How the Black Campus Movement of the 1960s Transformed Higher Education in the United States

Civil Rights protesters, Durham, NC, 10 February 1960. From the N&O Negative Collection, State Archives of North Carolina

By Michael Hirschfield, age 11 and IndyKids Staff

Between 1965 and 1972, Black student activists held protests at thousands of colleges and universities to demand more equality in their schools. Known as the Black Campus Movement (BCM), they were campaigning for safety, respect, inclusion, increased enrollment of African-American students, more racial diversity amongst their teachers, as well as an education that was relevant to the Black community and to a diverse society. Although this movement spanned a number of years, historian Ibram X. Kendi, author of the book Black Campus Movement, says that the year 1969 was the “apex,” or the height, of Black student activism.

This activism took a lot of courage, as it was taking place at a time of great hostility toward Black communities in the United States. It was only a year after the assination of Martin Luther King Jr., and many civil rights demonstrations at the time were met with violence from the police.

Universities were not separate from this. At 3 a.m. on April 18, 1969, a burning cross — a symbol of the white supremisit terrorist group the KKK — was discovered outside Wari House, a cooperative for Black women students at Cornell University. The following day, members of the Afro-American Student Society occupied the student union building, arming themselves and barricading the door in fear of further attacks. They were also protesting Cornell’s racism, its judicial system and a lack of commitment to starting a Black studies program. The occupation lasted for 36 hours, until the students were evacuated. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the trauma of this evening still lingers today.

One of the most famous and longest-running student strikes in U.S. history was at San Francisco State University from November 1968 to March 1969. “On strike! Shut it down!” was the message of the protest, led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front. Even though there were attempts to stop the protest, the strikers persevered, and the students won the first College of Ethnic Studies in the United States.

In 1969, Michael A. Middleton, co-founder of the University of Missouri’s Legion of Black Collegians, presented a list of demands to the school to increase the Black presence in all branches — students, faculty and staff. The group’s demands also included the creation of a Black culture center and Black studies program. Middleton threatened to leave the school along with other students. After the ultimatum was released, the school employed their first Black tenure-track professor.

Kendi told the magazine Inside Higher Ed the legacy of this movement is still evident today. “During the BCM, the percentage of black faculty and the total number of black students quadrupled, more than 1,000 institutions introduced black studies, and hundreds of black, multicultural and diversity centers and offices were established. I think these reforms have enriched higher education and consequently I do believe the demands and protests were necessary.”

Ku Klux Klan:  A U.S. hate organization that employs terror in pursuit of their white supremacist agenda.

Ultimatum: A final condition or demand that, if rejected, could end future negotiations and lead to forceful or undesirable action.

Legacy: Something such as memories, knowledge or events from the past but that still are seen today.

Hostility- Unfriendliness or opposition.

This part of our coverage: THE REVOLUTIONARY LIBERATION STRUGGLES OF 1969. Read other stories from this series.

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