First named the “Program in African and Afro-American Studies,” the interdisciplinary program was formed by a committee headed by Professor James L. Gibbs, Jr. of the Anthropology Department in 1968, and was the direct result of student activism on campus.
Joined by AAAS director Dr. St. Clair Drake, Professor Gibbs continued to be actively involved by serving on the Steering Committee and the Executive Committee for AAAS. He was instrumental in designing the AAAS 105 course–the introductory course required for all majors and minors in AAAS.
Dr. St. Clair Drake served as the first Chairperson of the program from 1969-1976. Drake developed several student initiated courses such as the Workshop in Community Development; the Workshop in Performing Arts; and the Workshop in Economic and Political Analysis.
Professor Sylvia Wynter (Spanish and Portuguese) becomes director of AAAS. During her tenure as Chairperson, Professor Wynter brought the Committee on Black Performing Arts under the umbrella of AAAS. She also introduced additional courses into the AAAS curriculum.
Director Professor Horace Porter (English) implements the annual St. Clair Drake Memorial Lecture. Professor Porter continues to enhance the intellectual impact of the program by bringing to campus scholars such as Geneva Smitherman, Barbara Fielding, and Martin Kilson.
Thom Rhue served as Interim Director for two years from 1974-1976 (under the guidance of Dr. Drake) while completing his Ph.D. work in the Sociology of Education and subsequently serving as Acting Assistant Professor of Sociology. Rhue's tenure was during a politically tumultuous time and he worked to keep student participation in the program high. He concentrated his efforts in trying to meet the needs of a diverse student population consisting of students reflecting Nationalist and Marxist perspectives as well as others with more conservative backgrounds.
Director Professor Kennell Jackson (History) introduced Lecture Series, revamped the curriculum, renovated Harmony House, and established Undergraduate Scholars Program.
Founding Director, St. Clair Drake passes away.
Dr. Morris Graves serves as director of AAAS for two years from 1996-1998. Under the directorship of Graves, the African and Afro-American Studies Majors and Minors Association was developed. He creates an associate director position. Dr. Diann McCants served as the first Associate Director.
Director Professor Lawrence Bobo (Sociology) With Associate Director Vera Grant, he led Learning Expeditions to Paris, France and Harlem, New York.
AAAS became a housed inside the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity
Dr. John Rickford (of Linguistics) took over as the new director of AAAS in the fall of 1998 and worked with Associate Director Vera Grant from 2001. His innovations included the creation of Learning Expeditions (traveling to South Carolina Sea Islands, Jamaica, Ghana, and Belize), the Black Book Collection Contest, and Archives of interviews with lecturers focusing on Black themes.
Director Professor Michele Elam (English) and Associate Directors Dr. Cheryl Richardson (2008-2009) and Dr. Cheryl Brown (2009-2010) introduce “Race Forward,” a 3 year initiative to collaborate with fields of research and teaching that have not historically engaged critical race studies or where scholars or students of color have been underrepresented. The university-wide initiative integrated the critical study of race with studies of faith, the environment and public health.
Director Professor Arnetha Ball (School of Education) added a fourth theme to the "Race Forward" initiative (2010). Together with Associate Director Dr. Cheryl Brown they hosted a number lectures and events throughout the 2011-2012 year to address issues of race in education. In 2012, Dr. Ball, develops a new community oriented comparative research program focused for students who want to do research on communities nationally and internationally.
In 2013, Dr. H. Samy Alim began his term as director. Professor Alim began a university-wide initiative "Race in Post-Obama America: New Approaches to New Problems in "the New America." In the Spring of 2015 Professor Alim co-taught a course entitled, "Race, Policing & Mass Incarceration" as part of this three year initiative.
Dr. Allyson Hobbs (History) began her term as director, reviving the learning expeditions and taking senior majors on a trip to the National Smithsonian of African American History and Culture. Hobbs continues to strengthen the curriculum of the program and has introduced new thematic emphases to the major. Following the 2016 election, Hobbs alongside Associate Director, Jakeya Caruthers introduced a new theme of programs focusing on Race, Rights & Resistance. Hobbs also expanded the office staff to now include a Program Manager in addition to the Student Services Officer and Associate Director.