The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, founded in 1969 as the Center for Afro-American Studies (CAAS), is the result of the struggle by black students at UCLA to have their history and culture recognized and studied.
While the fight to have African American Studies acknowledged as a legitimate field of study was taking place all over America during the 1960s, it took on special significance at UCLA when two Black Panthers were killed at Campbell Hall in January 1969 after a clash over who would lead the center.
Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins, leaders in the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, were shot and killed. Two brothers, who were members of the rival Black power group, the United Slaves Organization (US), were convicted for the murders, but escaped from prison in 1974. One of the brothers surrendered to authorities in South America many years later.
With this history in mind UCLA students wrote a proposal for the center and outlined the goals for the center – namely to provide an opportunity to educated Black Americans about their history and culture; lessen their vulnerability to the “corrosive effects of American racism” and give them the tools they need to “understand and control the forces and attitudes presently shaping their lives.”
The Bunche Center was established as an Organized Research Unit (ORU), with the mission to develop and strengthen African American Studies through five primary organizational branches: research, academic programs, library and media center, special projects, and publications.
The Center supports research that (1) expands the knowledge of the history, lifestyles, and sociocultural systems of people of African descent and (2) investigates problems that have bearing on the psychological, social, and economic well being of persons of African descent. Research sponsored and conducted by the Bunche Center is multidisciplinary in scope and spans the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and several professional schools.
The Interdepartmental BA and MA Programs (IDP) oversee the granting of undergraduate and graduate degrees in Afro-American Studies. The Center provides assistance to the IDP through administrative support and coordination of the curricula. The Center also administers two competitive undergraduate scholarship programs–the Julian “Cannonball” Adderley Memorial Scholarship and the John Densmore Scholarship–that fund students majoring in Afro-American Studies and other disciplines.
The Bunche Center Library and Media Center (LMC) provides specialized information services to UCLA faculty, students, and staff and to researchers in the Southern California area at large. In so doing, it supports the academic programs and research projects in African American Studies and complements the resources of the UCLA library system.
Through the production of books and monographs, the CAAS publishing unit provides wide access to research on issues relevant to peoples of African descent throughout the world. The CAAS Publications imprint includes the Afro-American Culture and Society Series, the Special Publications Series, the Urban Policy Series, the Community Classics Series, and the Minority Economic Development Series. The unit also oversees the production of the CAAS Research Report, which is distributed without charge to interested individuals and organizations throughout the United States and abroad.
The Special Projects division is responsible for the development and presentation of cultural and scholarly programming designed to enrich the experiences of the UCLA and off-campus communities. Among its notable activities is the annual Thurgood Marshall Lecture on Law and Human Rights. The Special Projects unit also interacts with businesses, cultural organizations, and other academic institutions to foster a better understanding of the Bunche Center mission, and the Special Projects staff plays a key role in fundraising efforts.
Director Darnell Hunt, Sociology professor, administers the Center with the guidance of an advisory committee appointed by the Executive Vice Chancellor and composed of faculty from across campus.
The Bunche Center is affiliated with the Institute of American Cultures (IAC). Established in 1972, the IAC promotes the development of ethnic studies at UCLA by providing a structure for coordination of the four ethnic studies centers on campus. Through Center, the IAC awards annual pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships.
Everyday the Center works to live up to the goals set forth by the founders and “provide a creative arena for educational development relevant to the lives and existence of Afro-Americans.”