from black power to black studies


A new book out by Fabio Rojas, a sociology prof at Indiana University, examines how the Black Power movement become assimilated into the institutional setting in the form of Black Studies Programs. I have not read it, but you can read an excerpt here (pdf). I did not have any kind of Black Studies program at my southern baptist liberal arts school, so I'm interested to know if those who did have that experience agree with premise of this book.

From the book:
"On November 5, 1968, black students at San Francisco State College gave President Robert Smith a list of ten demands. The first demand was that the college immediately create a Department of Black Studies. Other demands included the appointment of Nathan Hare, a Chicago-trained sociologist, as department chair and the reinstatement of George Murray, a Black Panther and student who was suspended from the college for attacking the editor of the student newspaper. A few days later, other students calling themselves the Third World Liberation Front issued similar demands for a School of Ethnic Studies. If the demands were not immediately met, the students would strike to shut down the campus. Although Smith supported Black Studies and Ethnic Studies, he would not reinstate Murray or appoint Hare. With that declaration, the Third World Strike started. From November 1968 to March 1969, students fought with administrators until the college’s next president reached an agreement ending the conflict and the first Department of Black Studies was born.

Incidents like the Third World Strike stand out in the popular imagination as Black Studies’ defining moment. However, protest and black power are only the beginning of the story. Soon after militant students graduated and campuses settled down, Black Studies entered a new stage in its development as an academic discipline. Writing in the New York University Education Quarterly in 1979, St. Clair Drake asked, “What happened to Black Studies?” He observed that Black Studies had moved away from its roots in the black-student movement of the late 1960s and begun a new stage in its development:

...what Black Studies were turning out to be was neither what their most youthful, dedicated supporters had envisioned nor what white faculties and administrators had wanted them to accept. The Black Studies movement was becoming institutionalized in the sense that it had moved from the conflict phase into adjustment to the existing educational system, with some of its values being accepted by that system. One of these was the concept that an ideal university community would be multi-ethnic, with ethnicity permitted some institutional expression, and with Black Studies being one of its sanctioned forms. A trade-off was involved. Black Studies became depoliticized and deradicalized.

Drake’s theme is accommodation and compromise within the system of American higher education. Protest created an opportunity within the university system, but the Black Studies movement did not completely transform educational institutions. Instead, black students created an arena for the expression of new values within the university system.

...My contention is that the growth of Black Studies programs can be fruitfully viewed as a bureaucratic response to a social movement."

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