Born on February 25, 1894 in Gloster, Mississippi, William Leo Hansberry developed an early interest in ancient history. Hansberry would become one of the first African American students at Harvard University, completing an A.B. and M.A. in Anthropology. After graduating, he taught courses in Howard University’s History Department such as “Negro Peoples in the Cultures and Civilizations of Prehistoric and Proto-historic Times,” “Ancient Civilizations of Ethiopia” and The Civilizations of West Africa in Medieval and Early Modern Times,” in the 1920s at a moment when many ‘scholars’ were arguing that Africa had no history worthy of scholarly investigation.
The William Leo Hansberry Society is an organization of Black scholars from Africa and the African Diaspora committed to promoting and diversifying the study, research, and scholarship of the ancient African past. Through our activism and outreach, we seek to bridge the obstacles that prevent Black people from acquiring the education and technical skills necessary to engage in this work. Founded on the basis of the longue-durée of African history, we bring our training in the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, biological anthropology, zooarchaeology, Egyptology, Nubiology, Ethiopian Studies, Biblical Studies, Medieval Studies, Museum Studies, African Studies, and Africana Studies to situate, analyze, and interpret ancient African societies within their African contexts.
The William Leo Hansberry Society emerged from the tumultuous summer of 2020 amidst a global pandemic and social injustice in the United States. In the wake of the tragic murders of Black Americans such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, organizations and companies across the world responded with statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement, decrying racism, and pledging to address issues of diversity and inclusion. Noticing the silence from the larger American Egyptology community, a group of Black scholars organized to address the lack of diversity in the field, thus creating the William Leo Hansberry Society.
We are archaeologists, zooarchaeologists, bioarchaeologists, Nubiologists, Egyptologists, Ethiopianists, and Africana Studies scholars whose academic specialties focus on the ancient history, language, and culture of northeast Africa. Our team consists of scholars at varying levels of their careers including masters and doctoral students, independent researchers, and university faculty.