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Takeover of the Allen Building

The timing of the Allen Building takeover coincided perfectly with a week-long campus event known as Black Week. In the Black Week of 1969, Duke University’s own African-American paper, the Harambee, made its debut, featuring many incendiary articles on the standing of the Black students at Duke. The debut was spurred by the administration’s sham “involvement” in the activities of Black Week. Neither President Knight nor his staff appeared at events celebrating African-American culture and diversity. In a statement of purpose by the Editorial Board of the Harambee, the paper’s message as well as the message behind Chuck Hopkins’s abstract letter was summarized: “Blacks believe that the blatant racism, subtle bigotry, dehumanizing effects of shallow liberalism, and the belief that a white ‘superior’ culture is liberating the minds of Black people, generated our present mentality. Moving from this point, Blacks believe that if the university community recognizes their acts of indignation and the students’ frustrations, we can solve the problem.”[11]

This quite-constructive excerpt from the Harambee highlights a dying optimism that change at Duke would be possible without radical action. The majority of African-American students at Duke were of the belief that discussion could do no more for their complaints.[12] It was with this in mind that the group of seventy-some-odd students invaded the offices of the Allen Building and barricaded the doors. In their list of demands, included below in Figure 1, the “Malcolm X Liberation School,” as the group referred to themselves, cited additional reasons for the takeover.[13] Among these, two major points were the admission criteria for Black students and the rumored budget cuts to Black scholarships coming in the following Fall.[13] Declaring that the SAT was aimed at measuring the aptitude of the white middle class and that it failed when applied to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, the students demanded that academic achievement in high school be the sole criterion for the admission of Black students.[13] They hoped that this would increase the number of African-American students at Duke, which at the time sat at a meager 100 students, to something more representative of the Black population of the Southeast.[14]

The response to the Takeover differed among the three main corpora of the school’s community: the students, faculty, and administration. The student body’s response was largely supportive of the movement.[15] At the time of the expiration of the administration’s one-hour ultimatum to the occupants, over 2000 white students surrounded the Allen Building to protect the black students inside.
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[15] These 2000 students battled the platoon of 75 police officers up and down the quad that night, enduring tear gas and baton beatings.[14] That night, over 1500 assembled in Page Auditorium to discuss the ensuing protests and a moratorium on classes.[16]

The students weren’t the only body that stood divided over the issue. In response to a vetoed motion to adjourn, considering that every decision had been made without the involvement of the faculty in the first place, over forty faculty members walked out the door of the general faculty meeting in protest.[17] Included among those involved in the police rioting were numerous faculty members.[14] It was no surprise that a large portion of the faculty attended the meeting in Page Auditorium in support of the three-day strike and boycott of classes.[18] Much of the faculty felt as if they had been excluded from any and all decision-making processes and dissemination of information regarding the events that had taken place. In the general faculty meeting, one member of the faculty remarked that faculty involvement had entirely eroded and that the faculty had been cuckolded into a puppet of Douglas Knight.[19] This sentiment is what paved the way for faculty members to see the fight as one of the common vs. the administration, and jump on the side of the common.

The remainder of the faculty were opposed to the Takeover. Much like the students opposed to the Takeover, these members of the faculty felt that the move to seize an administrative building was violent, unnecessary, and showed impatience, considering the administration had on numerous occasions claimed to be making progress on the requests of the black students over the prior two years.