ON TOPIC   I   History of Black Studies | Washington University

ON TOPIC I History of Black Studies | Washington University


The movement to have Black Studies on
predominantly white campuses happened in the late 1960s and it was a
convergence of two movements. It was the convergence of the anti-Vietnam War
movement and the Black Power movement. And both of these movements were
spearheaded, in great measure, by young people and particularly by college
students. And as a result the convergence of these two movements, you had a lot of
student activism. What led to Black Studies here at WashU was first the organizing of the black students here. Then of course there were white radicals
on campus who were supportive of these demands. The students took over Brookings and issued a Black Manifesto — the black students did. This is in 1968. Ultimately, the school acceded to the demands and created a Black Studies program in 1969. I think black students were driven to demand this because they thought that the
curriculum was too white. It was too Eurocentric. You have to remember that
what’s going on at this time is that black students are coming in significant
numbers to white universities now. Significant compared to the numbers that were before, which was virtually nothing. I was what you might call the
beneficiary of these movements, because beginning in about 1970, many of these
schools, like the University of Pennsylvania and so forth, increased the
number of black students they were admitting and also gave them much
greater support in order to try to retain them and keep them at the
university. I look back at that time now, and I don’t think the major thing is not — I don’t see the students as being angry as much as I see an enormous kind of
belief that this country could be better than it was. And this country had enormous
potential to do good in the world and that it could change. And that can only
come from people who have an incredible sense of optimism about where they live.

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