The Struggle for Black Studies

Dissent Close to Home

Amidst national crises, the Reed College itself became a seat of struggle. In 1964, Reed received a $275,000 Rockefeller grant to increase minority student enrollment. While the grant succeeded in bringing more black students to campus, it did little to help students find their place in the College.

According to one Quest writer “Most Reed students spend a lot of time rapping about the revolution that may be in the making. If the revolution depends on Reed students it won’t get out of the verbal stage and we’ll all be in the same tired mess.”

Yet, again unable to sit back and watch the world move without their input, in 1968, the Black Students Union was formed. A support and political platform, the BSU entered a much wider debate over Reed’s core curriculum. The BSU specifically targeted the Hum 110 curriculum, pointing to the syllabus’s alienating principle, and agitated for the establishment of a Black Studies program at Reed. Joined by Reed’s young faculty, the Young Turks, students and young faculty took on the more established faculty, the Old Guard, to challenge the principles of what a Reed education could look like.

For this reason, students occupied Elliot Hall in December of 1968.

Despite similar demonstrations around the country, Reed students remained civil in their protest.

Students sleep in Eliot Hall during BSU occupation.

“It was a period in which people were burning college buildings, hauling guns into Columbia University, waging enormous physical fights at Berkeley as black students argued for a greater degree of autonomy. Yet Reed managed all that with just about absolute minimum of violence. People fought with their mouths a lot, but not with their fists. That struck me as remarkable and greatly to the credit of this place.” -Jack Dudman, faculty

Students protest for Black Studies Center, December 1968.

“I was among those who occupied the second floor of Elliot Hall. It was a very civilized sort of encounter. We were just in there doing trivial things. Sitting at the president’s desk and eating a half-gallon of ice cream from the Fred Meyer supermarket and talking in a very calm way with people from the administration”- Alexandra Hope Yoder ’71

Raised fist, published in Reed’s Quest, 1968.

 

“Oh, it was very amicable…They sat up there. You know, people would go to classes and bring them the notes. Faculty members and people would bring them food. There was even a period when everybody was bushed. Everybody wanted to go home and sleep, so they were nominally in charge. Nobody was actually there (Bradley laughs) as far as I know. But it was very amicable. It was all sort of like, “Yes, okay; you guys have to do this. You feel you have to do this and we’ll be supportive.” As I said, people would bring them food, and people would bring them notes…it was very, it was one of my introductions to surrealism I think” -James R McGill ’70

In addition to participating in the sit-in, activists led education campaigns by writing for the Quest, running for student council and speaking directly to faculty members. Reedies found many ways to engage themselves with values they felt should be central to the college.

A Timeline: The Struggle for Black Studies

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