Professor Robert L. Douglas, ‘Father’ Of Louisville Pan-African Studies Program, Dies

Robert L. Douglas, local artist, art historian and Pan-African scholar, died on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at age 88. “Dr. Bob,” as he was affectionately known, was interested in African American art and was instrumental in promoting Louisville’s Black culture. He was a retired Professor Emeritus from UofL, where he taught art history and Pan-African Studies beginning in 1985.

Douglas was a co-founder of the Louisville Art Workshop. Founded in the 1960s to promote Black art, the workshop held exhibitions and taught classes. Most of all, it was a support group. One of the past members is internationally known sculptor Ed Hamilton.

“My relationship with Bob Douglas goes back to 1969,” said Hamilton. “I was an art student getting ready to graduate from art school. My concern was who was going to see the works that I created. I was needing feedback … As fate would have it, my sculptor professor knew of a group of African American artists down in the West End of Louisville.

“Bob took me under his wings … Being a young artist, hanging with these guys, staying up late and coming home in the wee hours of the night was a new lifestyle for me. We were not just hanging out and having fun; we were doing the work that artists do to educate the community about the arts and to create exhibitions to showcase our talents.”

Another Workshop co-founder was G. Caliman Coxe, called the dean of Louisville Black artists. Douglas was an authority on Coxe and has written extensively on the painter.  

Douglas’s contributions to Louisville do not end with art. He’s famous for his support of Black studies and was called the father of UofL’s Department of Pan-African Studies. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country.

The visitation for Douglas is Thursday, Feb. 16 at 6-8 p.m. The funeral will be on Friday, Feb. 17, at 1 p.m. Both are at St. Stephen Baptist Church, 1018 S. 15th St.