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Message from the Director

Donald Shaffer

Dear Friends:
Ten years ago Mississippi State University launched its first African American Studies program. Since then, African American Studies at MSU has offered students the opportunity to explore the history, culture and lived experience of African American people and people of African descent throughout the Diaspora. I believe what distinguishes our program is the unique opportunity it affords students here to pursue a minor in African American Studies at a land grant institution located in a state that is the veritable birth place of African American culture.

Students and faculty engage black southern history and culture first hand through our diverse curriculum of courses, our interdisciplinary research, and our sponsored events, such as our Freedom Summer Conference and our Civil Rights Tour. We explore the depths of our past, the hard won freedoms of the Civil Rights era in the South, as well as the persistent challenges of our contemporary moment. We hone our intellect on the gifts bequeathed to us by our predecessors, pursuing with curiosity and passion the timely lessons of David Walker, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. We remind ourselves and others of the rich tradition that is here in the Magnolia State of Mississippi, my birth place, that was also once home to Richard Wright, Margaret Walker Alexander, Jesmyn Ward, Lerone Bennett Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Natasha Trethewey, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Medgar Evers, to name a few.

African American Studies is more relevant now than it has ever been as we continue to grapple with race as a powerful and persistent social construct. As we seek diversity, in both representation and thought, we are ever mindful of the common ground that binds us together as human beings. For in that diversity is the common ground of tradition and lived experience that makes African American culture both relevant and essential to what is distinctly American. This common ground in diversity is to be found in the lessons of America’s history. For every celebrated figure in American history, there are unheralded heroes and sheroes: For every Nathan Hale, there is a Crispus Attucks. For every celebrated tinkerer and entrepreneur who shaped the innovative spirit of a Nation there are lesser known individuals: For every Harriet Beecher Stowe, there is a Harriet Ann Jacobs; for every Benjamin Franklin, there is a Benjamin Banneker. These black and white strangers need not be estranged any more in our account of American history. Their individual stories form the collective ideal of America signified in the national motto E Pluribus Unum. African American Studies here at Mississippi State is committed to exploring the common ground of people sometimes divided by race but always linked by history and lived experience.

I am excited to facilitate the efforts of our faculty and students as they pursue knowledge and understanding. Like our minds, my door is always open.

Donald M. Shaffer
Interim Director of African American Studies