NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– New Orleans, Louisiana is a hodgepodge of beauty, composed of many different elements. A distinct component of the charm of New Orleans is African. Southern University at New Orleans’ Center for African and African American Studies uses African artifacts among other things to bring culture to the city’s inhabitants.
Dr. Clyde Robertson is the director of the center and an associate professor. Dr. Robertson says, the CAAAS impacts on the community in three distinct ways: First, with a stellar lineup of dynamic and engaging programing with guests that include civil rights heroes of the past and future, prominent politicians and scholars from around the country. Second, the CAAAS takes teaching out of the classroom with seminars and exhibitions done at local schools, such as St. Katharine’s, St. Mary’s and Landry Walker as well as local churches in the area. CAAAS is also building a firm foundation of culture by establishing literary centers at three schools in the city that include collegiate level books and material from Southern University at New Orleans. Third, is a stellar academic program that directly engages students, including the teaching of how to archive historical artifacts.
Even though Southern is not the only Historically Black College University in the state of Louisiana, it is unique. Dr. Robertson says, “surprisingly at HBCU’s, very few of our campuses, house centers for African and African American Studies. One of the missions of Africana Studies as a discipline is to reach out and bridge the gap between the community and the University. It’s important because our children must have access to material that talks about their history.”
The CAAAS’s first intellectual leader was Charles Fry. Fry was a Harvard Graduate who wanted to develop a Center of African and African American Studies at an HBCU. He chose SUNO and began building the CAAAS in around 1992.
SUNO’s CAAAS houses a jewel to the State of Louisiana; the largest collection of African artifacts in the state.
Linda Hill is the curator and archivist of the center, taking care of over two thousand artifacts from various regions of Africa. However, Hill says, most of the pieces are from a very special place, saying, “this collection comes primarily from the Congo and as you know, we have Congo Square here. There’s a direct cultural connection to the ethnic dynamic of the city in these artifacts and the city’s 300 years reflected in these pieces.”
There are few better quotes that stress history’s vital connection to our present and future than one quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “We are not makers of history we are made by history.”
When asked why Africana studies is important, Dr. Robertson perfectly says, “The history of African people is the history of the world. In order to become a fully informed human being, you must know the true story about the world. Being informed about African and African-American studies makes you a wholistic and knowledgeable human being ready to change the world for the better.”