Although there is a tendency – among those who have heard of the “Allen Building Takeover” – to think that the 1969 event was the one and only such “takeover,” the Allen Building has in fact been a site of protest throughout Duke’s history.
The fairly late integration of Duke University in 1963 – a school that had segregated campus bathrooms and a “colored” section in Wallace Wade Stadium as late as 1962 – was only the beginning of Duke’s challenging race relations. The first black undergraduates to attend Duke have described the atmosphere as lonely and self-segregating. Campus social groups, such as fraternities and sororities, did not admit black students, and they were often not invited to social functions. Small in number, black students usually decided collectively what weekend social functions to attend, whether it was with a Duke social group that had extended an invitation or at the nearby historically black North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University, or NCCU).
This icy atmosphere prompted the formation of the “Afro-American Society” in the fall of 1967, a body whose goal was to create a collective cultural base for African American students at Duke. Not long after its formation, in October, the Associated Students of Duke University (ASDU)’s condemnation of the university’s use of segregated off-campus facilities was overturned by a student referendum. Members of the AAS, appalled, demanded that the administration prohibit such patronization by 6pm on November 12th. If it did not, the AAS promised to “formulate and enact plans to disrupt the functioning of the university” (Yannella 1985, 8).
Professor William C. Turner, Ph. D. has described the Allen Building Takeover of 1969 – not the Silent Vigil of 1968 – as being the real “turning point”: “in the hiring of black faculty, in establishing African American Studies as a viable academic enterprise, in the forward movement of the school in becoming an international university rather than a good regional school. It was after the Allen Building Takeover that you begin to see this opening – this global perspective…students coming in…more women, more ethnicities” (Turner Interview, part 7). There was an impression that it was an event where black students claimed a voice and “a space in the university” (Croxton interview).
Daniel Walter also describes a more minor 1970 “takeover” of the Allen Building, led by a mix of blacks and whites, in order to discuss the reformulation of academic policy at Duke. Some students wanted to move to a Pass/Fail system so that they could spend more time reading and less time on “busy work.” The movement did not get far, but President Terry Sanford was very willing to take questions on the topic (Walter interview).
Yannella, Don. 1985. Race Relations at Duke University and the Allen Building Takeover. Oral History Program, Duke University. Duke University Archives, Durham, NC.