Reviewing the revolt: moving toward a historiography of the black campus movement.

Author:Kinchen, Shirletta J.
Position:Book review

Stefan Bradley, Harlem Versus Columbia: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s, (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2012)

Wayne Glasker, Black Students in the Ivory Tower: African American Activism at the University of Pennsylvania, 1967-1990, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002)

Ibram X. Kendi (formerly Ibram H. Rogers), The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and he Radical Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Joy Ann Williamson, Black Power on Campus: The University of Illinois, 1965-1975, (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003)

This year the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville (UL) celebrates its fortieth year of existence, which if one understands the history of the development of Black Studies programs and departments, is no small feat. Founded in 1973 as a response to the "pressure brought by black students and others who protested the distorted and Eurocentric social studies and humanities curriculum they [African American students] encountered" at the University of Louisville, the Department of Pan-African Studies (PAS) today stands as one of only twelve Black Studies programs in the nation to offer the doctoral degree in the discipline. (1) Indeed, like many of its contemporaries, Louisville's PAS Department was born out of the unrest of the what scholar Ibram X. Kendi (formerly Ibram H. Rogers) defines as the "Black Campus Movement" (BCM) that occurred "during the height of the black power movement." (2)

Locally, the push by campus and community activists for Black Studies courses that eventually led to the development and the institution of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville, was led in part by student leader J. Blaine Hudson who later went on to earn a doctorate, and become chair of Louisville's Pan-African Studies Department. He was instrumental in ushering the department through the period of transition from fledgling to one of the strongest Black Studies departments in the nation. Hudson went on to eventually serve as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the university, solidifying his transition from student agitator to capable administrator. In her study of the civil rights movement in Louisville, Kentucky, historian Tracy K'Meyer characterizes the University of Louisville's black student and campus movement as a truly grassroots effort spearheaded by students, like Hudson, who viewed their campus struggle as a larger part of the black revolution and the national student movement. (3)

Despite its importance and centrality in the "reconstitution of higher education," Kendi contends that the Black Campus Movement, which is a significant and in his estimation arguably the most important component of the Black Power movement, has been largely understudied and marginalized. (4) Specifically, he argues that:

"The BCM should make up at least a chapter of any topically arranged examination, chronological narrative or study of the Black Power Movement, and (if applicable) an analysis of any person, organization or event of the Black Power Movement should show the full extent of that person, organization or event's relationship to the BCM." (5)

Kendi defines the "Black Campus Movement," as the battle black students and Black Student Unions instigated on college campuses throughout the nation in the late 1960s and 1970s in their efforts to transformation the American higher educational system. Many Black Power activists and icons, Kendi contends, "were groomed in the campus movements around the country," and thus this connection warrants closer study and scrutiny of the Black Campus Movement than has been reflected in the larger body of literature that examines the black power movement to this date. (6)

However, the Black Power Movement (BPM) itself has been vastly neglected until recently, if not altogether ignored in the historical record. At the root of the Black Power Movement, which lasted roughly from 1965 to 1975, were calls from black activists and Black Power ideologues for black people throughout the Diaspora to decide and determine their own social, cultural, and political destinies. Black Power activists did not ask for concessions, they demanded change, and rejected the gradualism that many of the young activists believed characterized the civil rights struggle. Because of the activists' aggressive demands for change, and the less than conciliatory nature of the Black Power movement, which is often viewed as a stark departure from and in opposition to the perceived peaceful temperament of the civil rights movement, partially accounts for the dearth of critical scholarly analysis.

Yet, Peniel Joseph has asserted that the Black Power Movement's iconography, in other words Black Power's public persona--the clinched fist of the Black Power salute, the embrace of its cultural flourishes such as the donning of dashiki's and natural hairstyles--has tended to obscure the complexity and efficacy of the movement. (7) However, Joseph also suggests that while "the Black Power era was initially documented as part of the first wave of civil rights historiography," it is in the "past fifteen years studies of the Black Power movement have grown in ambition, complexity, and breadth, culminating in a new subfield--Black Power Studies." (8) Black Power Studies, by definition, examines the movement within the larger context of "American and world history." (9)

Indeed, over the last fifteen years or so scholars have broadened our understanding of the Black Power movement by exploring its effect in local communities, on college campuses, in unions, in poverty programs, among black feminists, and in welfare rights struggles. By casting a wider net, historians have not only uncovered the movement's depth and effectiveness, but also provided insightful analyses of its limitations and ineffectiveness. These works have helped historians move beyond presenting the movement as simply a "destructive, short-lived, and politically ineffective movement." (10) One thing that holds true in the new literature that attempts to redefine the era is that the Black Power movement, is despite its enigmatic nature, it was not a monolithic movement whose legacy can be categorized as having one particular effect or viewed through one specific lens.

Rather, Black Power Studies now encompass a more nuanced assessment of the successes, failures, and the legacy of the movement. (11) Instead of juxtaposing the civil rights movement and Black Power movement against each other, scholars now embrace the "long Black Power movement" that traces the roots of the classical Black Power period (1966-1975) to postwar era activism and examines Black Power radicalism "side-by-side with nonviolent moderates." (12) Studies by Joseph, and other scholars such as: Komozi Woodard, Robert Self, Donna March, and Devin Fergus among others, have enhanced our understanding...

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