Fordham University’s Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP) has received an $18,000 grant from the New York Council for the Humanities to support a series of public programs on the history of New York’s most underrepresented borough.

The funding represents the first major outside grant for BAAHP, which began in 2003 as a joint project with the Bronx County Historical Society to document the rich history of the borough’s 500,000 residents of African descent.

BAAHP staff members Mark Naison, Ph.D., Oneka LaBennett, Ph.D., and Brian Purnell, Ph.D. Photo by Bud Glick

During the 2008-2009 academic year, Fordham’s Rose Hill campus will be the site of “The Bronx is Building: The Bronx as a Site for Political Mobilization and Cultural Creativity,” a series of 10 public programs featuring research, discussion and analysis of BAAHP’s work.

Programs will cover these topics: Jazz in the Bronx; Civil Rights Activism; Women and Bronx Hip Hop; African Americans in Bronx Politics; When Every Gym and Schoolyard Was Open; and The South Bronx: Crucible of Black-Latino Cultural Interchange; among others.

Among the featured program speakers are poet-rapper Caridad de La Luz, known as “La Bruja,” jazz scholar Maxine Gordon (wife of jazz legend Dexter Gordon) and Susanne Stemmler, Ph.D., from the Center for Metropolitan Studies of Technical University in Berlin. Stemmler will discuss hip hop cultures in the Bronx, Berlin and Paris.

“This grant provides us with a chance to showcase the types of research that we’ve been doing for the past five years,” said Brian Purnell, Ph.D. (FCRH ’00) co-research director of BAAHP and assistant professor of African and African American studies. “Nobody has really ever studied the black community in the Bronx in any systematic scholarly way. This project helps correct that omission and adds to the historic understanding of African Americans in New York City in general.”

NYCH grants are designed especially to bring humanities scholars and scholarship to a general audience. Special consideration is given to projects that reach underserved populations.

Since its inception, BAAHP has collected more than 200 oral history interviews with the borough’s longtime residents as well as its newest members, many of who are active in the current music scene. One of the BAAHP’s prime foci has been to document the roots of hip-hop, largely believed to have originated in the Bronx.

BAAHP’s oral histories have found their way into Purnell’s class curriculum on African-American migration, too.

“It seems to resonate more when students actually hear the person’s voice,” he said.

Joining Purnell on BAAHP research at Fordham are Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of history and African American studies, Oneka LaBennett, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of African and African American studies, administrators and student interns. Purnell said he hoped the series of public presentations would help reach out to some potential BAAHP interviewees.

“This is an opportunity to let more people, more churches, more schools and more organizations know that Fordham is doing this research, and that it is interested in having more participants from the community,” Purnell said.


Janet Sassi is editor/associate director of internal communications. She can be reached at (212) 636-7577 or [email protected]