In 1975 Alvin Aubert founded Obsidian at SUNY (Fredonia) under the name Obsidian: Black Literature in Review. Initially funded by Aubert and the support of individual contributors, over the following decades Obsidian would be published and supported by the resources of several universities. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the journal was published by Wayne State University in Detroit under the name Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review. In 1985, Gerald Barrax took Obsidian II to North Carolina State University. Whilst there, Afaa Michael Weaver helped to transform the journal from Obsidian II to Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora. Other editors emeriti during Obsidian’s tenure at NCSU include Doris Laryea, Joyce Pettis, Thomas Lisk, and Sheila Smith McKoy. In the fall of 2014, current editor Duriel E. Harris initiated the successful transfer of Obsidian to the Publications Unit at Illinois State University.

With the publication of the spring 2015 issue dedicated to the work of Jeffery Renard Allen, Obsidian celebrated over 40 years of continuous publication and exhibited a new subtitle, Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora.