Looking To Reignite Its Influence, Fisk University Revives Its Social Justice Program

Nov 3, 2019

Fisk is an historically African-American university in Nashville.
Credit AMERUNE / Flickr

Fisk University is looking to reclaim its status as a thought leader in race relations in America. It plans to resurrect a defunct but venerable racial justice program.

Fisk’s Race Relations Institute was launched in 1942 by Charles S. Johnson, a well-known African American sociologist and a president of the University.

The once-prominent department helped draft strategies around the desegregation of public schools and the armed forces.  

But it was essentially shuttered around 2005, and now Fisk is re-launching it as the school’s Social Justice Institute.


“It’s almost like the reawakening of a giant,” says Fisk University provost Vann Newkirk. “We were a giant in improving race relations in America. And so this university, we want to make sure we carve our space out, and reclaim our space, as the social justice leader in America.”

With some seed money, Newkirk says Fisk will soon hire a director to lead the institute. But first, early next month, it’s hosting a symposium to celebrate. One of Malcom X’s daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, is the keynote speaker.

“We just feel this is important for us to make sure we have a big kickoff so that we can let everyone know that Fisk is back. And that we are back for doing what we are known for,” Newkirk says.   

The institute will also create a social justice major at Fisk.

Jocelyn Imani, who works in the university’s office of academic affairs, says that Fisk has continued to work on social justice issues, but “what the institute is doing is formalizing and centralizing all of our efforts.”