African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign originated in 1969 as the academic branch of the Faculty Student Commission on Afro-American Life and Culture. In 1970, the Faculty-Student Commission was dissolved and replaced by the Afro-American Studies Commission, which included three branches: academic, cultural, and service, that reported directly to the Vice Chancellor. During the 1974-75 academic year, the Afro-American Academic Program was transferred to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences where it received the title Afro-American Studies and Research Program, and later, African American Studies and Research Program (African American Studies). Now, nearly forty years later, a movement has grown into a department. In June 2008, African American Studies became the Department of African American Studies.

Our teaching and research focus primarily on the experiences of people of African descent in the United States, and to a lesser degree, in the rest of the hemisphere. The program integrates courses and research from the social sciences and humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with other academic areas throughout the university such as fine arts, education, journalism, and law. Twelve core faculty members and more than thirty faculty affiliates from throughout the University participate in the department's activities. We have offered an Interdisciplinary Minor in African American Studies since Fall 1988. Twenty years later, in June 2008, the Illinois Board of Higher Education approved a proposal giving the Department of African American Studies the right to grant Bachelor of Arts degrees. Students began enrolling in the major in 2008.