Black Power and Students in New York City

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by Will

Student struggles are beginning across the country. There is no doubt that many of the issues which faced the 1960s generation of student militants will have to be dealt with in the current round of student struggles. For starters the university is till embedded in U.S. imperialism and capitalism.  The university is still a major agent of gentrification.

Attached is an excerpt from Harlem Vs Columbia University: Black Student Power in the late 1960s by Stefan Bradley called, “Gym Crow Must Go!”.

Black Students at Hamilton.
Black Students at Hamilton.


For a little more information and some pictures check out this link: http://www.columbia.edu/acis/history/1968/#links

Here are some questions/comments I have to start the discussion off:

1. How might Black only groups be viable on campus but run into more problems in the workplace? I am thinking of the League of Revolutionary Black Worker’s in this light.

2. Is race only articulated through Black only organizations? Can white-supremacy still be fought in a multi-racial organization? Can a positive vision of Black affirmation and pride have a key place in a multi-racial organization?

3. How do folks feel about this sentence, “As members of the black intelligentsia and the working class, they were able to manifest power by using the threat of violence to invoke fear and reconsideration by a powerful white institution.”

4. What does this sentence mean? “If Black Power were to ever be fully achieved in this country, at least politically, it would take an alliance of what sociologist E. Franklin Frazier called the “blackbourgeoisie”and the “blackproletariat.”” What historical evidence is there of such an alliance?

5. I do not understand H Rap Brown’s claim that the Black community is taking over on p. 172. If the Black community is taking over, how come it is only half-dozen folks removing the white jocks.  Perhaps someone else who knows more about this event can fill in the details. Did the author forget to mention that there was an actual physical community behind Brown’s statement?

6. The occupation of Hamilton put the University President in a precise problem, “”The fact that a group of black students were in sole occupancy of one of our buildings did complicate the matter.”99The possibility of a “race riot,” like the one that had occurred in Harlem just weeks before, was probably frightening to him and the rest of the school officials. The president as well as the SAS protesters understood that when both the white and black protesters were occupying the building, it was an issue of “student protest.” However, when SAS asked the white students to leave to occupy Low Library, the issue was no longer simply a student building takeover, but a black student and community protest.

7. What does occupying a building accomplish? How does it cause a crisis for the university politically and economically? In the Columbia link I provided above, the writer mentions that most students boycotted classes. Is that a possible strategy today?

8. What were the immediate victories and yet at the same time how was Columbia able to recover?

Will

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2 thoughts on “Black Power and Students in New York City”

  1. In late February black students at UC Berkeley held a silent protest, a “Blackout”, to protest overt racism at UCSD this winter and past overt and institutional racism in the UC system. At Berkeley, black students number only 3%, and Latin@ 12%. The silent protest was very powerful, and lead by black student leaders. After standing silently in all-black for 2 hours blocking Sather Gate, the main entrance to campus, students marched in formation to present demands to UC Berkeley provost Breslauer, who looked ashened-faced by the protest.

    So I bring this up because I was reading this Harlem vs. Columbia book the same day as the protests and came across some interesting parallels with the occupation on Hamilton Hall by black Columbia students in 1968 and the UCB protest. Hamilton Hall was taken by black students and community members. When mostly white SDS students came to support the occupation but as a group disagreed about tactics and strategy and were messing up the building, black students told all whites to leave. The SAS black student org. had a clear plan of what to do and organized. The author hinted some black students and others felt SAS leadership was a bit hierarchical. SDS on the other hand practiced “participatory democracy” and well more democratic really lacked organization and discipline on some levels. White SDS student did take over builds on campus in support of black students and the community and did fight the cops at Morningside Heights parks. However the author noted white students messed up the buildings they occupied, pissing on the floors, breaking furniture, etc.

    So for me the black students and SAS group in Hamilton Hall were influenced by Black Power, and in tactics and discipline were like the Nation of Islam at its best. Students acted professionally, studied and didn’t mess up shit, knowing that to be taken seriously by the racist white administrators and city officials they would have to project this image of professionalism and to avoid anything the campus and city cops could lay on them. Some white students had a different tact in wanting to deconstruct a campus and institution to a good number had access to in the past. Black students, fighting for access, were deconstructing the campus in a different way…though literally fighting against a gym that would’ve taken up one of the few public spaces for black and latin@ working folks in Harlem and Morningside Heights. So this dichotomy in tactics and philosophy as portrayed in the book was interesting to see.

    The parallel to the recent UCB protests by black students and the Febuary 26th “riot” in the streets and vandalism at under construction Durant Hall are interesting to note. The black out protest was powerful, came off as very organized and professional. There were clearly leaders, and organization is needed in the black campus community as there is not even a functioning Black Student Union. This organizing helped galvanize a student of color picket line on March 4th. However it was understood that a good number of black students at the blackout chose not to come out on March 4th…some did though which was heartening to see for the anti-budget cut struggles are also struggles against racism on campus and in the community. For those that did not come out some cited the occupation and “riot” in the streets of Berkeley on Feb. 26th for not wanting to come out. They were projecting some insurrectionist tactics onto the entire anti-budget cuts struggles. This is very problematic, given that the “riot” was also a police riot as well in their attack and arrest of two student organizers. And while student organizing and organizational forms in the anti-budget cuts have been in flux in their attempt at participatory democracy at its best, there are some things we can learn from the history of black students in 1968 Columbia taking Hamilton Hall and linking with the black community in their clarity of tactics and professionalism and discipline. I think students of color that came out to support the UCB “Blackout” took this show of strength and applied it to a strong people of color led picket line on March 4th at Sather Gate. I was there and it was beautiful, and very needed given the divides and struggles organizing at UCB faced this winter. Hopefully black students at UCB, most who do not have left politics but face the full weight of racism on a daily basis no matter their class background, contribute even more consistently in the anti-budget cuts organizing…and that organizers realize the importance of the need for black students, other communities of color, women and queer folks to be in the lead in organizing this fight as these communities are most sharply feeling the cuts.

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