Considered the best of the sciences and humanities, modern anthropology necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. Among our list of influential Black anthropologists today, you will find famous anthropologists exploring complex problems with innovative solutions. These scholars are teachers, mentors, and practitioners whose works have advanced the field and help prepare the next generation of anthropologists.
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Top 10 Black Anthropologists from the Last 30 Years
Anthropology is the study of humans, humanity, and the human experience both throughout history and in the present day. This includes the study of early civilizations as well as a diverse range of modern cultures. The field of anthropology overlaps with a number of other critical disciplines including history, sociology, and biology. This makes anthropology a particularly versatile discipline whether you plan to pursue a career in education, the social sciences, journalism, among many more options.
Anthropologists seek to understand human cultures and to use their knowldege of human culture to solve societal problems. The Association for Black Anthropologists, or ABA, seeks to connect anthropological studies to activism and advocacy. The ABA’s mission is to ensure that people studied by anthropologists are not only objects of study but active makers and/or participants in their own history. In a larger sense, we intend to highlight situations of exploitation, oppression and discrimination.
Anthropology is a multi-disciplinary effort that includes:
Prominent African American scholars in anthropology are frequently interdisciplinary in research, publishing, and teaching. They work in areas such as biological anthropology (Jackson), Africana Studies (Louis, Gordon, and Harrison), and archaeology (Jones). Topics of research include the relationship of genetic traits to the intensity of malaria (Jackson), human-plant coevolution (Jackson), racism (Louis and Jones), religion (Louis), the African Diaspora (Louis, Gordon, and Jones), Critical Race Theory (Gordon), gender studies (Gordon), human rights (Harrison), and the intersections of race, gender, and class (Harrison). Recent publications by members of the ABA cover diverse topics including adoption, food access, postcolonial politics, policing, and Pentecostal drug ministries.
Anthropology having its many intersections with other disciplines in the humanities makes it difficult to overlook influential scholars from closely related fields. Therefore we have judiciously allowed some scholars who are not anthropologists, strictly speaking, to be included here. Afterall, whether or not someone is considered an anthropologists could be merely a matter of a how a college’s departments are structured both in the case of what degrees were obtained and where faculty appointments occured. In all cases, our machine learning system has identified scholars listed here, and many others, as ones who have impacted the filed of anthropology in the past, as well as those activily doing so today.
The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.
Influence is dynamic, therefore some of the anthropologists listed are contemporary scholars while other historical figures may be more famous Black anthropologists. In either case, according to our AI, these are the 50 most cited and searched Black anthropologists over the past 30 years.
Marimba Ani is an anthropologist and African Studies scholar best known for her work Yurugu, a comprehensive critique of European thought and culture, and her coining of the term “Maafa” for the African holocaust.
Solange Ashby is an Egyptologist, Nubiologist and archaeologist, whose expertise focuses on language and religion in ancient Egypt. Career Ashby studied for a BA in Intercultural Studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. She graduated with a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago. Her doctoral research took place at the temple of Philae in Egypt, as well as excavating at the Kushite cemetery of El-Kurru in Sudan. Her research examined the inscriptions, including graffiti, made by Kushite visitors, who travelled to the Egyptian temples in Lower Nubia.
Riché J. Daniel Barnes is a sociocultural anthropologist whose teaching and research specializations are at the intersection of black feminist theories, work and family policy, and African Diasporic raced, gendered, and classed identity formation. Her research focus has been on Black women and Black motherhood. She is currently the Dean of Pierson College at Yale University. Her ethnographic field research focus is the U.S. South and the Black Diaspora broadly defined. Dr. Barnes received her B.A. in Political Science from Spelman College, her M.S. in Urban Studies from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Emory University. She co-founded and chaired the Association of Black Anthropologists Mentoring Program and she is currently the president of the Association of Black Anthropologists. Her efforts were recognized with the 2019 AAA/Oxford University Press Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology award and the 2020 American Anthropological Association President’s Award
Whitney Battle-Baptiste is an American historical archaeologist of African and Cherokee descent. She is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the University. Battle-Baptiste’s research focuses on “how the intersection of race, gender, class, and sexuality look through an archaeological lens”.
Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan , referred to by his admirers as “Dr. Ben”, was an American writer and historian. He was considered to be one of the more prominent Afrocentric scholars by some Black Nationalists, while most mainstream scholars, such as Mary Lefkowitz, dismissed him because of the basic historical inaccuracies in his work, as well as disputes about the authenticity of his educational degrees and academic credentials.
Michael Blakey is an American anthropologist who specializes in physical anthropology and its connection to the history of African Americans. Since 2001, he has been a National Endowment for the Humanities professor at the College of William & Mary, where he directs the Institute for Historical Biology. Previously, he was a professor at Howard University and the curator of Howard University’s Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory.
Anthony Brown is an American jazz percussionist, composer, bandleader, ethnomusicologist, and educator. He is known for leading, performing, and recording with the Grammy-nominated Asian American Orchestra since its founding in 1998. His compositions blend jazz instruments and improvisation with traditional Asian instruments and sensibilities, and include musical scores for documentary films, for theatrical and dance premieres, and for spoken word and poetry presentations.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole is an American anthropologist, educator, museum director, and college president. Cole was the first female African-American president of Spelman College, a historically black college, serving from 1987 to 1997. She was president of Bennett College from 2002 to 2007. During 2009–2017 she was Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art.
Brittney Cooper is a tenured professor of Women and Gender Studies, author, professor, activist, and cultural critic. Her areas of research and work include black women organizations, black women intellectuals, and hip-hop feminism. In 2013 and 2014, she was named to the Root.com’s Root 100, an annual list of top Black influencers.
Mary Shawn Copeland was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1947. Her B.A. in English is from Madonna College, and her Ph.D. is in systematic theology from Boston College. Her work has focused on theological anthropology, and particularly the implications of the doctrine of humanity for political theology and African American theology.
Copeland is Professor Emerita of Systematic Theology at Boston College, where she taught for more than a decade before retiring in 2019. Copeland was awarded the prestigious John Courtney Murray Award in 2018, and was the first African American theologian to receive that honor. She holds a number of honorary degrees, and has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and as convenor of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium. She is a prolific author and speaker, having written over 100 scholarly articles and delivered lectures throughout the world.
Ellen Irene Diggs was an American anthropologist. She was the writer of a major contribution to African American history, Black Chronology: From 4,000 B.C. to the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Biography Diggs was born on April 13, 1906, in Monmouth, to parents Charles Henry and Alice Diggs and raised in a “supportive environment” that fostered her academic pursuits and other ambitions
Katherine Mary Dunham was an American dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, and social activist. Dunham had one of the most successful dance careers of the 20th century, and directed her own dance company for many years. She has been called the “matriarch and queen mother of black dance.”
Phillip Atiba Goff is an American psychologist known for researching the relationship between race and policing in the United States. He was appointed the inaugural Franklin A. Thomas Professor in Policing Equity at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2016, the college’s first endowed professorship. In 2020, he became a Professor of African-American Studies and Psychology at Yale University.
Edmund T. Gordon is the founding (former) chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology of the African Diaspora, and Vice Provost for Diversity at The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Gordon is also the former Associate Vice President of Thematic Initiatives and Community Engagement of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement as well as former Director of the Center for African and African American Studies at The University of Texas.
His teaching and research interests include: Culture and power in the African Diaspora, gender studies (particularly Black males), critical race theory, race education, and the racial economy of space and resources. His publications include Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an African-Nicaraguan Community, 1998 UT Press. Dr. Gordon received his Doctorate in Social Anthropology from Stanford University, his Master of Arts from Stanford University in Anthropology, and master’s degree in Marine Sciences from the University of Miami.
John Langston Gwaltney was an African-American writer and anthropologist focused on African-American culture, best known for his book Drylongso: A Self Portrait of Black America. Early life Gwaltney lost his eyesight soon after birth and was the first blind student to attend his local high school in Newark, NJ.
Nathan Hare is an American sociologist, activist, academic, and psychologist. In 1968 he was the first person hired to coordinate a Black studies program in the United States. He established the program at San Francisco State. A graduate of Langston University and the University of Chicago, he had become involved in the Black Power movement while teaching at Howard University.
Faye Harrison is a professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology and Faculty Affiliate for the Program on Women & Gender in Global Perspectives, the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies and the Center for African Studies, all for the University of Illinois. She earned her B.A. from Brown University and a Ph.D from Stanford University.
Harrison’s research interests have taken her to Nigeria, South Africa, Japan, Jamaica, Denmark and many more countries. She has explored racism and human rights, gendered division of labor, gang politics and criminality, and feminism.
She has been honored many times for her contributions to the field of anthropology. She has received the Society for the Anthropology of North America Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America, the Distinguished Service Award from the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences and the Presidential Award of the American Anthropological Association. She was chair for the Commission on the Anthropology of Women from 1993 to 2009 and president of the Association of Black Anthropologists from 1989 to 1991.
Thomas Cleveland Holt is an American historian, who is the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History at the University of Chicago. He has produced a number of works on the people and descendants of the African Diaspora. He served as president of the American Historical Association in 1994.
Monica S. Webb Hooper is an American behavioral scientist and clinical psychologist serving as deputy director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. She was a professor at Case Western Reserve University and associate director for cancer disparities research and director of the Office of Cancer Disparities Research in the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Gerald Horne is an American historian who holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. Background Gerald Horne was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After his undergraduate education at Princeton University, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Fatimah Linda Collier Jackson is an American biologist and anthropologist. She is a Professor of Biology at Howard University and Director of its Cobb Research Laboratory. Early life, family and education Jackson was raised in Denver, Colorado. Her mother was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fatimah’s father was a mechanic who died when she was six years old. One of her great-grandmothers was descended from Choctaw people and was an herbalist. She attended elementary school, junior high school, and high school which were predominantly African-American.
John L. Jackson Jr. is an American anthropologist, filmmaker, author, and university administrator. He is currently the Richard Perry University Professor and the Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication. Jackson is the author of Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America ; Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity ; Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness ; Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem . He has also directed films that explore questions of ra...
Alexandra Jones is a historical archaeologist and educator. She is founder and chief executive officer of Archaeology in the Community, “a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that aims to increase awareness of archaeology and history.” She worked on the PBS television program, Time Team America, as Field Director of Archaeology for in 2013.
Robin Davis Gibran Kelley is an American historian and academic, who is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at the University of California, Los Angeles . From 2006 to 2011, he was Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California , and from 2003 to 2006 he was the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. From 1994 to 2003, he was a professor of history and Africana Studies at New York University as well the chair of NYU’s history department from 2002 to 2003. Kelley has also served as a Hess Schol...
Earl Lewis is the founding director of the Center for Social Solutions and professor of history at the University of Michigan. He was president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation from 2013 to 2018. Before his appointment as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Lewis served for over eight years as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and as the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory University. He was the university’s first African-American provost and at the time the highest-ranking African-American administrator in the...
Charles Eric Lincoln was an American scholar. He was the author of several books, including sociological works such as The Black Church Since Frazier and Race, Religion and the Continuing American Dilemma , as well as fiction and poetry.
William Manning Marable was an American professor of public affairs, history and African-American Studies at Columbia University. Marable founded and directed the Institute for Research in African-American Studies. He wrote several texts and was active in numerous progressive political causes.
Aldon Douglas Morris is a professor of sociology and an award-winning scholar, with interests including social movements, civil rights, and social inequality. He is the 2021 president of the American Sociological Association.
Wilson Jeremiah Moses is an African-American historian. He is Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University. Career Wilson J. Moses obtained his A.B. and M.A. in British Literature at Wayne State University, and his Ph.D. in American Civilization at Brown University. He held the Walter L. Ferree professorship in the middle period of American History at Pennsylvania State University before that, and he currently is Professor Emeritus at Penn State. He has in the past held a series of posts at other American Universities:Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa;...
Yolanda Theresa Moses is an anthropologist and college administrator who served as the 10th president of City College of New York and president of the American Association for Higher Education . Early life Moses was born to a family originating from northern Louisiana that relocated to Washington during the Second World War to work in wartime industries. After the war, Moses and her family moved to southern California. Moses received her associate degree in 1966, and bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1968, both from San Bernardino Valley College. Inspired by a meeting with Margaret Mead, Mos...
Leith Patricia Mullings was a Jamaican-born author, anthropologist and professor. She was president of the American Anthropological Association from 2011–2013, and was a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Mullings was involved in organizing for progressive social justice, racial equality and economic justice as one of the founding members of the Black Radical Congress and in her role as President of the AAA. Under her leadership, the American Anthropological Association took up the issue of academic labor rights.
Mark Anthony Neal is an American author and academic. He is the Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke University, where he won the 2010 Robert B. Cox Award for Teaching. Neal has written and lectured extensively on black popular culture, black masculinity, sexism and homophobia in Black communities, and the history of popular music.
Pearl Eileen Primus was an American dancer, choreographer and anthropologist. Primus played an important role in the presentation of African dance to American audiences. Early in her career she saw the need to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance. Primus’ work was a reaction to myths of savagery and the lack of knowledge about African people. It was an effort to guide the Western world to view African dance as an important and dignified statement about another way of life.
Laurence Ralph is an American writer, filmmaker and researcher. He is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University and the Director of Center on Transnational Policing. Ralph’s research interests include urban ethnography, disability studies, social inequality, African American studies, race, policing, theories of violence, popular culture and hip-hop. He authored the books Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland in 2014 and The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence in 2020. He is also writer and director of the animated short film, The Torture Letters.
Ashanté M. Reese is a writer, anthropologist, and assistant professor of African and African Diaspora at The University of Texas at Austin. She earned a bachelor’s in history with a minor in African American studies from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Her first book, Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C., takes up these themes through an ethnographic exploration of antiblackness and food access. Black Food Geographies won the 2020 Best Monograph Award from the Association for the Study of Food and Society and 2020 Margaret Mead Award jointly awarded by the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology. Currently, Dr. Reese is working on a cultural history of sugar and Sugar Land, Texas in which she explores the spatial, economic, and carceral implications of sugar and the sometimes contradictory and deadly sweetness that marks Black life. A committed teacher, Dr. Reese was the recipient of the 2020-21 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship.
Dr. Cheryl Rodriguez represented a new breed of cultural anthropologists who combined research with community activism. An assistant professor at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, Rodriguez also served as interim director of USF’s Institute on Black Life and president of the Association of Black Anthropologists.
Her degrees and education began at Northern Illinois University, BA, communications sciences, 1979, MA, communications sciences, 1981; University of South Florida, PhD, anthropology, 1992.
She has worked at Marquardt School District, Glendale Heights, IL, communicative-disorders specialist, 1981-87; University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, The Graduate School, minority programs coordinator, 1988-89, Multicultural Mental Health Training Program, program coordinator, 1990-91, Department of Africana Studies, visiting professor, 1992-93, assistant professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies, 1993-98, associate professor, 1998-, Institute on Black Life, interim director, 2006-; Operation Crossroads Africa, Lesotho, Southern Africa, project leader, 1989.
Carolyn Moxley Rouse is an American anthropologist, professor and filmmaker. She is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University. Biography Rouse grew up in Del Mar, California, the daughter of a physicist and a psychologist . She encountered discrimination at an early age as her family was prevented from buying a home in Rancho Santa Fe because of their race.
Tommie Shelby is an American philosopher. Since 2013, he has served as the Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University, where he is the current chair of the Department of African and African American Studies. He is particularly known for his work in Africana philosophy, social and political philosophy, social theory , and the philosophy of social science.
Theresa A. Singleton is an American archaeologist and writer who focuses on the archaeology of African Americans, the African diaspora, and slavery in the United States. She is a leading archaeologist applying comparative approaches to the study of slavery in the Americas. Singleton has been involved in the excavation of slave residences in the southern United States and in the Caribbean. She is a professor of anthropology at Syracuse University, and serves as a curator for the National Museum of Natural History.
Audrey Smedley was an American social anthropologist and professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University in anthropology and African-American studies. Early life and education Smedley received her BA and MA in history and anthropology from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Manchester in the UK, based on field research in northern Nigeria. She taught undergraduate and graduate-level courses in social anthropology, African societies and cultures, the history of anthropology, and anthropological theory.
Christen A. Smith is an associate professor of anthropology and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and the director of the university’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. She is also the founder of Cite Black Women.
Margaret Beale Spencer is an American psychologist whose work centers on the effects of ethnicity, gender, and race on youth and adolescent development. She currently serves as the Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. Dr. Spencer’s career spans more than 30 years and consists of over 115 published articles and chapters, stemming from work funded by over two-dozen foundations and federal agencies.
Niara Sudarkasa was an American scholar, educator, Africanist and anthropologist who holds thirteen honorary degrees, and is the recipient of nearly 100 civic and professional awards. In 1989 Essence magazine named her “Educator for the ’90s”, and in 2001 she became the first African American to be installed as a Chief in the historic Ife Kingdom of the Yoruba of Nigeria.
Elizabeth “Dori” Tunstall is a design anthropologist, researcher, academic leader, writer, and educator. She is dean of the faculty of design at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, and the first black dean of a faculty of design anywhere. Tunstall holds a PhD and an MA in anthropology from Stanford University [1994–1999] and a BA in anthropology from Bryn Mawr College [1990–1994].
James Turner is the founding Director of the Africana Studies & Research Center, founded 1969, and is a professor emeritus of African and African American Politics and Social Policy at Cornell University. Referring to the formative years of the Africana Studies & Research Center, Turner recollected, “We had to begin the process of changing that environment [academia without African American studies]….We were the first generation of Africana studies.” Turner initiated the term “Africana Studies” to conceptualize the comprehensive studies of the African diaspora and the three primary global Black communities–Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. The Africana paradigm is now widely adopted by educational programs as the epistemology for the field of Black Studies.
Turner also organized Cornell’s Council on African Studies, was a founding member of TransAfrica, an African American lobbying organization, and he was national organizer of the Southern Africa Liberation Support Committee that pressed the anti-apartheid campaign in the United States. As a Schomburg Research Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Turner conducted research on Malcolm X’s political philosophy that served as the basis for his work on the award-winning PBS series Eyes on the Prize. As the recipient of the Association of Black Sociologists’ Award of Distinction, he has served as president of the African Heritage Studies Association and has been on the editorial boards of several leading Black Studies journals.
France Winddance Twine is a Black and Native American sociologist, ethnographer, visual artist, and documentary filmmaker. Twine’s research has made significant contributions to interdisciplinary research in gender and sexuality studies, racism/anti-racism, feminist studies, science and technology studies, British cultural studies, and qualitative research methods. She has conducted field research in Brazil, the UK, and the United States on race, racism, and anti-racism and has published 11 books and more than 80 articles, review essays, and books on these topics. In 2020, she was awarded the ...
E. Frances White is an American historian, author and academic serving as Professor Emerita of History and Black Studies at Gallatin School of Individualized Study. From 2005 to 2008 she served as Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs at New York University. Prior to that post, she was the Dean of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study .
Bianca Williams is an American cultural anthropologist, feminist, author and academic, whose work centers on Black Americans. Dr. Williams is an associate professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the . She earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D from Duke University. She went on to earn a graduate certificate in African and African American Studies as well. She has researched extensively the emotional labor undertaken by black women, feminist pedagogies, black feminist leadership, and emotional labor in higher education workplaces.
She began teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder, with courses on civil rights, black women, the black power movement, and “the ethnography of American blackness.” She encourages her students to read fiction, poetry and self-help books side-by-side with academic scholarship.
She received tenure in 2017 in the Department of Anthropology at the University Colorado, and later that year she was hired as an associate professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.
Association of Black Anthropololgists (ABA) – The ABA was founded in 1970 by a small group of intellectuals who sought to break down barriers that impeded their full participation in the discipline of Anthropology. By creating scholarship that linked anthropological theory to struggles for social justice, these elders transformed anthropology and helped create generations of intellectual leaders.
Society of Black Anthropologists (SBA) – The SBA works to increase the number of professionally trained archaeologists of African descent through the promotion of social responsibility, academic excellence and the creation of spaces that foster the SBA’s goals and activities. The SBA promotes the proper treatment of African and African diaspora material culture, promotes community engagement and collaborations within the field, raises and addresses concerns related to African peoples worldwide, and highlights past and present achievements and contributions people of African descent have made to the field of archaeology.