Home History The Campus Walkout That Led to America’s First Black Studies Department

The Campus Walkout That Led to America’s First Black Studies Department

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The 1968 strike was the longest by college students in American history. It helped make a big difference in higher education.

In late 1968, at San Francisco State University, African-American students led a 133-day campus strike. This is the longest strike in US history. One of their main goals was to force school administrators to establish the nation’s first black department.

Prior to the strike, the university briefly offered courses focused on the African-American experience through other departments. It needed its own department with degree programs and a full-time black faculty teaching about the history, culture, and contributions of its people. They wanted a curriculum that was more reflective of black perspectives than the traditional Eurocentric view.

Their five-month strike, which was fraught with tense, combative, and violent police confrontations, was ultimately successful. Not only did it bring black departments to San Francisco State University (now San Francisco State University), but it opened the floodgates of great change in American academia. Within a few years, African-American studies had emerged at hundreds of institutions of higher education across the country.

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The debate about black studies was pervasive

When San Francisco was embroiled in the conflict, it was one of many schools across the country grappling with similar demands to expand its curriculum. In May 1968, six months before the strike began, Yale University held its first major symposium to discuss the political and academic legitimacy of black studies.. Few people at the conference challenged the value of the new field as a serious subject of academic research. However, there has been intense philosophical debate about how it should work within the Academy.

Dr. Nathan Hare, the founding director of the Black Studies Division at San Francisco State University, attended the symposium and approached the field from a black nationalist perspective. He believed that the primary function of black studies should be to impart knowledge and pride to black students and to elevate them and, in turn, uplift the black communities in which they were welcomed.Trained at the University of Chicago In a written proposal to San Francisco State University to create a department, Hare, a sociologist who received His views reflected Black’s power movement of the era, which promoted racial autonomy and self-determination.

The student strike at San Francisco State University didn’t come out of nowhere. Tensions had run high for nearly a year, particularly over the Vietnam War and the school’s limited black faculty and course offerings. The turning point came when the school suspended popular English teacher George Murray (center, turtleneck and dark sunglasses), who was also the Black Panther Party’s minister of education. Black Student Union leader Ben Stewart (left), Lecturer Murray, and the Black Panther Party at his Nov. 21, 1968 press conference on the sidewalk in Oakland, California, two weeks after the strike began. Chairman Bobby Seale (second) spoke. from the right).

AP Photo/Ernest K. Bennett

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At the other end of the spectrum were integrationists who believed that the new discipline should not only benefit African Americans. I thought.

As president of the influential Ford Foundation, an early funder of African American studies, McGeorge Bundy took up the integrationist movement. “The strength of black studies lies not in its politics, identity or nationalist sensibilities, but rather in its ability to enter the academy and segregate traditionally ‘white’ departments and curricula,” said the former Kennedy administration. officials wrote in a Foundation report. field.

Perspectives varied, even among black scholars and activists. Some wanted to be comfortable working in traditional fields and feared black studies would become a passing fad. Martin Kilson, a professor of African-American government at Harvard University, wrote that “black studies proposals emanating from black extremists must show more common sense if the university is to succeed in this.” ing.

Baird Rustin, a leading organizer of the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, was not a supporter of the Black Studies Division. “These students are imposing upon themselves the very conditions of separatism and inequality that black Americans have fought against since the days of Reconstruction,” he wrote.

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Riot police occupy campus

December 3, 1968:A member of the Black Students Union has been arrested and detained at the San Francisco State Campus.

AP photo

A student strike at San Francisco State University began on November 6, 1968, and nearly a year of unrest steadily escalated. At a time when anti-war and civil rights movements were erupting on campuses across the country, SF State students were making many demands of the school. Accept more students from marginalized communities. From campus he bans ROTC. And stop sharing your student’s educational background with the selective services system that was disproportionately recruiting young men of color to fight in Vietnam.

When the school suspended George Mason Murray, the popular and charismatic African-American English teacher, it was like dropping a lit match into a dry kindling.Black Panther Party Murray, who also served as Minister of Education for the United States, was suspected of telling African-American students to bring guns to campus to protect themselves. A strike soon followed, instigated by the Black Student Union, in collaboration with a multi-ethnic student coalition called the Third World Liberation Front.

The most important of their 15 demands is 20 full-time teaching positions plus a bachelor’s degree in a new black department. In 1967, the Black Students Union developed a course on the African-American experience through the University’s Experimental College, giving students the freedom to create their own coursework. Eventually, these courses were transferred from the experimental university and offered for credit in various university departments with 11 courses and her nearly 400 students. However, the program was underfunded and there was little agreement on what to teach.

Students continued to build pressure with pickets, rallies and building occupations. School administrators responded by shutting down the campus and handing over control to local police, who showed up in riot gear with batons. News reports showed students being beaten and slapped. By mid-January, many teachers had sympathized and left with their own demands.

Ultimately, students were empowered to choose the Black Department (part of the new, wider Ethnology College) and select faculty members. However, their request for Halle to receive a full professorship was denied by the school administration. The strike he ended on March 20, 1969.

Read more: Civil Rights Movement Timeline

Black Studies Gains Legitimacy

The strike, which helped create the Black Studies Department at San Francisco State University, had an immediate and transformative impact on American academia. By the early 1970s, according to higher education chroniclesmore than 500 programs, departments, and institutes of higher education devoted to African American studies have been established across the country, primarily through the efforts of black student activism. Other communities, such as lesbians, also took note of this and began lobbying for their own representatives in higher education.

The research that followed in the decades that followed delved into the complexities of the African-American experience and changed the long-accepted narrative of placing white people at the center of history, culture and innovation.Columbia University African Descent American studies professor Farrah Jasmine Griffiths said: “Academics have generally come to accept the United States as a pluralistic society with multiple viable cultures, rather than as a ‘melting pot’.” writing.

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