Students’ Third World Power (by Yi Luo)

1.   Title:   Students’ Third World Power

2.   Overview:   The following learning activities aim to help students understand the organization of the San Francisco State College Strike and evaluate its historical significance from perspectives of different groups of people across time nationally and internationally.

3.   Framework:   The lesson asks students to evaluate primary resources, to discuss and present in groups on secondary resources, and to write a response essay on the class discussion. Students will improve their historical research skills, information collection and analysis skills, presentation skills, writing skills, and teamwork. Students will also have a better understanding about racial issues in American society.

4.  Essential Understanding:   The San Francisco State College Strike was an important social movement led by communities of colored people in the late 1960s.

5.   Essential Questions:

  • What is historical significance (for example, to students and to society, positive and negative, long-term and short-term) of the strike?
  • What groups of people and organizations participated in the strike? What did they ask for and why?
  • What were the roles of faculty and President of the college in the strike?
  • How did Asian Americans take part in the strike?
  • How did Nationalism influence the strike?
  • What do you think about the fact that Third World people organized the strike?

6.  Glossary:

  • Nationalism: It refers to a political ideology to identify a group of people with a nation. In the late 1960s, Civil Rights activists changed from non-violence to radicalism, which included Nationalism.
  • Third World: In social movements led by communities of colored people in the United States, it refers to all non-whites. In the late 1960s, Civil Rights activists used it to unite people of different races.
  • Participatory Democracy: It advocates citizen participation rather than representative democracy.

7.  Introduction:

During five months in 1968 and 1969, the longest campus strike in the United States took place in San Francisco State University. Students of different races organized various organizations, known as the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, to make American society to rethink education at college from the perspective of ethnicity. The nation’s first Ethnic Studies Department established later.[1]

The poster of “Is this Mississippi?” was created by Movement Against Political Suspensions (MAPS), one of the many organizations which participated in the strike, in December 1967 to advocate students to act together to protect their autonomy and political freedom. The document stated the pressure that administration gave on the students’ protest. Students pointed to the President of the college at that time, President John Summerskill, who represented the administration of the college. Students would organize different kinds of activities from indirect ways such as education to direct ways such as sit-ins. They “may choose their activities,”[2] which illustrated that students who asked for self-control and freedom had self-control and freedom in their organization first. Moreover, the title illustrated the student activists’ goal. In 1964, students in Mississippi could attend Freedom Schools which were established after the Mississippi Summer Project and learned about history of Blacks. The Summer Project in 1964 was MAPS’s role model.

The author of the Nation article, Mervin B. Freedman, was a professor at San Francisco State College. He thought the strike on campus represented the universal conflict among different races in urban areas. The attitudes of faculty were important to solve conflicts between activists and the college. His research showed that faculty wanted “justice along with law and order,” but things were in fact more complicated than faculty thought. He suggested faculty should “tolerate much confusion and ambiguity.” President was an important mediator and negotiator of the conflict. President should reduce the conflict “by pointing out to rebellious students that while a revolution evokes an extraordinary sense of freedom and possibility, evocation of a mood is not political end in itself.”[3]

The strike showed social changes in the 1960s and activists’ demands, although different scholars had different interpretations. According to Merle Woo, students wanted to change the mainstream white elite capitalist political ideology and the basis of American education system. She thought capitalism led to racial problems, so the strike could not solve problems.

Karen Umemoto’s article showed that Asian American students were an important branch of power in the strike. Through their organizations, they fought for self-determination with the other Third-World students. Umemoto also thought the strike asked for a new definition of education in the United States. Activists thought the education should “serve the needs of their communities” to end racial segregation. The strike also showed Asian American students’ growing “political consciousness.” Inspired by the Civil Rights movement, to break down the fake “racial harmony” and advocate “participatory democracy,” students tried various means.[4]

The Strike changed the participants’ lives. Lloyd K. Wake described his participation as “radicalness… ‘characterized by a departure from the usual or traditional’ ways of doing things.” The strike exposed him to more Asian Americans and made him a person who loved “speculating”[5] rather than following the stereotypes as a minister later in his life.

Many factors led to the strike, one of which was Nationalism. Third-World nationalists such as Chairman Mao and domestic nationalists such as Malcolm X inspired students. Mo Nishida argued student activists asked for “ethnic pride and consciousness” and “responsibility” [6] for their communities. Students could easily petition for their rights due to resources the campus provided.


[1] “’68 strike at SF State – San Francisco State University.” San Francisco State University. http://www.sfsu.edu/news/2008/fall/8.html (accessed May 3, 2013).

[2] “Is this Mississippi?” The SF State College Strike Collection. https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/strike/bundles/187938 (accessed March 6, 2013).

[3] Los Angeles Times, “Urban Campus Prototype,” January 13, 1969.

[4] Umemoto, Karen. “”On Strike!” San Francisco State College Strike, 1968-69: The Role of Asian American Students.” Amerasia Journal 5 (1989): 3-41.

[5] Wake, Lloyd K. . “Reflections on the San Francisco State Strike.” Amerasia Journal 15 (1989): 43-47.

[6] Nishida, Mo . “A Revolutionary Nationalist Perspective of the San Francisco State Strike.” Amerasia Journal 15 (1989): 69-79.

8.  Materials:

9.  Activities:

The class is discussion-based and two one-hour sessions. The length of class time should be adjusted according to reality.

First Session:

1)      Before the class, students should read all of the two pieces of primary sources.

2)      Watch the video together on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoPmb-9ctGc to understand the strike from the perspective of activism. (30Min)

3)      The teacher leads the class to discuss about the video. (10Min)

4)      The teacher introduces the San Francisco State College Strike (referred to Introduction part). (10Min)

5)      The teacher leads the class to discuss about the two primary sources.(10Min)

Second Session:

1)      Before the class, students should read all of the four pieces of secondary sources.

2)      Watch the video together on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ar2i-G5O-0 to understand the strike from the perspective of Third World people. (10Min)

3)      Students are divided into groups to discuss one of the four secondary sources. They need to sum up the argument of the article and empathically and critically analyze the argument. (15Min)

4)      Each group presents in the whole class through any means. The whole class then discusses together and tries to answer the key questions of the class. (35Min)

5)      After the class, students are assigned a two-page responsive paper on the Strike. The paper should have one argument developed by the student and evidence from the primary and secondary sources students have read as well as additional sources.

10.  Additional Sources:

  • Ferreira, Jason Michael. “All Power to the People: A Comparative History of Third World Radicalism in San Francisco, 1968-1974”, PhD diss., UMI, 2003. ProQuest.
  • Los Angeles Times, “San Francisco State; Shambles on 19th Ave: Sixth in a Series S.F. State,” June 8, 1969.
  • Los Angeles Times, ” THE STATE: Dock Workers Fired for Continuing Strike,” April 2, 1969.

11.  Standards:

  • Understand and evaluate the central ideas of primary and secondary sources connected to a larger historical context.
  • Use multiple sources of information to address questions.
  • Explain causes, participants, demands, and effects of the strike, and analyze the roles of different groups of people in the strike empathically and critically.
  • Formulate historical argument and evidence.

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