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HISTORY: Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar

HISTORYFrom Black Power to Hip-HopJeffrey O.G. Ogbar

Title: Associate Professor of History and
Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut
Education: Ph.D., History, Indiana
University; M.A., History, Indiana University; B.A., History,
Morehouse College
Age: 35

While history for most conjures up images of places and experiences far removed, for Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, the field provides a “wonderful medium” to illuminate contemporary issues as well.

Much of Ogbar’s current research centers on events occurring in the latter half of the 20th century, such as the civil rights and Black power movements as well as what more commonly is being referred to as the hip-hop movement. Examining these contemporary events provides a unique opportunity for Ogbar to investigate the living and their influence on today’s society and culture.

For instance, for his dissertation, which looked at the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party during the years of 1955 and 1975, Ogbar was fortunate to interview major figures from the era, such as Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown of the Black Panther Party. In many cases living subjects are resistant to having their lives probed by scholars, but Ogbar says he received a lot of support from those who were involved in the Black power movement.

“I was very excited to have so many people want to share their stories and to make this history more known,” Ogbar says.

That history is explored in more depth in his book Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity. Published last year, the book is an extension of his dissertation, looking further into the two organizations he initially focused on, but also looking at the entire Black power movement and its influence on contemporary politics and culture.

The book is one of the few published academic studies on the subject. Although the movement has garnered attention in popular culture, with biographies, autobiographies and movies dedicated to key leaders from the era, there remains little published academic scholarship on the movement in general, and on the Black Panther Party in particular, according to Ogbar.

“No scholar has attempted to write a singular scholarly history of the Black Panther Party,” he says.

Yet, instead of interpreting the dearth of scholarship as indicative of an institutional resistance to the subject, Ogbar thinks positively. What’s encouraging about the lack of scholarship on the Black power movement, he says, is the fact that there remains such a large field to be explored.

The UConn setting has also provided opportunities for Ogbar to broaden his academic service as well. In August 2003, he was named director of the university’s Institute for African American Studies. Just a few months after assuming the directorship, he pulled together the institute’s first national conference. The two-day event, “The Black Power Movement in Historical Perspective,” was the first conference on Black power held in the United States since the Black power era.

Ogbar’s commitment to illuminating contemporary issues is further documented in his research and teaching on hip-hop. In 1998, he was one of the first professors to offer a class on the musical genre at a major university. What is now a full three-credit course, “Hip-Hop: Politics and Youth Culture in Late 20th-Century United States,” began as a one-credit course for UConn freshmen. The response to the class from students has been great, Ogbar says. The class also has received national attention, including being featured in the popular music magazine The Source.

The politics of hip-hop is the subject of Ogbar’s next book, which is under contract with the University Press of Kansas. He spent this past fall semester working on the book as a visiting professor in the University of Miami’s Africana studies department. Although he appreciated the time to complete the manuscript, which he hopes to submit to the press in the spring, he is having a bit of “withdrawal” from teaching, he says.

Ogbar enjoys the opportunity to learn from his students.

“The students in my hip-hop course are a great way for me to stay connected with my research.”

—  By Robin V. Smiles

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