The Allen Building Takeover: A Historical Demonstration

In 1969, a pivotal civil rights demonstration on Duke University’s campus occurred. This movement, the Allen Building Takeover, was sparked by racial tensions on Duke’s campus and the Duke administration’s inability to accommodate Afro-American students. In the wake of the protest, black and white students joined together to demand change, revealing a shaky student-administration relationship between a liberal student body and a conservative administration. This physical takeover of the University’s main administrative building sparked mass media attention, called in the Durham police force, and inevitably forced the university administration to negotiate with the Afro-American students to deal with an issue they could no longer ignore. While the incident was an aggressive and militant demonstration, it was a crucial step that was necessary to mend the differences between the black student body and the school administration, allowing the two groups to work together towards racial equality and advocacy on Duke’s campus. Due to its extremity, the protest found opposition from faculty and conservative students such as the Young Americans for Freedom who denounced the takeover as illegal, aggressive, and unreasonable. However, to a large extent, the Allen Building takeover lead to improved student-administration relations and provided a valuable learning experience for both student leaders and the administration in the future.

White students standing outside the Allen Building in support of the black students inside. [14]

White students standing outside the Allen Building in support of the black students inside. [5]

Why did these students engage in such a dangerous form of protest against Duke University’s unwillingness to provide change? One idea can be found in Charles Murray’s controversial work, Coming Apart: The State of White America.[1] In this book, Murray describes the racial system as one that “robs” children of equal opportunity. This system suppresses a group of disillusioned people and drives them to the point where they have no alternative but to fight for equality. The African Americans in the United States have been pitted against “White America” in an attempt to lift themselves up from the decades of social injustice and racial segregation. The ideas that Murray express in his book are reflective of the Afro-American students at Duke who felt that there needed to be “an immediate end to the tokenism of black representation in the university power structure.”[2] After desperately trying to negotiate changes with the Duke administration for different issues pertaining to black students on campus for over two and a half years, the Afro-American students were denied of any action even though the administration was supposedly working to fix the issues brought to their attention. The university’s lack of care for the black student’s issues is indicative of the lack of true power the black students had in the university power structure and gave them very few options to make their voices heard. This led the militant black students inside the Allen building to send out a document titled “The Black Demands” on February 13th, 1969 at 9:00 AM, which stated eleven changes such as “the immediate end to police harassment of black students, the right to establish a black dorm on campus, financial assurance for black students, and the reinstatement of black students who were forced to leave Duke due to the stifling social and educational environment” which were all focused on providing greater equality for black students.[3] The entire incident was caused by years of frustration and pent up tension between the administration and the Afro-American students which caused the black students to take on a more aggressive approach, inspired by the militant civil rights leader Malcom X, to protest against the administration as seen by the formation of the Malcom X Liberation School inside the Allen Building. Given the situation the Afro-American students were in, the occupation of the Allen building won over the sympathy of many white students who felt that the administration should cater to the demands of all students at the university and surrounded the building to create a barricade for the students inside. Thus, the takeover acted as a catalyst for the white students to join black students in their fight for change.

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The Black Demands given to the administration from inside the Allen Building. [3]

Looking at the demands that the Afro-American students stated, it’s arguable that many of the demands were quite extreme at the time which sparked opposition from white students and administration on campus. The Duke Young Americans for Freedom, a local chapter of a national conservative student group, published an article condemning the Black Demands stating that the “black takeover at the Allen Building was completely illegal, immoral, and cannot be justified through any rationalization” and that their “demands cannot possibly all be met due to both moral and legal factors”.[4] While the demands that were made by the students inside the Allen building were very socking, they were justifiable as the Afro-American students felt that they needed these changes because they were socially and educationally disadvantaged at school. The sympathy and support for the protest, caused by theuniversity’s lack of positive response to reform and police brutality during the takeover, is reflective of the three day boycott of classes that was organized by white students who supported the takeover. This boycott sought to obtain amnesty for students that were involved in the occupation of the Allen building and reinstate the black students who were suspended because of the incident. Consequently, due to the lack of faculty support, much of the blame for the police brutality fell on the faculty as indicated by the slogan on the boycott which stated that “the professors who lecture to you today voted for police and gas on Thursday.”[6] From a different perspective, Professor Oliver Ferguson writes a letter after the takeover to his colleague and fellow Duke Professor who was in Sweden at the time of the protest.[7] Ferguson,taking on a completely objective stand point on the situation that was occurred on campus,rationalized his belief that both parties were at fault for the incidentand that the boycott which followed only resulted in mediocre success.In short, the university’s lack of response to the black student’s needs and the violence it caused to stop their demonstration resulted in a campus-wide movement to create change at Duke University.

White students joined together with black students to boycott school in order to gain amnesty for those involved in the takeover. [11]

White students joined together with black students to boycott school in order to gain amnesty for those involved in the takeover. [6]

The occupation of the Allen building and the resulting chaos revealed many cracks in the student-administration relation. Was it the university’s fault that the takeover occurred? One thing is for certain: the university was ineffective at imposing the necessary changes that would accommodate the Afro-American student’s needs. Tension was inevitable between a liberal student body that demanded change and a conservative administration that wanted the university to remain and function like it had for years before. President Knight’s statement “It would be a great error… it had damn better not be taken!” in an interview for the Chronicle implied his fears at the time that “the event of a student disruption would wreck the university.”[8] The president’s warning about a possible takeover indicated the reality that the university’s methods for addressing student relations were flawed and foreshadowed the eventual takeover of the Allen Building. At the time, the ideas from Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton’s Black Power: The Politics of Liberation were beginning to appear on the university campus.[9] Black students, under the ideas of “Black Power” joined together to form a new consciousness and overthrow the philosophy for racism. During the counterculture period of the 1960’s, racial segregation was under siege and equality was being supported both blacks and whites, while traditionally conservative views were going out of favor and ideas such as “Black Power” and black unity were widespread. The university as a whole underwent a transformation that changed the traditional structure of the institution.

Black students occupying the Allen Building and refusing to come out until their demands are met. [15]

Black students occupying the Allen Building and refusing to come out until their demands are met. [15]

Another issue that was highlighted by the takeover was one of integration versus separation. While Duke University began accepting black students in the 1963, it was still an institution that remained racially divided throughout the decade. The Afro-American students at Duke University in the 1960’s had to decide on how they were going to achieve racial equality. The option between negotiating with the administration to promote inclusion and integration of the black students into the rest of the student body or breaking away from the rest of the student body to form an independent black community was really a one-choice decision. Despite all the efforts to negotiate integration with the administration, black students’ views were ignored and they were not given any consideration for change. As a result of unwillingness of the university to integrate the Afro-American student population into the rest of the school, black students were pushed to seek a separate black student life on campus with a separate dorm, adviser, and other resources only available for blacks.

The police force using tear gas on the protesting students. [12]

The police force using tear gas on the protesting students. [17]

Like all other radical movements, the Allen Building Takeover resulted in new changes and long-term effects that impacted Duke University years after the initial occupation. The rash decisions made by the Durham police to use tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesters resulted in criticism by students and supporters who demanded that the students receive amnesty from the incident. Marcus Hobbs, the Provost at the time of the takeover, requested the students to leave the building and then acted on the authority of President Knight to suspend the black students inside the Allen Building for violation of the Pickets and Protest Policy when the students refused to leave.[10],[11] A three day strike was then placed into effect to help reinstate the students that were suspended during the occupation and gain amnesty for all other students involved in the occupation movement. At the same time, immediate negotiations between the Afro-American Student Society and the school administration began after the occupation, fixing the mistake of inaction that the administration previously made. Some of the demands listed by the Afro-American students such as the recruitment of a special black counselor and a new Afro-American studies program[12] were both successes that the takeover brought for the Afro-American student body which signaled for more change to come in the future. Therefore, the Allen Building takeover, while extreme in action, was a crucial step that was needed to mend the divide between the Afro-American students and the Duke administration and help them work together towards racial advocacy on Duke’s campus.

Years after the Allen Building takeover, the event still remains a widely remembered moment in university history and coverage of the protest often included analysis of the changes the takeover brought. The Chronicle, Duke University’s student ran newspaper, published several anniversary issues recounting the events that occurred on the day of the Allen Building takeover twenty and thirty years after the event.[13],[14] In The Chronicle for the twenty-year remembrance of the Allen Building takeover, there was a section titled “Called to Action” which focused on how student leaders in 1989 were taking a more peaceful and cooperative initiative to promote change on campus.[16] Back during the time of the Allen Building takeover, the Afro-American students were frustrated that they could not negotiate and obtain the demands that they wanted with the school administration, so as an act of defiance, they fought “against the system” which resulted in a chaotic scene with the police and National Guard being called in. At the time when the twenty year remembrance article was published, both black and white student leaders were demanding change in a much more subtle way by “working with the system” to mend the problems that still persisted at the university. In the long-run, the students at Duke University become more vocal in their demands for the administration to change aspects of the school that would better the living and educational experience for every student on campus.

Chaotic scene outside of the Allen building. [13]

Chaotic scene outside of the Allen building. [18]

The Allen Building Takeover of 1969 was a wake-up call to the Duke administration signaling the need for a stronger student-administration relationship and change to accommodate the new radical ideas of the time period such as racial advocacy and racial equality. Overall, the controversial protest received the support of many white students, brought together the student body as a unified force that stood together to call for change, and gave the Afro-American students many of the demands they requested. Even years after the Allen Building takeover, the story of the protest still remains one of the most remembered movements for change on Duke’s campus. Despite the temporary suspension given to the black students who occupied the Allen building during the protest, the university acceded to most of the black demands and eventually exonerated the students involved in the protest and reinstated the black students who were suspended during the takeover. The improved student-administration relationship would eventually lead to a more unified university that responded to changes that would improve students’ lives on campus.

 

[1] Charles Becton, White America “you had better listen”, February 5, 1969, Box 1, Folder 2, Image 16, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01002016.jpg, (a).

[2] Afro-American Society, Ten-Point Program, February 5, 1969, Box 1, Folder 2, Image 20, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01002020.jpg, (a), (f).

[3] Malcom X Liberation School, The Black Demands, February 13, 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Image 5, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003005.jpg, (a), (f), (i).

[4] Young Americans for Freedom, Boycott the Strike, February 14, 1969, Box 1, Folder 6, Image 31, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01006031.jpg. (b), (e).

[5] Allen Building Takeover: White Students Outside the Allen Building, February 13, 1969, Box 54, University Archives Photograph Collection, Duke University.   http://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460742660/in/set-72157623685560700/, (i).

[6] Duke University Students, On Strike!! , February 14, 1969, Box 1, Folder 4, Image 16, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01004016.jpg, (b), (f), (i).

[7] Oliver Ferguson, Letter to Carl Anderson, February 15, 1969, Box 1, Folder 5, Image 1, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01005001.jpg, (d), (g).

[8] Pat Black, Knight warns against campus revolt, February 5, 1969, Box 1, Folder 10, Image 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01010003.jpg, (b).

[9] J.T Bear, Black Power: Politics of Liberation, February 5, 1969, Box 1, Folder 2, Image 13, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01002013.jpg, (a).

[10] Marcus Hobbs, Acting on authority of President Knight, February 13, 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Image 6, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003006.jpg, (c), (e).

[11] Marcus Hobbs, Letter from the Provost, February 13, 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Image 4, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003004.jpg, (c), (e).

[12] Jean Cary, University to meet most Afro demands, February 17, 1969, Box 1, Folder 10, Image 45, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01010045.jpg, (b).

[13] The Chronicle, More on 1969 Allen Building Takeover, February 13, 1989, Box 1, Folder 13, Images 13-17, Allen Building Takeover Collection, Remembrance, 1975-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01013013.jpg, (h).

[14] A supplement to The Chronicle, The Allen Building Takeover: Thirty Years Later, February 12, 1999, Box 1, Folder 14, Images 1-8, Allen Building Takeover Collection, Remembrance, 1975-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01014001.jpg, (h).

[15] Allen Building Takeover: Black Students Inside the Allen Building, February 13, 1969, Box 54, University Archives Photograph Collection, Duke University. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460743254/in/set-72157623685560700/, (i).

[16] The Chronicle, More on 1969 Allen Building Takeover, February 13, 1989, Box 1, Folder 13, Images 13-17, Allen Building Takeover Collection, Remembrance, 1975-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01013013.jpg, (h).

[17] Allen Building Takeover: Police using Tear-Gas, February 13, 1969, Box 54, University Archives Photograph Collection, Duke University.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460743420/in/set-72157623685560700/, (i).

[18] Allen Building Takeover: Supporters Being Tear-Gassed, February 13, 1969, Box 54, University Archives Photograph Collection, Duke University. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460743346/in/set-72157623685560700/, (i)

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