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Kofi "E" Agorsah
Kofi "E" Agorsah

African Roots

Understanding the black experience

To comprehend the experience of blacks in America, look to Africa in the hundreds of years before the slave trade. That's the approach of Kofi Agorsah, an archeologist and cultural anthropologist who heads PSU's Black Studies department and who does fieldwork in his native Ghana. "Being able to understand the background of African culture in North America is something my students find fascinating."

To really understand the experience of blacks in America, you have to look hundreds of years before the slave trade, and explore other regions of the world where blacks settled after they left Africa.

That’s the approach of Kofi Agorsah, an archeologist and cultural anthropologist who heads PSU's Black Studies department. Since 2007 Agorsah and his students have been involved in an archeology project in his native Ghana, on the west coast of Africa, to uncover the history of a village that was a gateway to the slave trade. The ongoing project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Despite their forced removal hundreds of years ago, African descendants – whether they're in the United States, Brazil, or the Caribbean – still carry something of Africa in their roots.

"There are elements that identify them as African Americans beyond the color of their skin," he says. "Being able to understand the background of African culture in North America is something my students – especially African Americans – find fascinating."

PSU established the Center for Black Studies in 1969. It became the Black Studies Department in 2005, expanding its focus beyond the experience of African Americans to include a more global approach. Today, PSU is the only institution of higher education in the Northwest and one of the few in the nation to offer a degree in Black Studies.

Agorsah has taught at the University of Ghana and the University of the West Indies, and was once the keeper of the Ghana National Museum. At PSU, he has won awards for teaching and the Branford Price Millar award for Faculty Excellence.

Read more about PSU's outstanding faculty.