BLACK AWAKENINGS: Student Protest at Delaware State College, 1968

By Wilson, Jamie | Negro History Bulletin, January-March 1999 | Go to article overview

BLACK AWAKENINGS: Student Protest at Delaware State College, 1968


Wilson, Jamie, Negro History Bulletin


Prior to 1968, Delaware State College students appeared politically asleep in a state of political and social unconsciousness. That year, however, they arose from their slumber and began to view their situation in a different manner. Black students at Del. State, like those at other historically black colleges, experienced a "black awakening" and began to question authority, their situations, and themselves.

Before 1968, Delaware State College represented the typical black college, and according to student activist Benjamin Martin, the students "were just normal college students havin' fun in paradise." Established in Dover, Delaware, under the Second Morrill Act of 1890 and chartered by the General Assembly of Delaware on May 15, 1891, the institution began on 100 acres of land formerly known as Loockerman farm, which was purchased with $8000 from the state fund. The school opened in 1892, and like many other historically black colleges was organized to impart manual and industrial training to its students.(1)

In the initial development of Delaware State, agricultural and mechanical training dominated studies with black smithing, carpentry, laundering, and boiler operation instruction comprising the manual training curriculum. Academic pursuits included English, arithmetic, philosophy, and physical science. Latin was required for qualified students. In 1898, college president William C. Jason instituted a normal course for the training of teachers. The teacher education program became associated with the high school organization of the region and Delaware State students provided high school education to students of Kent and Sussex Counties until 1952. In fact between 1931 and 1941 there were more students enrolled in the high school than the college.(2)

The first president of Delaware State College, white Delawarean Wesley M. Webb, served from 1891-1895. Since 1895, all of Del. State's presidents have been black. From 1895 to 1968, including William C. Jason (1895-1923); Richard Grossley (1923-1942); Harold Gregg (1942-1949); Maurice E. Thomasson (1949-1950), (1951-1953); Oscar Chapman (1950-1951); Jerome H. Holland (1953-1960); and Luna Mishoe (1960-1980). Under the guidance of these presidents, the college grew and incorporated other areas of study so that by 1967-1968, at the time of the student protest, the school offered seventeen majors. The school also enforced conservative, restrictive rules for students such as curfews, mandatory class attendance, and no inter-dormitory visits between the sexes. These rules, along with the student unrest, set the stage for the forthcoming student movement.

The 1967-1968 school year started like any other. As in previous years, some students were eager to begin classes and ready for the new year while others were not prepared and longed for recently passed summer days when they did not have to worry about morning breakfast and eight o'clock classes. Nevertheless, there was something that differed this year. Something that was not present in previous years and not easily visible a spirit of dissatisfaction. The students had a general dissatisfaction with America, and more specifically, a dissatisfaction with being black in America. These attitudes were accompanied by talks of the uprisings that occurred in Detroit and Chicago during the summer of 1967 and a new talk of "blackness." Some students did not look the same. They walked to class with Afro hairstyles, beards, dashikis, and African prints while others wore clothing of the armed forces including hats, boots, field jackets, and on chillier days, navy p-coats. They were not the usual group of students to which the faculty and staff had been accustomed. Judging from the mood throughout the country and within the student body, the year would be long and challenging for the students, staff, and faculty.

The fall semester passed with little outward commotion. Nevertheless, personal, [Eligible Text] conflicts were present within the student body. …

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