The Black Revolution on Campus

By Martha Biondi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Moving toward Blackness
The Rise of Black Power on Campus

The explosion of Black student activism in 1968 took many observers by surprise. Earlier in the decade, the violence unleashed by whites on nonviolent protesters in the South riveted a national television audience. Now, television news gave daily coverage to African American college students assertively seeking social change, but the images were often unsettling: violent clashes between Black students and the police in San Francisco; militant Black students disrupting classes in Madison; Black students occupying the computer center in Santa Barbara, the president’s office at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and the entire south campus of City College in Harlem. This phase of the Black student movement was markedly different from the sit-ins of the early 1960s, which had featured courteous young men and women in dresses and suits and ties. Now students hurled a defiant vocabulary, wore African-inspired or countercultural clothing, and otherwise pushed the line between Black bourgeois ideals and revolutionary aesthetics. They wanted both upward mobility and an affirmation of African American culture and history, inclusion as well as social justice. The students wanted to expand Black access to higher education and make white colleges more responsive to the needs of a diverse student body, but their confrontational tactics and rhetoric dominated news coverage and shaped popular reception and understanding of their struggles.

Where did the new style come from, and how did Black students all over the country, without formal organizational links, express such

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