The Black Revolution In Higher Education.

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( Harlem had been Mecca for Black America since the 1920s. Fifty years later, its residents raucously insisted they be allowed to enter City College, the legendary college on their doorstep, in more than just token numbers and that Black issues and perspectives become part and parcel of what students there were taught. City College and the entire City University of New York, the nation’s largest institution of higher learning, were swept up in a wave of protests demanding increased Black and Puerto Rican enrollment and a broadening of the curriculum.

Fifty years after the establishment of the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department at City College the nature and thrust of the Black Studies movement has markedly changed, Harlem has become thoroughly gentrified and a Black family has lived in the White House. Is this the end of race, the end of Harlem, the end of Black Studies?

Though City College is located in Harlem, in 1969 it would have been hard to tell that from the sea of white faces populating the campus. It began in 1847 as The Free Academy, the first (free) public college in the country, founded for those denied admission to the established institutions of higher learning for whatever reason, be it religion, ethnicity or lack of money. In 1969, The City College of New York (CCNY), and the other four year colleges of what had become the City University of New York (CUNY), were still very much in demand.

However, though wholly supported by tax dollars, tuition was free, the students, not to mention the faculty, hardly reflected the diversity of the nation’s largest city. And so the protestors demanded “Open Admissions,” that is, a guarantee that every graduate of the New York City public schools be given the opportunity to go to these institutions that the public was paying for. But many were not qualified, cried the powers-that-be. That is because they attended, through no fault of their own, inferior public schools, countered the protestors.

” ‘To my dying day, I will never participate in anything as important as the events at City College,’ said Ronald B. McGuire, one of the leaders of a small band of white students who occupied Klapper Hall in sympathy with their black and Puerto Rican classmates. “The events at City College completely changed the entire notion of higher education, not just at CUNY but in the city, in the state and in the nation.” The City College protests ignited similar uprisings at Queens College, Brooklyn College, Hunter College and other CUNY campuses. They proved quite successful, and so many thousands of Black and Puerto Rican and working class white students got a chance at a college education they otherwise would not have. Simultaneously, the colleges across CUNY also began to open departments and programs of Black and Puerto Rican Studies.

Note; How the demand for departments of Black Studies went hand-in-hand with calls for more inclusive admission policies. One of the reasons for many Black students’ poor school performance was that they did not see themselves in the curriculum. Their teachers had scant acquaintance with the history, accomplishments or cultures of peoples other than white. Few in the society did, hence, the calls for Black Studies. Fifteen years before, in 1954, City College’s own Drs. Mamie and Kenneth Clarke had shown in their legendary doll study that Black children, when offered the choice of a Black or a white doll, consistently chose the white one. Kenneth Clarke was the first Black professor in the history of City College. Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clarke’s doll study was a key element in the plaintiff’s brief in the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision ending legalized segregation which set the stage for the modern civil rights movement which a decade later morphed into the Black Power movement, the seedbed for the movement to establish Black Studies.

The 1969 City College protests to establish a Department of Black and Puerto Rican Studies came during a period of profound upheaval in the life of the city and the nation. In November, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, 15 months later Malcolm X was shot down in Harlem not too far from the City College campus. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were killed seven weeks apart in the spring of 1968, also in spring 1968 students at Columbia University, seized the administration buildings in tumultuous protests over the Viet Nam War and the university’s plans to expand into the Harlem community.

Meanwhile, waves of student disturbances rocked campuses and high schools over the draft and the War, while periodic uprisings in Black communities over police shootings continued unabated. All of this took place alongside, and in concert with, a change in the consciousness of Black America from peacefully petitioning to forcefully demanding equal rights. The movement to establish Black Studies was an element of this dawning Black Power movement which developed out of the civil rights movement which, though long simmering really took off, in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott.

Staff Writer; Arthur Lewin

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