Duke University admitted its first five Black undergraduates in the Class of 1963. The origins of the Black Student Alliance can be traced to the Afro-American Society (AAS), formally established in 1967 with the help of then student (and former Duke Medical School Director of Admissions) the late Dr. Brenda Armstrong. The AAS formed as these students sought ways to deal with the challenges of Black life at a predominantly White institution.
The first political statement by the AAS was the Hope Valley Study-In on November 13, 1967. Thirty-five members of the AAS staged a day long study-in protest in the lobby of President Knight’s office denouncing (1) the use of segregated facilities by the University organizations and (2) the membership of key university officers, including President Knight, in the segregated Hope valley Country Club.
The turbulent racial period of the 60’s in America had its impact at Duke too. On February 13, 1969, AAS students led a Black student takeover of the Allen Building to spark University action on the concerns of Black students. The predominant issues of the day were the establishment of an Afro-American studies program, a cultural center, and increasing the number of Black faculty and students.
The AAS was renamed the Association of African Students (The Association) in 1971 and assumed its present title, the Black Student Alliance (BSA), in September of 1976. Since then, BSA has sought to provide a cultural base for Black students at the University as well as continue the struggle for solutions to the aforementioned problems. The BSA has grown into a major student organization on campus. The 80’s brought further change to BSA’s evolution as officers now serve academic year long terms.
Also in the 1980’s, when Black enrollment began to decrease, BSA joined forces with the Undergraduate Admissions Office in making Black recruitment a primary goal (i.e., BSAI Weekend and the Reggie Howard Memorial Scholarship Program). The Black Student Alliance Invitational Weekend, which is held every spring, allows prospective students to visit the campus. and be introduced to the Duke experience from a Black perspective. The Reggie Howard Memorial Scholarship honors the first Black student who became ASDU (the student government at the time) president in 1976. This scholarship is offered to incoming students who demonstrate the outstanding academic achievements and the leadership Reggie Howard characterized. Endowing the scholarship remains of crucial importance.
Today, BSA continues its role as Duke’s premier advocacy organization, a cultural force and an instrument for change.