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Profile: ‘Next Generation Scholar’ Leads Africana Studies

Prof. Tracey HucksTracey E. Hucks became Davidson's inaugural James D. Vail III Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at the beginning of academic year 2014-15.

She commences her second year leading Davidson's newest department and interdisciplinary major confident about its present and future success.

Soon after her arrival, Hucks said, she immediately "fell in love" with Davidson students.

"They are the gems of our work in Africana Studies," she said.

Hucks was especially impressed by the ways students integrate their Davidson education and social awareness. In her first year, Hucks participated in the student-organized die-in in the town of Davidson, as well as student-led vigils for Michael Brown and the Ferguson community, the three Muslim students slain in Chapel Hill, the victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the student casualties in the Al Shabaab attack of Garrisa University in Kenya.

Hucks keeps her students' emerging world views at the forefront of her own mind as the department itself continues to evolve and to grow.

"What made Africana Studies so successful was the strong administrative support it received from its inception," Hucks said. "Then, we spent the first year making connections with other departments at Davidson to say, ‘We're here and we're excited and we come in a spirit of alliance and partnership.'"

New Directions

One such alliance, with the Latin American Studies Program, resulted in the approval of a new tenure-track position to be shared by Africana Studies and Latin American Studies. The search is currently underway in the area of Afro-Latin American Studies and seeks to bring visibility to the African-descended populations of Brazil and the Caribbean.

With this semester's arrival of new faculty member Joseph Ewoodzie, Sociology and Africana Studies, and the return from abroad of Caroline Beschea-Fache, associate professor of French and Francophone and Africana Studies, the department is excited about adding "Hip Hop & Urban Sociology" and "Francophone Cinema in Africa" to this year's dynamic Africana course offerings.

Africana Studies was pioneered by Professor of Anthropology Emerita Nancy Fairley, Professor of History Dan Aldridge, Associate Professor and Chair of Educational Studies Hilton Kelly, Edward M. Armfield Sr. Professor of English Brenda Flanagan and supported by faculty in other departments.

The major allows students to study the history, politics and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora. Currently, faculty from the departments of history, political science, sociology, anthropology, French and francophone studies, and education studies comprise the core faculty of the Africana Studies Department.

The liberal arts perspective at Davidson is key to the growth of the major. There is a natural "intellectual porousness" at Davidson that lends itself to Africana Studies, Hucks said.

"The quality of engagement and conversation in Davidson classrooms leads to connections in other classes and an integration of knowledge that is rightly placed in a liberal arts context," she said. "Liberal arts provide you the space not to have to decide at 18 years old what you will do for a career. It gives you the freedom to do the exploration.

The liberal arts is trying to engage a whole humanity that is about the intellectual, the social and the ethical."

That fits well with her own teaching statement that reads in part, "My teaching philosophy involves making the classroom a fluid and malleable space that places the scholarly world of Africana Studies in dialogue with a lived social, racial and political world."

Next Generation Scholar

Hucks was born in Harlem, New York City. Growing up, she attended a school named for James Weldon Johnson, an early leader of the NAACP, and remembers singing his famous Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" every week as a student.

Hucks recalls Harlem in those years as a mecca for the African diaspora, drawing in distinct cultural perspectives from around the world. That international diversity was the landscape on which the American Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements unfolded for her. Later as an undergraduate, Hucks was a student in the nascent field of "Black Studies" that emerged from these movements.

She studied with leading Africana scholars at Colgate University, and later in graduate school at Harvard and Princeton, including Manning Marable, Harvey Sindima, Lewis Baldwin, Josiah Young, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, J. Lorand Matory, Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Cornel West, Nell Painter, Albert Raboteau and Kwame Anthony Appiah.Now as a part of the next generation of Africana scholars herself, Hucks remains steadfast in viewing Africana Studies against the broader landscape of globalization on which current college students will live their lives.

"Our Africana Studies department is indebted to the movement of ‘Black Studies' in the 1960s and 1970s and continues its legacy in many ways, while also striking out in new directions that reflect the realities of the 21st century and the evolution of the field over the last 40 years, along with a greater awareness of globalization," says the department's website.

Hucks' own scholarly publications explore diasporicity, coloniality, and Atlantic-inspired nationalisms and citizenships. Her book Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism, treats classical questions in Africana and religious studies regarding origins, race and nationalism. A recent research project, "Religious Vocabularies of Africa: Obeah and Orisha in Colonial Trinidad," explores issues of religion and juridical policy by scrutinizing colonial legal cases against enslaved Africans accused of the religious crime of Obeah (deemed witchcraft and sorcery).

Funded by several prestigious fellowships and grants, her archival and ethnographic research on Africana religions has included travel throughout the United States as well as Nigeria, Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad, Brazil, Santo Domingo, England and France.

Hucks casts the same global, analytical eye on Davidson itself, both the town and the college.

She notes Davidson's "prime location" in the middle of the South's storied cultural richness, for example in the nearby South Carolina Lowcountry.

Just as important is the Davidson's strategic position for leadership influence in Charlotte and nationally.

Locally in the town of Davidson itself, Hucks is just as quick to note the railroad tracks as an enduring "demarcation of two Davidsons," black and white. When she lectured at the Davidson Historical Society last semester, older African-American residents of the town gave testimony to this painful history of racial separation.

On campus, she is struck by the geographical range of Davidson's undergraduates, many of whom proved to be eager students for the new department.

"My ‘Introduction to Africana Studies' class was at capacity at 8:15 a.m. my first semester!" Hucks recalled.

As a part of the discipline's historical mission of outreach, Africana Studies' first year at Davidson saw a number of important programs beyond the classroom, including the Lorenzo Dow Turner Distinguished Lectureship, the Africana Studies Brown Bag Seminar Series, Black History Month celebrations, Africana Studies Works-in-Progress Symposia, and many co-sponsored lectures and events with various departments.

Student demand remains strong, Hucks said.

"This year's intro class is still at capacity," she said. "In fact, this semester it's over-subscribed...."

That bodes well for the future of Africana Studies at Davidson.