CHICAGO AND THE AFRICAN CENTERED MOVEMENT
By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill
In the May 2017 issue of The South Shore Current, publisher Yvette Moyo penned an article, “Could Chicago Be the Most Afro-Centric City in the US?” Being greatly inspired, I called to congratulate Yvette on capturing an aspect of the “African Centered Movement” in Chicago. Our conversation led to my agreeing to write what could be called “Part 2.” It is important to reiterate that Chicago has deep historical roots in the intergenerational trajectory of ideas to protect African interests and the African way; as pointed out in her article, citing the impact of the Universal Negro Improvement Association / African Communities League, under the leadership of the late Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. From the UNIA/ACL’s inception in 1916 in New York, its strong presence continues in Chicago to this day.
During the month of June, we celebrate “Father’s Day.” In this regard, it is important to acknowledge two of the key “Fathers of the African Centered Movement” in Chicago. Two men that made significant contributions and who were long time residents of South Shore. Dr. Anderson Thompson and the late Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers were not only great fathers to the children in their own families but became fathers of the African Centered Movement. When Dr. Carruthers was recruited in 1968 to join the faculty at the Center for Inner City Studies (CICS) of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) he met Dr. Anderson Thompson who was already on the faculty.
Dr. Carruthers was born February 15, 1930 in Dallas, Texas. His father, Jacob H. Carruthers, Sr. was a United Methodist minister. He instilled in his son strong spiritual values, a love of learning, a respect for humanity, and the appreciation of a good story. It was in this environment that Jake’s intellectual curiosities matured. Dr. Thompson was born in Chicago on June 22, 1932. His development was nourished by the creative social and cultural climate of Chicago’s south side.
Jake (as we affectionately called him) and Brother Andy (as he was affectionately called) came together in a profound way through their research and study. They became the twin engines that helped align the curriculum philosophy with an African worldview at what is now the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies/CCICS (renamed in his honor in 2004) that gained an international reputation as a center of academic excellence within the worldwide African community.
The student activism of the late 1960s propelled students throughout the United States to call for Black studies and equity in higher education. This student activism in Chicago in the late 60s forged the battle to rename Crane Junior College to Malcolm X College. It led the call for Black studies at Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, and other Chicago area colleges and universities propelling students to demand the establishment of a Black university. As Jake often pointed out, “the Black Studies Movement of the 1960s was in essence a call for African centered education.” This explosion of activism in the Chicago area connected students with scholars, activists, and clergymen, which led to all of these elements collaboratively founding the “Communiversity,” an independent think-tank. The initial meetings were held in Rev. John Porter’s church located in the Englewood community and eventually moved to CICS.
All day on Saturdays, hundreds of Chicagoland students and community members participated in the Communiversity under the instruction of Dr. Harold Pates, Professor Anderson Thompson, and the late Drs. Bobby Wright and Bob Rhodes. Some of the early participants were Standish Willis, Professor Robert Starks, John Higginson, the late Ruwa Chiri (who also taught classes), and many others. It was through the Communiversity that the transmission of African centered knowledge through the African lens, led by the great intellectual insights of Jake, Andy, and Bobby Wright, sparked the resurgence of the Pan-African Nationalist tradition in Chicago. The Communiversity became the place to study the works of many of our great African centered scholars such as the late Drs. John Henrik Clarke, Chancellor Williams, Yosef ben Jochannan, Professor John G. Jackson, and many others.
In March of 1972, a strong contingency from Chicago, many from the Communiversity, attended the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, along with 10,000 other African people from throughout the United States.
The Communiversity’s work led to the development of such organizations as the Arusha-Konakri Institute, the Association of African Historians (AAH), the Association of African Educators, and the National Committee on African Affairs. In the winter of 1973, out of the research and exchanges of ideas that took place in the
Communiversity, the AAH began to publish The Afrocentric World Review. The first issue of The Afrocentric World Review explained:
The Afrocentric World Review joins hands with the growing ideological forces within the Black movement in their efforts to accept and intercept the serious challenges confronting the Black World Community today. In this crucial world view scramble for Africa, African minds and African bodies, we must proclaim in our own right African interests first—The Black World first! Let others scramble for second and third place. Let us work to avert the second scramble for Africa.
Blacks must cease becoming a “vest pocket” people for others national interests and world pursuits, and hasten to revive the age old traditional quest for a World African center that will make us once again masters in our own house.
Communiversity leaders Anderson Thompson, Dr. Bobby Wright, along with Haki Madhubuti became delegates to the Sixth Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in June 1974. There, they connected with African scholars and activists from all over the world.
In 1975, Dr. Carruthers took a sabbatical leave from CICS and studied at the University of Dakar under the tutelage of the late, legendary Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop. It was at Diop’s urging that Baba Jake began intensive study of Medew Netcher (Divine Speech) also known as Egyptian Hieroglyphs, the language of Kemet (Ancient Egypt).
In July 1977, Drs. Carruthers and Thompson conducted the first study tour with students, community persons, and CICS faculty and staff to Senegal, the Sudan, Kenya, and Egypt. During the next two decades Jake and Andy led numerous study tours to Africa exposing many African Americans to the continent for the first time. In 1978, Jake founded the Kemetic Institute, established to study the history, culture, language, and literature of Kemet as our classical African civilization.
In 1984, Jake and Andy attended the Ancient Egyptian Studies Conference in Los Angeles, California where they became founding members of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC). The Kemetic Institute hosted the first national conference of the newly formed organization in 1985 at Chicago State University. Under Jake’s leadership along with Brother Andy, ASCAC held its Fourth Annual Conference in Aswan, Egypt with over 1000 people from the African world in attendance.
Through their work, Jake and Andy, as “Fathers of the African Centered Movement,” became sought after consultants, lecturing both nationally and internationally on African Centered Education. They participated in training staffs of many public schools in the Chicago area and nationwide through the Kemetic Institute’s African Foundations and Teaching About Africa programs. From the work of the Communiversity and the Confederation of African organizations, Chicago’s first African Liberation Day Parade and March was held in May 1973. These entities provided support for the struggles in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Guinea Bissau. It was also from this African centered base that through the Confederation the first citywide Kwanzaa took place with guidance from the Institute of Positive Education/IPE and the Shule Ya Watoto under the leadership of the late Baba Hannibal Afrik.
It is clear to me that many more articles should be written about the African Centered Movement in Chicago. We must mention Frederick H. H. Robb who was the owner of the House of Knowledge, who sold materials about African history and culture beginning in the 1920s until his transition in 1978. Mr. Robb became known as “Mr. Hammurabi,” who along with Marion E. Hockenhull of the Washington Park Forum, were advocates of the African way in Chicago in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. They were part of a tradition that Chancellor Williams called the “Watchmen and Women,” in his Destruction of Black Civilization. As Andy Thompson referred to them in his recently published article in The Compass, Journal of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, Vol. 2, Issue 1, as “…Black scrappers, lonely warriors, African redemptionists, vindicationists, emigrationists, Black radicals, race men and women, Ethiopianists, Garveyites, Pan Africanists, Foundationalists, and Black nationalists.” In Chicago, there have always been men and women who, as Dr. Thompson stated, “always shared love of Africa and a love for people of African descent.”
It is important to mention that through the Communiversity women played a key role in developing the African Centered Movement in Chicago. Women such as Bernetta Bush, Cathy McAbee, the late Bobbie Womack, Ifé Carruthers, Sarudzayi Sevanhu, and Yvonne Jones to name a few.
No matter how bleak it may seem here in Chicago, the African Centered Movement is still very much a part of us—it is alive and well— as evidenced by the young people that are carrying on its tradition.
Dr. Worrill is a retired professor and director of the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies of Northeastern Illinois University where he worked for forty years. He was a participant in much of the history cited in this article.