Did the Administration really meet the needs of the Black students after The Allen Building Takeover? by Abigail Bolton

Did the Administration really meet the needs of the Black students after The Allen Building Takeover? by Abigail Bolton

On Friday 13th, 1969, at the end of Black Culture Week at Duke University a group of Black students and faculty members took over the Allen Building which was the administrative building. The Black protestors refused to leave until their demands had been met. This however resulted in the police using tear gas and force against the protestors, both White and Black. From this occasion it brought to the forefront the racism that was present at Duke University and showed not just the school, but the public as well, the demands that these Black Students had. Despite all of this protesting though, the demands were not wholly even met by 1999, with sit-ins still being present amongst the Duke community. The administration were against the Allen Building Takeover as they insisted that their needs were being met but the Black students had been waiting for 2 and ½ years and that was long enough for them. The University was to blame for the conflict because of their inefficient response to the students needs with the lack of change that was apparent on the Duke campus in 1969. Even after the takeover, the administration was still against working with the students and truly listening to what they wanted. This is shown through the long and short-term effects, where by the administration were still failing to meet the ‘Black Demands’ and proves that the students voices were not being heard.

The motivation for the Allen Building Takeover was not a single event that took place at Duke University. Rather, it was the collection of reasons building up to this event. The Black people of Duke felt that their demands were not being met and this was not just at this University but was across the whole of America where Racism was a mounting issue. The Black students wanted to focus all of their effort on changing the views Americans had towards them, “to work for the liberation of Black people.[1]”. One of the many reasons Black students were attending college was so they had the knowledge to go back to their communities and contribute to changing the Blacks rights.

Therefore, in the 1960’s the Blacks of America were fighting a battle to overcome racism and this was mirrored through the Takeover. The Duke community was working on meeting the demands of the Black students, however, they had been demanding requests now for a long time and nothing significant was being obtained. The University was trying to improve the integration of Black students, “we are in the process of establishing a living-learning group of Afro-American students. A section of a dormitory has been set aside and registration for this house will take place at normal room assignment time.”[2] Marcus Hobbs, who was the provost at Duke, was showing the Black protestors that changes were being made and that the university was willing to listen to what they had to say, “It is our genuine hope that you will recognise that the entire University community has much to gain by seeking a peaceful resolution rather than confrontation”.[3] There were many members of faculty that did not want to create a scene, but wanted to resolve the situation peacefully, however, the Black protestors were not putting up with this attitude anymore. They had grown bored of waiting for equality and were now doing everything in their power to meet their ‘Black Demands’.

Document showing the events of the Allen Building Takeover on the 13th February 1969.

Document showing the events of the Allen Building Takeover on the 13th February 1969 [28].

This is a copy of the Black Demands that was produced by the protestors that were involved in the Allen Building Takeover[27]

This is a copy of the Black Demands that was produced by the protestors that were involved in the Allen Building Takeover[27].

The Black students took it upon themselves to show the Duke administration that they were not doing enough and that they wanted more action to be taken. In light of this they published the ‘Black Demands’, which stated clearly their wants from their protest as well as justifying their actions. They were written by the Malcolm X Liberation School, which was a collection of students, on Thursday, February 13th 1969. They were published on the same day that Marcus Hobbs published his response from his meeting on February 13th. The meeting was being held in an attempt to find a resolution and calm the protest with no need for violence. The protest was supported by many people, such as,“1500 Duke students and faculty called for a three day general student strike”[4]. There were many students present at the protest and it was not just Black students, there were also White students supporting their demands.

 

Shows white students outside of the Allen building supporting the Black students inside. [26]

Shows white students outside of the Allen building supporting the Black students inside. [26]

It can be argued that the demands that the Black students wanted were being met by the administration, “The Co-ordinating Council….discuss and respond to the demands and actions of the Afro-American Society…attempting to locate and remove discriminatory housing practices”.[5] However, when compared with the Black demands and their clear protesting, it shows that they were not satisfied with the outcomes of the administration building so far. As can be seen from the response of the Divinity School when referring to the takeover, “They took this action because they feel that after 2 ½ years of negotiations no meaningful progress has been made”.[6] Some progress was being made, however, it was not happening fast and the Black people of Duke were worried that changes would not actually ever be implemented. Furthermore, what is interesting about their response, is the fact that it recognizes that people are not all in favour of the actions and demands of these students and faculty, “We are all not in agreement about some of these demands…..remember that people are involved”[7]. It is stating that there should be something done to rectify the situation, and that many people believe their demands and protest were wrong as they thought that they were disruptive and brought violence.

This can then lead us on to discuss the terms of the disagreement surrounding the Allen Building Takeover. This was a significant, if not the most important disagreement there was, which was how do they deal with the protestors in the building. Do they use force? Or, do they try and sort the situation out peacefully and without police involvement? This can be supported further by the records of a meeting of the faculty about what to do about the take over, “Professor Henry Clark observed that the number one issue was whether people were going to get their heads ‘bashed in’[8].” Later on in the meeting it is then concluded that the “Faculty urges the University to use every effort short of force to get the students out of the building before negotiating with them.[9]” Therefore these two statements show clearly that the faculty were not in favour of using force against the students in order to get them out of the building. They wanted to deal with the situation peacefully and not have the involvement of the police. This can then be further emphasized with, “It is our genuine hope that you will recognize that the entire University community has much to gain by seeking a peaceful resolution rather than confrontation[10]”.

This can then be compared to opposition against the campaign. One particular group was the ‘Young Americans for Freedom’ who were conservative critics on campus and produced the ‘Scenario for Campus Revolt’. They sarcastically wrote that the Black students wanted to ‘Provoke violent confrontation with police[11]’, as a way of gaining sympathy from the on looking students and faculty. Saying this though, the whole purpose of taking over this building was trying to provoke some sort of retaliation from the university as a whole, even if it were violent, it gained publicity. As can be seen in the document ‘Police Riot At Duke’, ‘the police charged the students and began driving them around the quad’[12]. The violence used was awful and has created a lasting memory in the minds of many.

Showing the use of tear gas once the students had left the building[25].

Showing the use of tear gas once the students had left the building[25].

After this violent event, there were short-term effects from the Allen Building Takeover that show the administration were still not working in favour of the Black students. One of the supposed successes from the takeover was that “there would be black student participation in the organization of an Afro-American Studies program at Duke….proof was that a retreat was going to be held on March 1-2, where faculty and black students would talk together and begin planning” [13]. This was a huge success and was seen as a “significant change” [14] for the University now. However, it does beg the question, why had the administration not taken action sooner? Why did the Black students have to go to such lengths in order to secure some kind of change within the University? Despite this sign of change and success though, the administration were still reluctant to change anything, “administration; they saw participation as a consultation, not decision making. The decisions made at the retreat were not shared in by the black students.” [15] Everything that the Black students were asking for after this was being rejected. They were still not being listened to by the administration and thus further highlighting their lack of efficiency. “The students have asked to have five members on a ten-member supervisory committee….The faculty committee said, ‘No.’” [16]. The result was that the Black students did not get what they had been demanding and therefore they “carried out the threat they made earlier…..some 25 black students were leaving now and another 17 would leave in June (out of a total of about 75 now at Duke) [17]”. This shows that despite the takeover there was still no real change that had come from the protests of the students.

However, in later years, Black students at Duke University in November 1997, performed a sit in, in the Allen Building. They were performing a ‘study-in’ and were ‘echoing a similar event’ from ‘1967’[18]. The Allen Building Takeover has had much effect on these students, “Many of today’s black students are aware of and appreciate the Allen Building takeover and those that protested in 1969”[19] The fact that these students were still having to perform acts of protest, such as a ‘study-in’ show that the administration were still, after nearly 30 years, not listening to the students.

However, a huge positive is that the takeover has allowed students to act on their own beliefs such as ‘Students Against Sweatshops’ who staged a similar sit-in to that of the Allen Building Takeover in January 1999[20]. Although not all of the demands were met by 1999 from the Allen Building Takeover and there was still dissatisfaction amongst the students as shown through the ‘study in’, they did manage to change the political outlook of the school[21]. This is because students now felt that they could protest for what they believed in and attempt to make a change at Duke. Also, from another newspaper article it shows that even after the event they were again, still ‘striving for change’. The Black students at Duke only account for less then 5% of the 1,600 faculty, with the undergraduate student body only being at 7-8% Black[22].

1984 protest commemorating the assassination of Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero and showing that protests have continued since the Allen Building Takeover[24].

1984 protest commemorating the assassination of Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero and showing that protests have continued since the Allen Building Takeover[24].

One of the issues in general that was highlighted by this Takeover was not to do with racism but instead can be argued to do with the fact that the students voices were not being heard. In a letter written by the Faculty Committee on Student Concerns, it begins on the second page by stating that “One of the central problems in all of the issues we have investigated thus far is the failure of communication and understanding[23]”. Therefore this magnifies the fact that Duke as a community was not listening to the students. This can also be related to later newspaper articles in 1989, “central demand of the AAS…establishment of an Afro-American studies department….few courses are offered and few students have chosen it as a major’. This shows that although the administration said that they would attend to many of the demands of the Black students and that things would change, they clearly have not. Even after 30 years there were still problems and improvements needed, and therefore this can be argued as showing that the administration was still not listening to the students. Despite the administration introducing an Afro-American department it was not fully implemented and seemed to just have been put there to please the Black students for a few years. It seems from all of the evidence that very much it was a waiting game with the administration, they were promising things to change but people were having to wait years and years for any sign of change to really come to the forefront.

Throughout this research there has been many contradicting sources, as well as sources that agree with one another. Furthermore, it is clear that the students felt that they were not being listened to and therefore had to protest in such a way that provoked such violence in order to seize the attention of the students and faculty, as well as the public. However, it is extremely surprising that after all of this, the administration still failed to meet all of the demands by 1999, and even then the population of Black undergraduate students at Duke was still only 7%. It is very clear that the problem throughout this whole debate was the lack of change that the administration were willing to implement, as well as the speed that they were willing to do it at. The takeover did not take place because they were not promised change, because the administration had promised them change, but it was because they had waited such a long time and still nothing had happened. Their protest brought attention to the situation and allowed for other protest groups to voice their opinions far more loudly then they ever would have been able to as the years moved on, however, the timely manner in which the university managed to attend to situations still proved to be extremely slow and inefficient.

 

 

[1]Hopkins, Chuck. February 1969. ‘Black Rap’. Newspaper. Box 1, Folder 2, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01002002.jpg, (a).

[2]Hobbs, Chuck, 13th February 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003004.jpg (c).

[3]Hobbs, Chuck, 13th February 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003004.jpg (c).

[4] n/a. February 14th 1969. Box 1, Folder 4, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01004004.jpg (f)

[5] Hobbs, Marcus. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003006.jpg(d)

[6] Mahla, Fritz. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003014.jpg (g)

[7] Mahla, Fritz. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003014.jpg

[8] Williams, George. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003002.jpg (e)

[9] Williams, George. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003002.jpg

[10] Hobbs, Marcus. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003004.jpg (e)

[11] February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003016.ejpg (b)

[12] February 1969. Box 1, Folder 4, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01004005.jpg

[13] March 8th 1969. Box 1, Folder 12, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01012001.jpg

[14]March 8th 1969. Box 1, Folder 12, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01012001.jpg

[15]March 8th 1969. Box 1, Folder 12, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01012001.jpg

[16] Tornquist, Elizabeth. March 15th, 1969. Box 1, Folder 12, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01012029.jpg

[17] Tornquist, Elizabeth. March 15th, 1969. Box 1, Folder 12, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01012029.jpg

[18] Soster, Anya. February 12th 1999. Box 1, Folder 14, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01014007.jpg

[19] Soster, Anya. February 12th 1999. Box 1, Folder 14, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01014007.jpg

[20] Soster, Anya. February 12th 1999. Box 1, Folder 14, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01014007.jpg (h)

[21] Moulton, Jessica. February 12th 1999. Box 1, Folder 14, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002

[22] February 14th 1999. Box 1, Folder 14, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01014019.jpg (h)

[23]Havighurst, Clark. C, Martin Lakin, Thomas A. Langford, Richard L. Watson, and Alan Kerckoff. 1969. Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Box 1, Folder 4. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01004049.jpg. (b)

[24] Picture, 25th March 1984. Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University. Box 2. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460674980/in/photostream/

[25] 1969. Box 54, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969 – 2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460743420/in/photostream/

[26] 1969. Box 54, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dukeyearlook/4460742660/in/photostream/

[27] SLP. February 13th 1969. Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01003005.jpg (a) (f)

[28] Bradley, Scott. February 1969. Box 1, Folder 4, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002. Rubenstein Library, Duke University. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/uaallenbldg/lrg/abtms01004007.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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