The dismissal of the importance of African studies preceded its acceptance as a scholarly discipline. While clearly diminished today, the white male Eurocentric focus has historically dominated university curricula. Both grassroots and academic movements pointed to the need for recognition of the African contribution to world and American culture.

The early to mid-1900s saw the emergence of black intellectuals in Africa (e.g., Léopold Sédar Senghor, Patrice Lumumba, Cheikh Anta Diop), the Caribbean (Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Claude McKay), and America (W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Anna Julia Cooper), who spoke of parallel movements based on the assumption that black people in all parts of the world were a community with shared interests and identity (e.g., Negritude, Pan-Africanism).

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The goals of these scholars emphasized the uplift of people of African ancestry worldwide through education, research, politics, and cultural activities. These international movements among black intellectuals were in direct response to theories of black inferiority and the systematic oppression of Africans (both on the continent and abroad).

Herbert Spencer, among others, launched the ideology of Social Darwinism, which developed into a popular, pseudoscientific justification for racial hierarchies. Social Darwinism assigned Africans, and thereby African Americans, to the lowest rung in the evolutionary ladder

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