The black student protest movement swept across college and university campuses from 1968-1972. Hundreds of colleges experienced student uprisings marked by direct action which most frequently involved sit-ins and occupation of campus buildings. Historians Martha Biondi (The Black Revolution on Campus, 2012) and Ibram Rogers [Kendi] (The Black Campus Movement, 2012) have argued that the black student protest movement changed the face of American higher education. Student demands, protest actions, and negotiations led to the hiring of black faculty and administrators, the establishment of Black and Africana Studies Programs and cultural centers or Black Houses on college and university campuses. Many colleges and universities which experienced student unrest and transformation in this era have documented the story and incorporated the narrative into the greater history of the institution. This has not been the case at Swarthmore College.
Until now, this important piece of the College’s history has not received the attention it merits. The Black Liberation 1969 Archive chronicles this history by finally bringing forward the experiences of the black students who organized and executed a series of nonviolent direct actions and negotiations at Swarthmore College. In honor of the College’s sesquicentennial, this archive challenges visitors to reconsider the stories that have previously constituted the official narrative and to engage with the black experience of Swarthmore in this critical period.
In 1969, Swarthmore College’s black protest movement, spearheaded by students in the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society (SASS) sat in the Admissions Office demanding increased black enrollment. Their actions, supported by the majority of black students including those who were not formally a part of SASS, came in response to dwindling numbers of black students and to the insensitivity and lack of administrative support for black students on campus.
The sit-in lasted eight days, and the following year saw a large increase in the number of black students at the college. That year (1970), students pushed for and received a Black Cultural Center. The College hired black American faculty members for the first time, and hired a black admissions dean and a black counselor. Students worked through the College processes to establish a Black Studies program and led their own courses while they fought for formalized curricula. The actions they took changed the College by making the curriculum, political life and culture of Swarthmore more relevant for its black students. The students were the catalyst for a needed reimagining and expansion of the meaning of Swarthmore.
The documents in this archive have been collected from College archives, interviews, personal collections, and newspaper records. The “collections” section of the website has maintained the organization of the documents as they were originally found, while the “exhibits” section has organized the documents topically, allowing visitors to read about the different events and struggles of this period.
This site is a digital archive designed in support of Black Liberation 1969: Black Studies in History Theory and Praxis taught at Swarthmore College by Professor Allison Dorsey. Nabil Kashyap (Librarian for Digital Initiatives and Scholarship), Alison Roseberry-Polier '14 (research assistant), John Gagnon '17 (summer intern) and Maria Mejia '15 (summer intern) were the research and design team for the site. Nyantee Asherman designed the logo.
Feedback? Responses? Whether you've found an error or simply want to share how you've used the archive, we would love to hear from you: ude.eromhtraws@9691lb