanded respect, declared race pride and Marvin Gaye recorded his brooding masterpiece “What’s Going On,” a broad coalition of U-M students declared themselves the Black Action Movement, a campuswide strike in support of minority student enrollment and minority academic and support programs. More than 300 professors and teaching assistants canceled classes and entire academic departments were shuttered during the eight-day strike.

Later that year, CAAS officially opened its doors. In the intervening decades, the persistently interdisciplinary center has experienced substantial success, growing from 13 faculty under the leadership of renowned historian Harold Cruise to 39 appointed faculty and 14 faculty associates in 17 academic disciplines.

“Our anniversary theme is ‘research and community partnerships’,” says Kevin Gaines, director of CAAS and professor of history. “Throughout their history, black studies programs have been important because of the teaching and research they generate, and also because of the role they play in building a better community, a better future. CAAS meets and exceeds these expectations through our active collaborations with social, cultural and academic communities here in the United States and in Africa.”

The three-day anniversary event, the centerpiece of a yearlong observance of the 40-year milestone, will feature a series of academic panels and remarks, and student and alumni discussions. And, true to the era of its birth, the celebration will begin and end with music.

Thursday's keynote address at the Alumni Center by highly regarded activist and scholar Grace Lee Boggs will be followed by neo-soul artist Dwele, spoken word artists Blair and Dee, U-M student spoken word artist Walter Lacy, and U-M student musical group The Cypher. They will give a musical accounting of the past four decades and cast their gaze into the future in “From Motown to Hip-Hop: a Celebration of Detroit Music” at the Michigan League Ballroom.

The next day’s events, all taking place at the U-M Museum of Art, include three CAAS faculty panels and an intergenerational alumni panel — featuring alumni from the 1940s through the 1990s — and ends with legendary jazz artist Randy Weston, who will sit down with the audience and Georgetown University Associate Professor Maurice Jackson to talk about his six decades of music-making.

The third and final day begins with graduate-student and undergraduate-student panels at Rackham Amphitheatre and ends with a performance by Weston’s African Rhythms Trio at the Kerrytown Concert House.

In the words of Langston Hughes, “When Randy Weston plays, a combination of strength and gentleness, virility and velvet emerges from the keys in an ebb and flow of sound, seemingly as natural as the waves of the sea.”

“The excitement is growing as the conference approaches,” Gaines says. “We look forward to sharing these amazing opportunities with the entire community.”

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