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Africana Center to honor founder at 50th anniversary symposium

The Africana Studies and Research Center kicks off a year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of its founding with a two-day symposium honoring James Turner, Africana’s founding director and professor emeritus of African and African American Politics and Social Policy.

James Turner, founding director of the Africana Studies and Research Center, shown speaking at 2016 Convocation, will be honored as the center celebrates its 50th anniversary with a symposium April 12-13.

The symposium – focusing on Turner’s activism and impact in shaping the black student movement – will be held from April 12-13 at the Africana Center, 310 Triphammer Road. The keynote address, scheduled for 11 a.m. April 13, will be given by John Bracey, professor in the W.E.B. du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Cornell is considered the birthplace of Africana studies – Turner coined the term to conceptualize the comprehensive studies of the African diaspora and describe the multidisciplinary analysis of the lives and thoughts of people of African ancestry throughout the world.

Since the field was created at Cornell during the civil rights movement – in the wake of the Willard Straight Hall occupation, which occurred 50 years ago this month – it has been increasingly embraced as a discipline in colleges around the nation.

“Professor Turner is pivotal to think about in commemorating #WillardStraight50,” said Riché Richardson, associate professor of Africana studies. “His legacy has profoundly shaped the black student movement and so he is an ideal lens through which to examine its historical and continuing impact.”

Turner was a founding member of TransAfrica, an African-American lobbying organization. During the 1970s, he was the national organizer of the Southern Africa Liberation Support Committee, which pressed the anti-apartheid campaign in the United States.

As a Schomburg Research Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, Turner conducted research on the political philosophy of Malcolm X that served as the basis for his work on the prize-winning PBS series “Eyes on the Prize.”

“The Africana project … I hope is now without doubt one of the most innovative and remarkable developments in higher education,” Turner told the Cornell Chronicle in 2005. “In my view it set the pace for interdisciplinary studies and for interdisciplinary teaching, which allowed for so much of what we now take for granted in terms of women’s studies, American studies, cultural studies, Latino studies and Asian American studies. Our role continues to be at the cutting edge, to be the model that so many of our colleagues in the profession look to.”

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, professor and interim chair of Africana Studies, said the paradigm regarding education in Africana-related studies has shifted.

“[B]efore Africana Studies, most of the disciplines and topics that now populate the multi-, trans- and inter-disciplinary field designated by Africana Studies were nonexistent in the academy,” he said. “That we no longer routinely adjudge exclusionary education acceptable is the ultimate mark of the revolutionary impact of Africana Studies.”

Keynote speaker Bracey has taught in Amherst since 1972. He’s serving a second stint as department chair and is co-director of the department’s graduate certificate in African Diaspora Studies. His major academic interests are in African-American social history, radical ideologies and movements, and the history of African-American women.

The full schedule of events at the symposium is online. The dinner ceremony that concludes the two-day symposium requires advance reservations, which can be made by emailing ASRC Events Coordinator Donna Pinnisi.

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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