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A revolution in higher education.

Student activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s focused on the anti-war movement, according to popular historical accounts. Yet during this period, Black students also waged an intense struggle to expand access to higher education and transform intellectual discourse at universities across the country. Martha Biondi, an associate professor of African-American studies and history and director of graduate studies for the Department of African-American Studies at Northwestern University, chronicles this little-told chapter in recent history in The Black Revolution on Campus (California Press, August 2012). In the process, she honors the tenacity and militancy of the Black students who gave birth to Black studies and other changes in the exclusive halls of academe.

Fueled by incidents such as the death of three students at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, S.C., in 1968, two years before the death of White students during an anti-war protest at Kent State in Ohio, the Black student movement radiated a new urgency for justice that dismissed the civility of previous civil rights campaigns. While the student activists shared the goals of social justice and inclusion with the civil rights movement, their activism took its tactics from the Black Power movement, Biondi writes. This movement for self-determination --inspired more by Malcolm X than Martin Luther King Jr.--has been portrayed "as rhetoric and slogans, and not as generative of public policy and change," Biondi says. The book shatters that perception.

On the heels of changes in federal education policy and anti-segregation rulings, many first-generation African-American students pushed for greater Black enrollment. "From 1970 to 1974, college enrollments for African-Americans shot up 56 percent, compared to a 15 percent increase for Whites," Biondi writes.

At White universities and historically Black colleges, students challenged not only who could attend college, through demanding open admissions and educational programs in Black communities, but also what should be taught and who should teach it. Biondi identifies definitive campus battles from this kinetic period: the five-month student strike at San Francisco State University in 1969 for Black studies and automatic admission of Black high school graduates; the demand for more democratic governance and faculty control over academics at Howard University in 1968; and the successful campaign in 1969 to rename a college in a Black neighborhood in Chicago for Malcolm X.

Through interviews and research, the book portrays the emotional and political struggles of the early crop of Black students at White institutions of higher education. More striking are the stories of Black students at HBCUs who were waging different battles with school administrators and hostile Southern towns. Many protests on these campuses were met with swift and shocking police repression and violence. Among the most violent incidents was the Orangeburg Massacre. Although it was the subject of a 1970 book by journalists Jack Bass and Jack Nelson, the story remains obscure. On Feb. 8, 1968, three students at South Carolina State College were fatally shot by state highway troopers following anti-segregation protests. The shootings occurred on campus two days after African American students were prevented from bowling at the city's only bowling alley.

"The student movement [at Orangeburg] wasn't a college-based movement, it was a continuation of the Southern Civil Rights Movement," Biondi explains. "They were activists in the community, but what it precipitated nationwide was a student movement that wanted to transform colleges."

The Black student movement increased Black enrollment while also confronting a long-held "Western-dominated approach to higher education." The creation of Black studies challenged the then-prevalent notion that Western education was "universal" education, Biondi says, ultimately resulting in a transformation in curriculum university-wide.

"Black studies was the leading edge of major intellectual developments that have had a profound influence," Biondi says. In today's "post-modern period," it's accepted that there is "no master narrative, that those narratives were always unstable," she adds.

Biondi defends Black studies as the programs weather scrutiny about their relevance almost 40 years after their creation. Rather than being saddled with a particular methodology, Biondi argues that their cross-disciplinary approach has generated innovation and creativity.

Ultimately, The Black Revolution on Campus looks backward to move forward. Biondi is as interested in establishing a historic record of Black student protest four decades ago as she is in applying its lessons to today's events. In fact, the book is a powerful lens through which to consider current threats to access to higher education.

"Many of these achievements [of the Black student movement] are under attack, and the price of higher education is a national disgrace," Biondi says. "One lesson I would want young people to take away from this book is that another generation demanded access as a right to citizenship, and if we want our government to invest in higher education, then we should demand that."
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Title Annotation:diverse bookshelf; 'The Black Revolution on Campus'
Author:Smith, Susan
Publication:Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 14, 2013
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