A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

            On February 13th, 1969 between fifty and seventy-five students locked themselves inside the Allen Building at Duke University, as a protest against racial inequality on campus. The Allen Building Takeover came as a shock to the entire university. The racial issues that had been rocking the rest of the nation in the 1960s had finally penetrated the Duke campus. The group of students who barricaded themselves inside the Allen building felt that this radical act was the only way for them to gain the control over their education that they so strongly desired.  The actions taken by these students directly or indirectly affected every other student and faculty member on campus. Everyone had an opinion on the Takeover, and whether the students had a valid argument, which sparked major discussions about racism at Duke. The Allen Building Takeover brought the race relations on Duke’s campus to a climax, forcing these long ignored problems to be addressed. The effects of the Takeover on campus life were both immediate, causing a disruption, and lasting, forcing the administration to reassess their policies surrounding black programs on campus.

On the lawn in front of the Allen Building, chaos ensues as the police use teargas to try to force the students to exit. [xv]

The refusal for the Duke administration to compromise with students and the political atmosphere nationwide played the largest role in motivating the Allen Building Takeover. Prior to the Takeover, resentment toward the University had been growing in Duke’s black community. As stated in their list of demands, the black community had been trying to negotiate with the administration for almost two and a half years. [i] These students felt that the conventional and proper ways that they had been using to incite change in the university were futile and fruitless. As a result, the Takeover ensued. This series of events surrounding the Takeover were not unique to Duke’s campus. The political atmosphere during the 1960s, when the Takeover occurred, was charged and emotional. Campus revolts were happening nationwide on many college campuses. While the white activist group, Duke Young Americans for Freedom, disagrees with the Takeover, their flyer acts as a good source to show the environment across college campuses at this time. The flyer explains how “this strategy has long been acknowledged by campus militants across the country. It has been used to close dozens of campuses.”[ii] This flyer helps present a picture of the nationwide protests occurring over racial equality, and how these problems might have influenced the actions of the Duke students when taking over the Allen Building. The fact that their peers on other campuses across the country had taken action, likely gave the students at Duke the confidence necessary to take things to the next step.

This flyer put out by Young Americans for Freedom reveals the national unrest among black students on college campuses. [iii]

            Many Duke students supported, or at least understood, the actions, sympathizing with the feeling of helplessness that these black students faced. Students felt that the Takeover was warranted because it was a fight for blacks to gain control over their own education. In a flyer called “Black Students Need Power,” the writer expands on one of the demands from the Takeover, the creation of a Black Studies Program[iii]. This flyer specifically supports just one of the demands of the students who occupied the Allen Building, but much of the black community and many students from the white community supported the actions taken. Supporters felt that the Duke administration was treating the black community unfairly, and their only option was to take drastic measures. At the time of the Takeover, 1969, racial tensions were heating up across college campuses. Nationally, the topic of racial equality was readily disputed, so it is reasonable that on a diverse college campus, the opinions of the students would not be homogeneous.  Then, there were the people who saw both sides of the disagreement surrounding the Takeover. One flyer put out titled  “The Heart of the Matter” recognized that everyone involved in the Takeover has made mistakes, the “administration, faculty, police, and students—black and white.” [iv] In this source, the writer can see the perspectives of both sides. The students, who wrote this piece, advocated amnesty for all involved. This response was rather unusual for a time when the political environment surrounding this issue was so heated. It is often hard to keep a level head and remain open minded on a topic that caused so much upheaval and debate in the community.  Many students, both black and white, felt that the way the administration was handling race on campus was unacceptable.

These demands that the students released on the day of the Takeover provides insight into their motives. [i]

Much disagreement surrounded the takeover of the Allen Building, as some faculty and students publicly denounced it as rash, violent, and simply unnecessary. The responses from people across campus were so polarized because the actions taken by the Afro-American Society, AAS, were extremely radical. For this reason, the array of responses their actions received diverged. Some students, like those in The Duke Young Americans for Freedom, strongly vocalized their disagreement with the Takeover. In a flyer released after the police use of teargas, they strongly state that the black demands are “both absurd and dangerous.” They go on to describe how the Takeover was “completely illegal, immoral, and cannot be justified through any rationalization.”[v] This response was on one end of the spectrum. This group of students felt that the black demands were asking too much and completely unwarranted. They did not see racism as a problem on campus, and for this reason, they felt that the Takeover was simply taking away their ability to go to classes. Faculty members also had different opinions on the Takeover, which mirrored those of the students. To address the differing opinions among the faculty, a meeting was held where any faculty member present could speak out about their thoughts.[vi] The opinions of the faculty were just as polarized as those of the students, as their opinions fell into the same categories of support, ambiguity, and disagreement. Not everyone agreed with the actions that those students took that day because they felt that the Takeover just caused an unnecessary disruption.

The Takeover was the climax of the struggle for racial equality at Duke embodied through the conflict between the administration and the black community, which had been going on for years. A Chronicle article from 1989 quotes a student from the day of the Takeover, who explained how negotiations had been ongoing, “for two and a half years” with “no meaningful results” leaving the students feeling as if they had “exhausted all the so-called proper channels.”[vii] This extended period of negotiations helps to illuminate the campus relations at the time. The relations between the administration and the black community were weak at best. The communication between the administration and the students was almost non-existent, setting the atmosphere for the Takeover. The demands of the black students help to convey the campus relations as well. The black students felt as if they were not receiving the same quality of education as the white students were. Some complaints they voiced included the lack of an Afro-American studies department and different qualifications when determining the admissions status between blacks and whites.[viii] The claims of these students highlighted the issues that Duke was grappling with over race at the time. Duke was still struggling to adapt to a changing society, which included updating academic programs and systems.

Another issue that the Takeover reveals about campus relations is the feeling of a lack of control over their own education by the students. Many students at the time of the Takeover felt that the faculty had too much control of Duke’s programs and did a poor job of listening to the needs of the students. In one flyer, “Why Blacks Students Cannot Get Student Power”, the writers talk about how they feel as if they have no influence over their own studies, specifically when involving the curriculum and creation of a black studies department.[ix] An important part of college for a student is to learn about your self both academically and personally and to begin to make some independent decisions. This feeling expressed by many students reveals a large gap between the faculty and students. The 1999 Chronicle article notes, that “students encountered professors unwilling to give credit for top work to black students and a general sense from the majority white population that you didn’t belong there.”[x]  The Takeover illuminated these issues, which had been bothering students for a while. A letter from President Knight to the faculty about the dissatisfaction with the Black Studies program by the blacks shows that the administration began to recognize the disconnect.[xi] In this letter, Knight talked about the beginning steps taken to establish a Black Studies program, such as faculty-administration committees. Many of the black students felt that they should have been allowed to take part in the discussions involving the creation of this program. Students felt that in no way could their wishes be properly advocated for in committee completely comprised of faculty and administration. The Takeover revealed the larger issues in communication between students and faculty that had been brewing for years.

This flyer helps to advertise some of the classes offered by the Free University during the student boycott. [xii]

            The Allen Building Takeover immediately affected life on campus, suspending classes and disrupting student life. First, the Takeover led to a strike on Duke classes by many students. In response to the Takeover according to a 1989 Chronicle article, “for three days following the incident, approximately 1,000 students and faculty boycotted regular classes and attended classes offered by the “Free University”.”[xii] A large group of students met in Page Auditorium, where they collectively decided on this boycott.[xiii] In the immediate sense, the Takeover accomplished its goals. When students take radical actions such as occupying a building, they do so in order to be heard and bring attention to their issue. Many times, they wish to disrupt everyday life and routine as a tactic to demand a response. The Takeover had an effect because at least for a short period of time, the issue of race on campus was the topic of everyone’s conservations, and it could no longer be avoided.

The Takeover also forced the resignation of President Knight upon the request of the Board of Trustees, changing Duke’s atmosphere surrounding race. According to a 1999 Chronicle article, this change in administration brought about a change in Duke’s character. The new administration addressed many of the issues that the black students had brought up, but this event also made the Duke administration realize it was “not willing to become a provincial southern university.” [xiv] The fact that this group of students could make such an impact on the character of a university illustrates the impact that young people can have. This group of students changed the course of their university’s history. The Duke of today, or at least from what I have experienced, is a place where young adults can come together to form an inclusive intellectual community. Race plays no factor in determining who can join which clubs or participate in which conversations. The students who occupied the Allen Building on that day incited something in a campus, catalyzing change.

The meeting of the demands of the students represents another of the long-term effects that the Takeover had on campus. In a letter to the students occupying the building, Marcus Hobbes discusses what actions the University is willing to take to meet the demands of the students. The administration agreed to meet to discuss the academic wishes of the students and to make an effort to meet scholarship demands. [xv] The administration could no longer just ignore the voices and demands of the black community, and this resulted in them being forced to change some of their ways. The Allen Building Takeover had a much longer effect on the Duke community as a whole than many people have given it credit.

This picture shows a group of students marching in protest in front of the Duke Chapel. [xvi]

            The day of February 13, 1969 is when the building tensions between the black students and Duke administration were finally acknowledged. The Allen Building Takeover forced these issues that the administration had been trying to ignore into the attention of both students and faculty members. After the Takeover, everyone on campus realized that things could not continue the way they had been. The strained relations between the black community and the administration finally had to be resolved, and while the Takeover in no way fixed every problem, progress was made. The students, who chose to occupy the Allen Building that day, accomplished their goal by demonstrating to the administration, faculty, and other students, that they would not just go away, but rather that they would fight for their rights.

 

[i] Malcolm X Liberation School, “The Black Demands”, February 13th 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01003 (a), (f)

[ii] “Scenario for Campus Revolt,” February 13th 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01003 (b), (e)

[iii] “Why Black Students Need Student Power,” March 5th 1969, Box 1, Folder 7, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01007 (a), (f)

[iv] “Group of Students who have experienced Jesus Christ, “Heart of the Matter,” February 17th, 1969, Box 1, Folder 4, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01004 (b), (g)

[v] Young Americans for Freedom, February 4-19, 1969, Box 1, Folder 6, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01006 (b), (e)

[vi] Robert E. Cushman, Letter to All Faculty Members, February 13th, 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01003  (d)

[vii] Malkia Lydia, Taking Over, The Chronicle, February 13th, 1989, Box 1, Folder 13, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01013 (h)

[viii] Malcolm X Liberation School, “The Black Demands”, February 13th 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01003 (a), (f)

[ix] “Why Black Students Need Student Power,” March 5th 1969, Box 1, Folder 7, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01007 (a), (f)

[x] “A Day to Remember: ‘Then the tear gas came’, The Allen Building Takeover: 30 years later, February 12, 1999, Box 1, Folder 14, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01014, (h)

[xi] Douglas M. Knight, Memo to Members of the Duke University Community, March 11, 1969, Box 1, Folder 7, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01007 (c)

[xii] Malkia Lydia, Taking Over, The Chronicle, February 13th, 1989, Box 1, Folder 13, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01013 (h)

[xiii] “The Only Alternative: A Free University”, February 14th, 1969, Box 1, Folder 4, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01004 (a)

[xiv] “A Day to Remember: ‘Then the tear gas came’, The Allen Building Takeover: 30 years later, February 12, 1999, Box 1, Folder 14, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01014, (h)

[xv] Marcus Hobbs, “I am Marcus Hobbs, Provost of the University, “ February 13th, 1969, Box 1, Folder 3, Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2002, Rubenstein Library, Duke University, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/uaallenbldg/#abtms01003, (c)

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