Black Student Unions: Their Impact and Influence During the 1960s and 70s (by Ian Poveda)

Standards:

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12

 Key Ideas and Details

  1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Craft and Structure

  1. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

Integration of Knowledge & Ideas

  1. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  2. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  3. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

History-Social Science Content Standard (for Grade Eleven)

11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights.

5. Discuss the diffusion of the civil rights movement of African Americans from the churches of the rural South and the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how the advances influenced the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of the quests of American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans for the civil rights and equal opportunities.

Overview:

Students will investigate the role that Black Student Unions (BSU) played on college campuses during the 1960s and 70s. Students will unpack how this group– and others– contributed to campus climate and the impact they made beyond the academic sphere. This analysis will provide students a more nuanced understanding of the significance of BSUs and color the extent of their influence within the broader social and cultural movements of that time period. Ultimately it will enable students to think critically about the power and purpose of campus groups more broadly and highlight the value they possess for communities of color.

Their analysis will follow a series of steps that begins with establishing an understanding. This first step involves meeting students where they are and addressing preconceived ideas about concepts and figures. This is followed by identifying key players. It involves determining and defining cultural and political terms and is intended to outline their similarities and differences as well as connect them to the cultural context of that time. Next should be a connecting the primary source(s). This should bridge the information discussed in establishing an understanding and identifying key players– students will direct attention to one or more documents or sources. The item will illuminate more about one figure and ultimately allow students to formulate their own opinions and subsequently draw conclusions from the text and the movement at large.

Essential Understanding:

Students will learn about the protests and black campus movements that led to the rise and power of Black Student Unions (BSU) during the late 1960s and 70s on college campuses across the United States.

Essential Questions:

  1. Who is Dr. Donald K. Cheek?
  2. What is a BSU and what role did it play on college campuses?
  3. How did black college athletes exercise non-violent direct action to communicate their demands?
  4. How did black student groups on college campuses interact with their local communities?
  5. What institutional changes were made by Black Student Unions on college campuses?

Glossary:

  1. Black Power: a revolutionary movement that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s; it emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment and the creation of political and cultural institutions.
  2. Black Student Movement: established on November 7, 1967 by black students who, frustrated with the slow pace of change, sought to make their voices heard; called for change that would give Black students more opportunity and representation at the university.
  3. White supremacy: a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races
  4. Black Panther Party: a political organization founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to challenge police brutality against the African American community
  5. Jim Crow: refers to repressive laws and customs once used to restrict black rights
  6. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC): a civil rights organization founded in 1957, which successfully staged a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery Alabama’s segregated bus system.

Introduction:

African American women made sizeable efforts to catapult the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. More specifically, their work with the Montgomery Bus Boycott1 symbolizes an effort that decidedly shaped a number of organizations and movements to follow. Their advances influenced the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of the quests of African Americans. This movement, along with others, also expanded involvement to youth and college students. Young adults were prompted to form groups that addressed community issues and lifted their voices and concerns. One group that did this effectively was the black student union.

A black student union (BSU)– also referred to as black student center (BSC)–serves to meet the needs of black students on college campuses. A BSU exists to support, encourage, and enable black students to reach their full potential; they exist to create a space that recognizes and establishes a black presence on campus. The group exists for a number of reasons; but, has served– and continues to serve– as a meeting place for students to organize ideas and mobilize. As documented in numerous reports, newspapers and journal articles, BSUs galvanized college students to join sit-ins, start boycotts and protest. Inspired by other groups like the Black Panther Party2 and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)3, BSUs constructed a place for students to collectively think and meet; their existence ostensibly serving a similar purpose to churches during that time period. While BSUs certainly provided community for black students at large, their reach extended far beyond the scope of academics. College athletics and outside communities were also affected by the impact of BSUs. Neighborhoods were directly transformed by decisions, which ultimately sheds light on power and agency.4

A comprehensive understanding of BSUs offers a nuanced look at their significance and helps color the extent of their influence; it challenges the traditional notion of community and invites people of color to a space, which was systematically and historically denied to them for decades.

Materials:

“A Conversation with Noted Author and Psychologist, Dr. Donald K. Cheek.” BlogTalkRadio. Accessed March 23, 2019. A Conversation with Noted Author & Psychologist, Dr. Donald K. Cheek.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ25-U3jNWM

Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It the Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2011. Montgomery Bus Boycott

Cheek, Dr. Donald K. “EDITORIAL: What We’re Here For.” Bulletin (Claremont), Spring 1971. Primary Source: Bulletin (Claremont) EDITORIAL: What We’re Here For.

Bradley, Stefan. “It’s Yours’: Black Student Power at Columbia University, 1964-1969” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 34thAnnual National Council for Black Studies, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, LA, Mar 17, 2010.‘It’s Yours’: Black Student Power at Columbia University, 1964-1969.

Claybrook, Maurice. “Black Power, Black Students, and the Institutionalizing of Change: Loyola Black Power, Black Students, and the Institutionalizing of Change: Loyola.

Marymount University, 1968- 1978″ Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 35th Annual National Council for Black Studies, The Westin, Cincinnati, OH, Mar 16, 2011. Marymount University, 1968-1978.

Activities:

Day 1: Establish an Understanding

This day should be spent meeting students where they are– what are their preconceived ideas about the Civil Rights Movement? How have their opinions been shaped? Who were the prominent figures charged with leading the movement?

  • Begin by playing Nina Simone’s live performance of Mississippi Goddam at Antibes, July 24-25, 1965. Mississippi Goddam. Encourage students to use a pencil or pen to take notes about what stood out to them. (5 minutes)
  • Have the students break into small groups and discuss their interpretations from the lyrical text. Then have students share their thoughts with the class. (5 minutes)
  • Follow this discussion with a class lecture about the Civil Rights Movement and its origins in the South– this should include general information about MLK and Rosa Parks, however it should heavily focus on the role that women played (i.e. JoAnn Robinson) with regard to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (25 minutes)
  • After the lecture, ask students what surprised them the most. (5 minutes)
  • Assign them homework to read the first 2 chapters of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Students should return to class with 3-5 questions prepared about the reading.

Day 2: Identify Key Players

This day should be spent identifying and defining cultural and political groups during the Civil Rights Movement. This is intended to outline their similarities and differences as well connect them to the cultural context of that time. At the end of this day, students should be able to understand the role of the MIA, SCLC, Black Panther Party, Brown Berets and Third World Liberation Front.

  • Begin class by having students evenly distribute themselves to 4 corners of the room. At each corner, include a large Post-It note with different colored markers/Sharpies so that students can write down what they learned as well as their thoughts and questions about the reading from Day 1. (10 minutes)
  • Each group will then present what they discussed at the front of the class. Each student is expected to speak at least once. (2 minutes/group)
  • Lecture about the MIA, SCLC, Black Panther Party, Brown Berets and Third World Liberation Front. Discuss their impact both culturally and socially. (20 minutes)
  • Assign homework for students to begin looking at how these groups affected the younger circles of the time. How were students responding? What role did the youth play in this movement? Have students listen to the podcast “A Conversation with Noted Author and Psychologist, Dr. Donald K. Cheek.” On BlogTalkRadio. Students should return to class with 3-5 questions from the podcast and be prepared to speak in the case that they are randomly selected to speak.

Day 3: Connect Primary Source(s)

This day should be spent discussing the podcast from the night before. What were the major takeaways? Who is Dr. Donald K. Cheek? What role did he play? How did he influence students? Students should prepare to consider the role that Dr. Cheek and other higher-ed administrators had on catapulting the Black Power Movement at large.

  • Begin class by randomly selecting a group of students to discuss the podcast from the previous class. Students should discuss major themes and connections to the Civil Rights Movement. This will segue into the major class activity for the day. (15 minutes)
  • Distribute copies of the Bulletin article editorial piece (primary source) authored by Dr. Donald K. Cheek. Have students break into small groups and read the article collectively. (10 minutes)
  • Students will share their input from the reading. (5 minutes)
  • Lead a class lecture that includes more background information about Dr. Donald K. Cheek. (15 minutes)
  • Assign homework for students to read chapter 1-3 from”Black Power, Black Students, and the Institutionalizing of Change: Loyola Marymount University, 1968- 1978” and chapter 7 from “It’s Yours’: Black Student Power at Columbia University, 1964-1969.”Students should return to class with 3-5 questions from the reading and be prepared to speak in the case that they are randomly chosen to speak. (2 minutes)

Day 4: Draw Conclusion

This day should be spent connecting key players and primary sources to the overall focus of this project. In other words, students should feel comfortable with the material and be able to– at this point– answer the essential questions and glossary words listed. Moreover, students should be able to fully articulate the impact of black student groups as seen through a civil rights lens.

  • Begin class by randomly selecting a group of students to discuss the podcast from the previous class. Students should discuss major themes and connect the stories read to the overall focus of this project. (5 minutes)
  • Invite students to creatively express all the material covered in the class– they can choose to express what they’ve learned in a variety of ways which include, but are not limited to, writing an essay, poem or story, directing and producing a film, writing a song or creating an artistic drawing.
  • Students should expect to use class time to prepare their projects. What is not finished, should be completed outside the classroom and presented the following time the class meets. (40 minutes) 

Additional Sources:

Biondi, M. (2012). Black Revolution on Campus. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppfmn

Blackman, Dexter. “We Are Men First, Athletes Second”: Black Student-Athletes and the Black Students’ Movement in the Age of Black Power” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 35thAnnual National Council for Black Studies, The Westin, Cincinnati, OH, Mar 16 2011

Bradley, Stefan. “‘This Is Harlem Heights’: Black Student Power and The 1968 Columbia University Rebellion.” Afro-Americans in New York Life & History40, no. 1 (July 2018): 41–71.

Ferreira, Dr. Jason M. Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978: A Reclaiming

San Francisco Book– “With the Soul of a Human Rainbow”: Los Siete, Black Panthers, and Third Worldism in San Francisco. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Foundation Books, 1968-1978.

Martin White. “The Black Studies Controversy at Reed College, 1968–1970.” Oregon Historical Quarterly119, no. 1 (2018): 6–37.

Robinson, Marc Arsell. “The Black Campus Movement in the Evergreen State: The Black Student Union at the University of Washington and Washington State University, 1967-1969.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly103, no. 2 (2012): 55–66.

Rogers, Ibram. “The Marginalization of the Black Campus Movement.” Journal of Social History42, no. 1 (2008): 175–82.

Smith, John Matthew. “Breaking the Plane”: Integration and Black Protest in Michigan State University Football During the 1960s.” Michigan Historical Review33, no. 2 (September 2007): 101–29.


1 Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It the Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2011.
2 Bradley, Stefan. “It’s Yours’: Black Student Power at Columbia University, 1964-1969” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 34thAnnual National Council for Black Studies, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, LA, Mar 17, 2010.
3 “Black Power.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/black-power.
4 “Black Power.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/black-power.

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