The Lessons of Temple U.

Taken from a April 18, 2013, column at

The incipient, yet growing protests at Philadelphia’s Temple University around the governance of its highly-prized African-American Studies Department is not about academic freedom, nor about departmental regulations and proper protocol — although it has been couched in such terms.

It’s about something far more fundamental.

It’s about power; the power of institutions and the power of memory.

In many ways, Temple’s African-American Studies Department is a flagship of sorts — the first university in the modern world to found an African Studies doctoral program — which now draws scholars from around the world. It will soon mark its 25th year since this signal achievement.

But perhaps we have forgotten how such departments came into being. They are the academic fruit of hard struggle and protests during the height of the 1960s and 1970s-era Black Power Movement. They are the brick and mortar proofs of the old adage from ancestor Frederick Douglass, who said, “Without struggle, there is no progress.”

Now, Douglass didn’t say, “Without struggle, there is some progress.” He said, “Without struggle, there is NO progress.”

African studies programs weren’t gifts from enlightened liberal universities; they were won by hard struggle.

And that which is won by struggle, can only be maintained by struggle.

That’s the lesson we must take from that revered ancestor.

So, build, widen and deepen the movement for a truly independent African Studies program. Imagine if college students united with public school students for a quality education at primary and secondary levels!  Imagine how such a movement could awaken and activate parents of those children!

That’s the way forward!  Onamove!

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