In the 1971 Woody Allen film, “Bananas,” a fellow employee asks Allen’s character, “What would you have been if you finished school?” Allen’s character answers, “I was in the black studies program. By now I could have been black.” Allen’s attempted humorous jab at early black studies majors stands in sharp contrast to Robert Fikes’ 2015 compilation of more than 500 African American majors and their current occupations which now include a number of prominent physicians, attorneys, scientists, actors, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, rabbis, government officials, university presidents, and a Pulitizer Prize winner. These folks certainly learned that a black studies degree guarantees more than just learning to be “black.” In fact, a number of the people listed are not African American. Fikes’ introductory commentary and the entire list of over 500 prominent and successful black studies graduates appears below.
The interdisciplinary field of Blacks Studies—alternatively called African American Studies, Afro-American Studies, Africana Studies, Pan African Studies, or Black World Studies, depending on the school where it is offered---is a relative newcomer on the academic scene and its proponents have had to defend its theoretical underpinnings and practicality, something which the traditional liberal arts fields are also challenged to do but not to the same extent. Since the establishment of the nation’s first Black Studies department in 1968 at San Francisco State University, and despite the wide acceptance and institutionalization of Black Studies in academia, there still remains the nagging question about its ability to produce outstanding citizens equal in quality to individuals who as undergraduates majored in, say, history or English or art. Black Studies has now been around long enough to notice its handiwork: men and women constructively contributing to society, employed in a wide variety of professions.
It is a difficult task to compile a list of noteworthy people who majored in Black Studies because