History of African American Studies at Princeton

The Program in African American Studies (Fall 1969 – Spring 2006)

African American Studies at Princeton University was founded in 1969 in response to widespread student demands that African American intellectual traditions be represented at the University. At its inception the teaching staff of seven was comprised, with one exception, of visiting lectures and non-tenure track faculty members representing the following fields: African American Studies, English, History, Politics, and Psychology. Today, the faculty members of the Center, whether jointly appointed or affiliated, are established leaders or rising stars in their respective fields: African American Studies, Anthropology, Art and Architecture, Comparative Literature, English, History, Psychology, Religion, and Sociology. 

By the end of the 1970-71 academic year, the Program has a total of twenty-eight concentrators and six graduate students. One year later, three postdoctoral fellows, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, came to study under the auspices of the Program. Furthermore with the stellar appointments of John Jemmott, Toni Morrison, Cornel West, and Nell Painter, the Program took on a new life. The period of the early to mid-nineties was a critical watershed era for the Program. A host of highly visible, influential scholars such as Arnold Rampersad, Wahneema Lubiano, Kevin Gaines, Carol Swain, and later Gina Dent, Claudia Tate, and Donna Jones were hired. Under the direction of Cornel West (1988-94), Arnold Rampersad (1994-97), and Nell Painter (acting director in 1990-91 and director from 1997-2000).

The Center for African American Studies (Fall 2006 – Spring 2015)

In 2005, President Shirley Tilghman convened an Ad Hoc Committee to reflect on the future of African American Studies at Princeton. The committee was chaired by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Drawing on the recommendations of the 1987 Self-Study, Professor Painter’s recommendations, and Professor Smith’s stewardship, the committee recommended in 2006 the formation of the Center for African American Studies (CAAS), with Professor Smith as founding chair.

The Department of African American Studies (Fall 2015 – Today)


Sheldon Hackney Jan. 1969 – Feb. 1970
Sylvester Whitaker Feb. 1970
Badi G. Foster 1970–1973
Howard F. Taylor 1973–1987
Ruth J. Simmons 1985–1988 Acting
Cornel R. West 1988–1994
Nell I. Painter 1990–1991 Acting
Arnold Rampersad 1994–1997
Nell I. Painter 1997–2000
Noliwe M. Rooks 2000–2001 Acting
Colin A. Palmer 2001–2002 Acting
Valerie A. Smith 2002– 2005
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. 2005–2006 Acting
Valerie A. Smith 2006 – 2009
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. 2009 – 2012
Wallace Best 2012 – 2013 Acting
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. 2013 – present