A history of African American Studies at UNCG

A history of African American Studies at UNCG

Posted on November 4, 2021
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Masked man speaks at podium

Dr. Armondo Collins, a lecturer in African American and African Diaspora Studies, speaks at the diversity award presentation.


On September 29, 2021, UNC Greensboro’s African American and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) program was presented with the Dean’s Award for the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusiveness. This annual award by UNCG’s College of Arts & Sciences recognizes initiatives, programs, or departments that exemplify a commitment to creating an inclusive environment for education.

Starting from a loosely constructed Black Studies minor in the early 1980s, the AADS program has grown to include not only a minor, but also a bachelor of arts degree, full-time dedicated faculty, and a robust academic conference.

Here we trace the history of the program, including key events in the university’s history that were fundamental in its development.


The History of AADS


Archival photo of two african american women

Woman’s College desegregates

In the fall of 1956, JoAnne Smart and Bettye Ann Davis Tillman (pictured) arrived at Woman’s College (now UNC Greensboro) as the first African American students to be admitted to the institution.


Archival clipping

Tate Street Desegregation Movement

Spurred in part by the famous Greensboro Sit-in at Woolworth’s in 1960, Woman’s College students, faculty, and community members led pickets and boycotts of three segregated businesses on Tate Street: Cinema Theatre, Town & College restaurant, and Apple House restauarant.


archival photo of African Americans gathered for speech

Black Power Forum held

On November 1-3, 1967, a controversial Black Power Forum was held at UNCG. The forum was organized around three topics: “Black Power: Past and Present,” “The Ghetto,” and “Black Power and the Self-Image of the Negro.” Speakers from across the country were brought in for presentations and discussions held in Cone Ballroom.


Black and white photo of black female professor

First African American faculty member hired

Ernestine Small becomes the first African American hired to the faculty. She joined the faculty of the School of Nursing in 1967.


Newspaper clipping and archival photo

Neo-Black Society Forms

From 1968-69, the Neo-Black Society was formed, and students began to push for a Black Studies Program.


Newspaper clipping "Black Studies Program May Come Soon"

Black Studies minor formed

From 1983-’84, a racist incident in a student dormitory occurred, which led to negative publicity. An ad hoc committee was formed, and they would eventually announce 11 courses students could use to create a minor in Black Studies.


African American students in the 1980s

Calls to better support Black Studies

In 1987, concerns that the Black Studies program was underfunded and under-supported began. Black students threatened to boycott the recruitment of students of color until the university took measures to support them.

The Committee on Minority Affairs was convened to examine and consult on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues on campus. They recommended:

  • A process for African American faculty recruitment and retention.
  • Revision of the curriculum to include minority perspectives.
  • Educational programs to increase interracial understanding.


  • Four courses were added from 1989-1991.


Flier for bell hooks talk

Conference on African-American Culture & Experience (CACE) established

The annual conference, still running today, seeks to promote a better understanding within the university and the Greensboro community of the various facets of African American and African Diasporic experiences.

Pictured: A flier advertising the 2000 CACE, with bell hooks as a presenter. 


Group photo and logo

Black Studies becomes African American Studies

The Black Studies program was renamed the African American Studies program under the new leadership of Angela Rhone.

Pictured: Neo-Black Society members in the 1990s.


two male african american professors

Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies established

With enrollment in African American Studies courses steadily growing, a bachelor of arts degree was implemented in 2002. The program chair at the time, Dr. Naurice “Frank” Woods (pictured, left), and longtime lecturer Michael Cauthen (right) were instrumental in the development of the degree program.

2008 - 2009

Tara Green headshot

First tenured professor hired; Post-baccalaureate certificate added

In 2008, the program hired its first tenured faculty and director, Dr. Tara T. Green (pictured). In 2009, the program was approved for a graduate post-baccalaureate certificate in African American Studies.


Two women

Name changes to African American and African Diaspora Studies (AADS)

The name change was made to reflect the diverse course offerings in comparative African history and literature.


Masked woman speaks at podium

AADS wins Dean’s Award

Recognizing its history of high-impact practices, the African American and African Diaspora Studies program was presented with the Dean’s Award for the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusion at a reception on September 29, 2021.

Pictured: Current director, Dr. Noelle Morrissette, speaks at the award reception. 

Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences
Archival photography courtesy of UNCG’s University Archives
Contemporary photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications