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Friday, May 24, 2024

The Black student protest movement of the late 1960s: 50 years later

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“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” — Frederick Douglass


The 1968-1969 academic calendar year was a breakthrough year that saw Black college and university students across America demand that their predominantly white institutions have faculty, facilities, services and curriculum that reflect their presence and interest on their campuses. The 2018-2019 academic year marks the 50th anniversary of a crescendo in the Black student protest movement of the late 1960s.  There was unrest across the nation’s campuses in higher education, but the two predominantly white college campuses that were among the first to erupt in grand fashion was San Francisco State College (now university), and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In fact, the San Francisco State College student protest, which began in November of 1968, and ended mid-March of 1969, made it the longest student strike in U.S. history. This 50-year marker is significant because several colleges and university campuses across America are celebrating or will celebrate a 50th anniversary of a Black Studies major, a Black Student Union or a Black Cultural Center.

Here in Indiana, the same is true. In the spring, Purdue University’s Black Cultural Center in West Lafayette began a series of events under its “50 Years: Black Cultural Center Unlocking Excellence” theme to celebrate its beginning in the year 1969. Meanwhile, down state in Bloomington, Indiana University’s Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center marks 50 years of existence this school year as well. In addition, there are Black student organizations on college and university campuses that will turn 50 years old. In Muncie, Ball State University’s Black Student Association will turn 50 in the coming 2019-2020 academic school year. Wabash College’s Malcom X Institute of Black Studies in Crawfordsville will turn 50 in the 2020-2021 academic school year. Each of the institutions mentioned have storied histories of conflict and struggle in efforts to improve Black students’ experiences on campuses designed without them in mind.

The Black Student Protest Movement of the late 1960s was pivotal because the demands that it made of the power structure on their respective campuses across the country, paved the way for Black students who use and benefit from curriculum, student services, faculty and facilities that reflect their needs and interest. These 50th anniversaries are prime opportunities to revisit the historical context out of which the curriculums, services and other college campus features exists for Black students. My hope is that various college and university campuses across the state of Indiana will connect in the spirit of umoja (unity) and tap into the legacies of each of their respective campuses. Reconnecting to these legacies can generate the momentum needed to push for the enhancements to the Black student experience on their respective campuses. 

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” 

— Frederick Douglass


John W. Anderson Jr. is a doctoral student and a lecturer of sociology at Ball State University.

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