Academic journal article Journal of Social History

The Marginalization of the Black Campus Movement

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

The Marginalization of the Black Campus Movement

Article excerpt

In contrast to the Civil Rights Movement, few historians have examined the Black Power Movement, which brought ideas of Black self-determination, cultural pride, and Pan-Africanism to the forefront. The Black Power Movement, which lasted from about 1965 to 1975, is one of the most marginalized historical movements in African American and social historiography. The modest amount of Black Power literature is dominated by autobiographies of its major leaders. Malcolm X, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael, Elaine Brown, Amiri Baraka, H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Adam Clayton Powell have all written famous autobiographies. (1) There have been few scholarly studies on the subject, most of which tend to examine the Black Panther Party. The publication of Peniel Joseph's Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour in 2006 added to a minuscule collection of scholarly studies on the Black Power Movement that included Clayborne Carson's In Simple: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar's Black Power; Radical Politics and African American Identity and Van Deburg's New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975. Joseph, Carson, Ogbar, and Van Deburg all have helped place the dynamic story of the Black Power Movement into America's historical memory--thus easing the marginalization of the Black Power Movement in historical scholarship.

However, as these Black Power scholars carried the movement into the nation's historical memory, they left behind an integral part of the Black Power era. They all (in varying degrees) marginalize the Black Campus Movement (BCM), a struggle waged by Black Student Unions (BSUs) from 1966 to 1975 to reform American higher education. And they do not adequately explore and locate the nation's first and most influential Black Student Union at San Francisco State College (now University) as the vanguard organization of the BCM. This marginalization of the Black Campus Movement and its leading BSU at San Francisco State by these four studies will be the subject of this review essay.

Before I actually examine the texts' treatment of the Black Campus Movement, I first explore the significance of the BCM in the Black Power Movement and why the BCM should be a predominant part of any narrative or analysis of the Black Power Movement. I contend that the BCM should make up at least a chapter of any topically arranged examination, chronological narrative or study of the Black Power Movement, and (if applicable) an analysis of any person, organization or event of the Black Power Movement should show the full extent of that person, organization or event's relationship to the BCM. Also, San Francisco State College's dynamic, innovative and pioneering BSU should be displayed as the vanguard of the BCM in the historical literature.

There are three major reasons a thorough examination of the Black Campus Movement should he an integral part of any study of the Black Power Movement. First, several of the icons of Black Power Movement were groomed in the campus movements around the country (2). "With the exception of Malcolm X, the leaders in the growth of the new ideologies were almost all black students: Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and the leaders of SNCC generally; Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, and many others," William H. Exum notes. (3) Second, the Black Power Movement fundamentally was a protest movement for Blacks to gain control of themselves, their institutions, and their communities. Even though no study empirically details the amount of Black Power-oriented protests in America from 1965 to 1975, it may he the case that in no segment of American society did they occur more than on college campuses. As Joy Ann Williamson finds:

  From the late 1960 through the early 1970s, in particular, Black
  college students nut only participated in societal reform hut also
  determined the path of it. During the Black Power era, Black youths
  became the ideological leaders of the Black snuggle. … 
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