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The marginalization of the Black Campus Movement.

In contrast to the Civil Rights Movement, few historians have examined the Black Power Movement, which brought ideas of Black self-determination, cultural pride, and Pan-Africanism to the forefront. The Black Power Movement, which lasted from about 1965 to 1975, is one of the most marginalized historical movements in African American and social historiography. The modest amount of Black Power literature is dominated by autobiographies of its major leaders. Malcolm X, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael, Elaine Brown, Amiri Baraka, H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Adam Clayton Powell have all written famous autobiographies. (1) There have been few scholarly studies on the subject, most of which tend to examine the Black Panther Party. The publication of Peniel Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour in 2006 added to a minuscule collection of scholarly studies on the Black Power Movement that included Clayborne Carson's In Simple: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar's Black Power; Radical Politics and African American Identity and Van Deburg's New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975. Joseph, Carson, Ogbar, and Van Deburg all have helped place the dynamic story of the Black Power Movement into America's historical memory--thus easing the marginalization of the Black Power Movement in historical scholarship.

However, as these Black Power scholars carried the movement into the nation's historical memory, they left behind an integral part of the Black Power era. They all (in varying degrees) marginalize the Black Campus Movement (BCM), a struggle waged by Black Student Unions (BSUs) from 1966 to 1975 to reform American higher education. And they do not adequately explore and locate the nation's first and most influential Black Student Union at San Francisco State College (now University) as the vanguard organization of the BCM. This marginalization of the Black Campus Movement and its leading BSU at San Francisco State by these four studies will be the subject of this review essay.

Before I actually examine the texts' treatment of the Black Campus Movement, I first explore the significance of the BCM in the Black Power Movement and why the BCM should be a predominant part of any narrative or analysis of the Black Power Movement. I contend that the BCM should make up at least a chapter of any topically arranged examination, chronological narrative or study of the Black Power Movement, and (if applicable) an analysis of any person, organization or event of the Black Power Movement should show the full extent of that person, organization or event's relationship to the BCM. Also, San Francisco State College's dynamic, innovative and pioneering BSU should be displayed as the vanguard of the BCM in the historical literature.

There are three major reasons a thorough examination of the Black Campus Movement should he an integral part of any study of the Black Power Movement. First, several of the icons of Black Power Movement were groomed in the campus movements around the country (2). "With the exception of Malcolm X, the leaders in the growth of the new ideologies were almost all black students: Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and the leaders of SNCC generally; Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, and many others," William H. Exum notes. (3) Second, the Black Power Movement fundamentally was a protest movement for Blacks to gain control of themselves, their institutions, and their communities. Even though no study empirically details the amount of Black Power-oriented protests in America from 1965 to 1975, it may he the case that in no segment of American society did they occur more than on college campuses. As Joy Ann Williamson finds:
  From the late 1960 through the early 1970s, in particular, Black
  college students nut only participated in societal reform hut also
  determined the path of it. During the Black Power era, Black youths
  became the ideological leaders of the Black snuggle. They helped
  redefine the goals and tactics of the. struggle and demanded change
  in American institutions, including their college campuses (4).

During the 1968-1969 academic year, there were at least 85 protests by Black students at predominantly white colleges, one study discovers. (5) Moreover, more than 90 percent of the sit-in demonstrations by Black students occurred on college campuses in 1967 and 1968, showing the shift in activism from the community to the campus (6)

The Black Campus Movement probably had more of an effect on its segment of society than any other sector of the Black Power Movement--the third reason that it should not he marginalized. As a chancellor said about the BCM that hit his University of Illinois campus: "Once we got going, we never went hack. It changed the face of the University forever." (7) The more than 300 departments, programs, institutes, and centers for Black Studies, the dozens of Black cultural centers in addition to the multitude of Black students, coaches, faculty, and administrators at America's colleges and universities are a direct result of the struggle of these BSUs. In fact, BSUs are the only thriving organizations that were formed during the Black Power Movement that are still in existence.

In addition, there are at least four reasons why the SF State BSU should he in the vanguard of any analysis of the Black Campus Movement. First, it was one of the initial major Black Power organizations to take up the principles of Black Power in name and in deed. It formed in March of 1966 before Carmichael popularized the "Black Power'' slogan in Mississippi in June and before the Black Panther Party was organized in October. The formation of the SF State BSU would inspire the establishment of the more than a thousand BSUs in varying names at colleges across America. Second, the SF State BSU conjured up the idea for Black Studies--the major demand of students during the BCM. Third, it organized one of the first Black student recruitment and summer bridge/upward bound programs, and successfully struggled lor the nation's first autonomous Black Studies department. And finally, it waged the longest, most dramatic and influential protest during the BCM--a four and half month strike during the winter of 1968-69 in which it inspired and coerced more than half of the college's 18,000 students to skip classes and instead demonstrate and rally on a daily basis, despite intense police repression. These are the reasons why the BCM and its vanguard organization should not be marginalized by the emerging field of Black Power Studies if it truly wants to explore the breadth of the influential and active forces in the movement. Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour, Carson's In Struggle, Ogbar's Black Power and Van Deburg's New Day in Babylon did however, in varying degrees, trivialize the Black Campus Movement and the SF State BSU.

Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour is a historical narrative of the Black Power Movement that shows that any understanding of the movement must be familiar with those pre-1966 Black Power activists by "plumbing the murky depths of a movement that paralleled, and at times overlapped, the heroic era." (8) However, it did not plumb the murky depths of the Black Campus Movement that "paralleled, and at times overlapped" the Black Power Movement in the community. There were only two direct mentions of Black Power groups, leaders or activities on America's campuses in Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour. All told, author Peniel Joseph choose to cover the entire Black Campus Movement on a little more than a page in the 304-page work.

One positive aspect of the small account of the BCM is that Joseph placed the SF State BSU at the center. Joseph's first reference to a BCM leader or organization is when he mentioned that Jimmy Garrett, the head of SF State's newly established BSU and a former SNCC activist, hosted Carmichael when Carmichael attended Berkeley's Black Power conference in October of 1966. (9) This SF State BSU "illustrated the growing strength of black nationalism around the nation," Joseph asserts (10) Would it have been too much for Joseph to explain why this BSU illustrated that growing strength? Joseph could have reported that just as SNCC had begun ejecting White students so too did the BSU that summer of 1966 force out the White students who had for years dominated SF State's student-run tutorial program in the Black community. (11) Joseph could have also explained that the BSU controlled (and its members taught courses in) the "Black Arts and Culture series" in SF State's nationally renowned Experimental College in the fall of 1966, which enrolled more than 200 students in eight seminars including "The History and Social Significance of Black Power," and ''Black Psychology." (12) This extensive Black Power series was the first known Black Studies unit on an American college campus.

Joseph's second (and largest) mention of the Black Campus Movement was during two paragraphs in a chapter on the Black Panther Party. He properly places the SF State BSU in the forefront of the BCM. "San Francisco State would become a launching pad for Black Power on college campuses," Joseph affirms. "Student militants at Ivy League, private, state and historically black institutions of higher learning outlined proposals demanding black studies majors, faculty, cultural centers, and administrative support based on the program State had established." (13) He should have expounded on all of this activism in the BCM and why SF State served as the vanguard organization. Nevertheless, he does reveal that many of the Black Panther Party's early recruits were in the SF State BSU, showing the connection between the two pioneering organizations. But like his other mentions of the BCM, there is no detail about this historic relationship.

Just as Waiting' Til the Midnight Hour did not adequately expound on the relationship between the SF State BSU and the Panthers, Carson's In Struggle, a historical account of SNCC (the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) and the evolution of its radicalism, did not sufficiently cover SNCC's relationship to the Black Campus Movement. (14) There are five aspects to this relationship, all of which should have been thoroughly explored in Carson's work. First, the membership lifeblood of SNCC was Southern Black colleges. This was the only aspect of the relationship that he covered. (15) Second, some of the Black campus activists were politicized by participating in SNCC's civil tights and/or Black Power campaigns and/or conferences. During the 1966-67 academic year, for instance, some of Cornell's Black students, who would make international news in a few years by taking over an administration building with guns in the spring of 1969, "attended all SNCC-sponsored conferences devoted to black power, particularly those concerned with the manifestation and expression of black power at the college level." (16) Third, some of SNCC's prominent activists enrolled in college becoming the leaders of the Black Campus Movement. Garrett at SF State is a prime example. Fourth, when SNCC workers were jailed, brutalized or killed, it resulted in some of the early modes of politicization for students at those workers' colleges or universities. For example, the case of Donald S. Harris, who had just graduated from Rutgers College, being mauled and jailed in August of 1963 during a SNCC campaign in Americus, Georgia, "had the effect of activating some concern with race-related matters at Rutgers," Richard McCormick explains. "It marked the first faint stirring of efforts to increase the black presence on campus." (17)

The fifth aspect of that relationship was the politicizing influence that SNCC leaders like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown had on students when they spoke on their campuses, imploring them to organize and wage their own struggles. He mentions this aspect, (18) but did not go into any detail. He could have examined Catmichael's speech at SF State in November of 1968, the night before the BSU began its renowned four and half month strike. Carmichael advised the packed auditorium of Black students that "you must sustain the struggle!" (19) In all, Carson's coverage of these aspects of the relationship was dismal. He could have explored one or all of these facets in chapter 14, "Black Power," when he was listing some of the people and groups who were in support of SNCC's call for Black Power, as students organized BSUs based on the inspiration they received from that call. (20)

Due to Carson's displayed lack of understanding (or even significance) of the Black Campus Movement and its relationship to SNCC, he made several erroneous historical assessments. Carson posits that "the spontaneous urban uprisings of 1968 ended an era of black struggle, for unlike earlier rebellions involving SNCC and southern blacks they dissipated quickly when confronted by powerful institutions." (21) Four and half months of the SF State BSU striking and .--mingling against two of the most powerful politicians in the country (San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto & California Governor Ronald Reagan) in 1968 does not correspond with Carson's conjecture. Furthermore, almost one-fifth of all the student protests during the 1968-1969 school year lasted more than a day and 10 last more than two weeks. Black students did not back down until their demands were met. Also, in the epilogue, Carson spuriously declares: "SNCC's staff scattered like seeds in the wind after their radicalism no longer found fertile ground in the southern struggle." (23) In actuality, they found fertile ground on campuses and blossomed into the Black Campus Movement.

Just as Carson does not adequately relate SNCC to the Black Campus Movement, Ogbar's Black Power does not sufficiently show the relationship between the BCM and what he identifies as the two most significant Black Power organizations--the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Black Panther Party. There is only a scant mention of the relationship between the Black Campus Movement and the NOI's Malcolm X. All he says is that student activists had been "exposed to the rhetoric of Malcolm X." (24) This exposure primarily came from the series of lectures Malcolm gave at colleges in the early 1960s, a point Ogbar could have explored. (25) He did spend some time--a paragraph--on the BCM's relationship with the Panthers, even stating that Panthers were active in protests at UCLA, Yale, and Morgan State University. (26) However, as in the relationship between the NOI and the BCM, he should have provided more of an explanation.

Even though Ogbar primarily explored the contours of the Panthers and the NOI, he did examine the Black Campus Movement in a section called "Academia, Black Youth, and Black Power." He begins describing the SF State BSU, but he only mentions it in passing. Stating simply that it was the nation's first BSU and it fought for the first Black Studies program is not enough. (27) It was more influential than that. Ogbar would spend two paragraphs detailing the strike at University of California, Berkeley instead of the one at SF State, despite it paling in comparison and chiefly being inspired by the strike at SF State. (28) Ogbar did place the S.F. State BSU in the analysis once again later in the book. In 1968, when it was protesting for Black Studies other "students of color joined their efforts and formed the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF)" bringing "together black, Chicano, and Asian American students for the first time in any major student activism," Ogbar says. (29) This statement is historically inaccurate, however. It makes it seem as if the TWLF formed after the other colored students joined the BSU protest. However, the BSU's strike began in November, eight months after the TWLF had been organized. (30) Also, this was not the first time those groups conducted activism together. The TWLF conducted a major sit-in that May of 1968. (31)

Unlike the previous three works, Van Deburg's New Day in Babylon, arguably the most comprehensive account of the Black Power movement, does not marginalize the Black Campus Movement. The "militants' cultural connection"--a connection that was his theme of Black Power--"was most clearly evidenced within the context of American higher education," Van Deburg writes. (32) He argues this point by describing the Black Campus Movement in an 18-page section in a chapter called "Black Power on Campus." Van Deburg opens the section revealing some of the most dramatic protests during the BCM. He delves into what factors produced the BCM and its overall demands, including a change to the status quo of "the degree remaining an end in itself, not a means for transforming society." (33) He describes the BCM at Black colleges, followed by declaring that the "central coordinating mechanism for the Black Power protests was the black student union," and then details the BSUs initiatives, programs and activities. (34) He posits that one of the chief demands and objectives of demonstrators was for the establishment of Black Studies departments. When these departments based on the principles that the students laid out for them became unattainable, the students began advocating for and creating revolutionary Black universities like Malcolm X Liberation University in North Carolina.

Even though this section went into more detail about the Black Campus Movement than the previous three books combined, at least Joseph placed the SF State BSU in the forefront of his analysis. Van Deburg did not. Furthermore, the SF State strike was without question the most important and dramatic demonstration of the BCM. But he only briefly describes it at the onset of the section. He uses examples from the SF State movement here and there, but he chooses not to place the SF State in the forefront of his analysis. No organization or leader was placed in the vanguard. It was just a generalized description of the ideas and activities of the different elements of the BCM, even though the SF State BSU originated, developed, and popularized many of those ideas and activities.

Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour, Carson's In Struggle, Ogbar's Black Power, and Van Deburg's New Day in Babylon are invaluable to the small amount of scholarly non-autobiographical, non-Black Panther literature in the emerging field of Black Power Studies. However, they tend to either marginalize the Black Campus Movement and/or its leading organization--the SF State Black Student Union. Joseph severely belittles the Black Campus Movement with his only two direct references to it in his general historical narrative. Carson and Ogbar fail to describe the breadth of the strong relationship between the Black Campus Movement and SNCC, and the NOI and the Panthers, respectively. In his account of the movement, Ogbar marginalizes it, and like Van Deburg, he places its vanguard organization--the SF State BSU--on the margins.

Despite many of the leaders of the Black Power Movement being trained on college campuses and most of the Black Power protests occurring there, which led to massive reforms and the Black Power Movement's most significant and enduring victories, these historians still trivialized the Black Campus Movement in their studies. In trying to reduce the marginalization of the Black Power Movement in historical scholarship, they have ended up marginalizing the struggle waged by hundreds of campus activists. The names, faces, voices, goals, ideas, strategies, demonstrations, successes, and failures of this instrumental body of Black college students, who totally changed the character of American higher education, needs to be moved to the center of analyses of the Black Power Movement. In order for Black Power historiography to continue to grow, it must have an accurate foundation, one that does not marginalize the Black Campus Movement and its vanguard organization--the SF State Black Student Union.

Department of African American Studies Philadelphia, PA 19122


(1.) See Malcolm X & Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York, 1965); Bobby Scale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (New York, 1970); Huey P. Newton & J. Herman Black, Revolutionary Suicide (New York, 1973); Stokely Carmichael & Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Toure] (New York, 2003); Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story (New York, 1992); Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones|Amir Baraka (New York, 1984). H. Rap Brown, Die Nigger Die: A Political Autobiography (Chicago, 2002); Angela Y. Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography (New York, (9S9); Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (New York, 2968); Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (New York, 1971).

(2.) Carmichael was a budding activist as a student in Nonviolent Action Group (a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee affiliate) at Howard University before he became the one who popularized the political slogan, Black Power [See Carmichael & Thelwell, 136-161]. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seal were burgeoning activists in the Afro-American Association (housed at University of California. Berkeley) and the Soul Students Advisory Council at Merritt College before they became the founders and leaders of the Black Panther Party [See Newton, 62 & 72]. Donald Freeman and Maxwell Stanford were campus activists in Ohio when they organized the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), arguably the most radical of the popular organizations, in 1962 [See Joseph, 53]. Maulana Ron Karenga was a budding activist as a student at UCLA before he founded the US organization and became one of the fathers of the cultural nationalist movement [Joseph, 217].

(3.) William H. Exum, Paradoxes of Protest: Black Student Activism in a White University (Philadelphia, 1985), 24.

(4.) Joy Ann Williamson, Black Power on Campus; The University of Illinois, 1965-75 (Urbana, IL, 2003), 1.

(5.) CORNELL '69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University (Ithaca, NY, 1999), 65.

(6.) William L. Van Deburg, New Day In Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975, (Chicago, 1992), 68.

(7.) Williamson, Black Power on Campus, 142.

(8.) Peniel Joseph, Waiting 'Til The Midnighi Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, (New York, 2006), xvii.

(9.) Ibid., 167-168.

(10.) Ibid., 168.

(11.) William Barlow and Peter Shapiro, An End to Silence: The San Francisco State College Student Movement in the '60s. (New York, 1971), 88.

(12.) Ibid., 83.

(13.) Joseph, Waiting, 215.

(14.) See Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, (Cambridge, MA, 1981).

(15.) Ibid., 244-251.

(16.) Downs, CORNELL, 57.

(17.) Richard P. McCormick, The Black Student Protest Movement at Rutgers, (New Brunswick, NJ, 1990), 11-13.

(18.) Carson, In Struggle, 244-245.

(19.) Dikran Karagueuzian, Blow It Up!: The Black Student Revolt at San Francisco State and the Emergence of Dr. Hayakawa. (Boston, 1971), 97.

(20.) In 1967, for instance, Black Students organized BSUs at Eastern Illinois University, Seton Hall University, University of Minnesota, John Hopkins University, Grinnell College, Michigan Stale University, University of North Carolina, Yale University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

(21.) Carson, In Struggle, 287.

(22.) "Student Strikes: 1968-69." The Black Scholar 1: 1-4. (January-February 1970): 70.

(23.) Carson, In Struggle, 306.

(24.) Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Black Potter: Radical Politics and African American Identity, (Bah timore, 2004), 136.

(25.) For more on this topic, see Benjamin Karim, Peter Skulches and David Gallen, Remember Malcolm: The story of Malcolm X from inside the Muslim mosque by his assistant minister Benjamin Karim. (New York, 1992), 128.

(26.) Ogbar, Black Potter, 141.

(27.) Ibid., 136.

(28.) Ibid., 166-167.

(29.) Ibid., 166.

(30.) Karagueuzian, Blow It Up, 114-116.

(31.) Barlow & Shapiro, An End to Silence, 168-169.

(32.) Van Deburg, New Day In Babylon, 65.

(33.) Ibid., 69.

(34.) Ibid., 71.

By Ibram Rogers

Temple University
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Date:Sep 22, 2008
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