Black Liberation on Campus, 2015?


This round­table is apart of our evolv­ing “Move­ment Inquiry” fea­ture, which opened with an inves­ti­ga­tion of hous­ing strug­gles in the US. If you would like to get involved, email us at round­ta­bles AT view­point­mag DOT com.

On Feb­ru­ary 8, 1968, police opened fire on stu­dents at South Car­oli­na State Uni­ver­si­ty in the city of Orange­burg, mur­der­ing Samuel Ham­mond, Hen­ry Smith, and Delano Mid­dle­ton and injur­ing thir­ty oth­ers. Ham­mond, Smith, and Mid­dle­ton were shot in the back, and all offi­cers were acquit­ted – an echo of the racial order that the stu­dents had been protest­ing. Four years after the Civ­il Rights Act, pub­lic and pri­vate insti­tu­tions con­tin­ued to refuse ser­vice to Black peo­ple.

Two months lat­er, Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., was killed, set­ting cam­pus­es and, lit­er­al­ly, neigh­bor­hoods on fire. For Black stu­dents, the “Orange­burg Mas­sacre” set the stage. Lead­ers from six­teen col­leges in North Car­oli­na met in Durham, avow­ing “cre­ative demon­stra­tions.” Greens­boro host­ed a mock funer­al, one of the largest actions in the city’s his­to­ry. Across the coun­try, stu­dents held com­mem­o­ra­tions and protests.

At the same time that it blew open Black stu­dent orga­niz­ing, Orange­burg reced­ed in pub­lic mem­o­ry. It was lost to MLK and Black Pow­er. It came after the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee and before the for­mal­iza­tion of Black fem­i­nist stud­ies. It was a flash­point for Black stu­dent pow­er, the ice­berg of what gov­ern­ment offi­cials called “cam­pus unrest.” As Martha Bion­di writes in The Black Rev­o­lu­tion on Cam­pus, “the most preva­lent demand in the hun­dreds of cam­pus protests in 1968-1989 was African Amer­i­can inclu­sion, not oppo­si­tion to the Viet­nam War. The cen­tral­i­ty of race… has been for­got­ten.”

The recent, high-pro­file mur­der of Black peo­ple – and the fail­ure to pros­e­cute white vig­i­lantes and police offi­cers – has, sim­i­lar­ly, pro­pelled cam­pus activism across the coun­try. Stu­dents have rushed to express not only their out­rage at the wan­ton loss of life, but also their col­lec­tive dis­il­lu­sion­ment with a sys­tem indif­fer­ent to the con­cerns of stu­dents of col­or from Berke­ley High School to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri to Yale. In doing so, they have dis­rupt­ed the flow of Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion and con­test­ed the mean­ing of stu­dent­hood.

As the con­trib­u­tors’ essays in this series illus­trate, these inter­ven­tions have tak­en myr­i­ad forms – from peren­ni­al die-ins and walk­outs to a cam­paign for a Lev­el 1 Trau­ma Cen­ter. Still, what many share is a rejec­tion of the mythos of “Black progress.” What they embrace, in turn, is that the endur­ing con­di­tion of Blacks in the Unit­ed States is one of strug­gle, neces­si­tat­ing agi­ta­tion for the re-imag­i­na­tion of equi­ty in an equal­ly endur­ing white-suprema­cist order.

It is with this under­stand­ing that Samuel Northup could be born a free man in 1808 and enslaved in 1849, that the Vot­ing Rights Act could pass in 1965 only to be gut­ted in 2013, and that calls by Black youth for Pales­tin­ian sol­i­dar­i­ty and against U.S. impe­ri­al­ism remain to be acknowl­edged a gen­er­a­tion lat­er.

In this series, it is with a sim­i­lar under­stand­ing that stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan have cam­paigned over the span of over forty years to increase Black stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tion, only to see their num­bers drop from 9% in 1996 to 6.8% in 2007 to just under 5% since 2010. Like­wise, though the Civ­il War end­ed in 1865, stu­dents at Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­si­ty must con­tin­ue fight­ing to remove mon­u­ments to the Con­fed­er­a­cy. This under­stand­ing frames the open­ing of the Africa Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia in 1993 and its clo­sure one gen­er­a­tion lat­er. South Car­oli­na State is itself fac­ing finan­cial straits and threat­ened clo­sure, reflect­ing the under-resourc­ing of His­tor­i­cal­ly Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties nation­wide.  

The expe­ri­ences and strug­gles of the present moment under­pin the title of this round­table, “Black Lib­er­a­tion on Cam­pus, 2015?” This frame posits an active strug­gle, con­stant­ly remak­ing itself from one nation­al groundswell to the next – and from long-gone, if long-lost, designs. Where do we go from here? While his­to­ry is quick to cite Huey P. New­ton and Stoke­ly Carmichael, the per­son­ae and words of Angela Davis, Assa­ta Shakur, and Audre Lorde loom large in these essays and in youth orga­niz­ing nation­wide. What does a Black lib­er­a­tion move­ment that cen­ters the death and life of women and girls, from Aiyana Stan­ley Jones to Rekia Boyd to Miri­am Carey, look like? What will it take to advance move­ments free from patri­archy, gen­der con­for­mi­ty, het­ero­sex­ism, and ableism? More­over, many of the strug­gles in this series began in city streets before radi­at­ing across cam­pus­es. What is lib­er­a­tion with­in and beyond the rel­a­tive priv­i­lege of uni­ver­si­ty spaces? How can the strug­gles of stu­dents res­onate with the neigh­bor­hoods and work­places of those who’ve nev­er been enrolled? By lever­ag­ing stu­dent­hood, what can these writ­ers teach us about nation­al and, maybe, transna­tion­al strug­gle?

View­point envi­sions this round­table as a begin­ning, not an end. We wel­come your ideas, feed­back, cri­tiques, as well as your sup­port in shar­ing this resource with friends and neigh­bors, in dor­mi­to­ries and class­rooms, at ral­lies and direct actions. We are eager to work with orga­niz­ers to col­lec­tive­ly cre­ate future round­ta­bles on the strug­gles unfold­ing today – Black and Brown lib­er­a­tion, cli­mate change, edu­ca­tion, fem­i­nism, queer pow­er, youth-led migrant strug­gles, and in trans­porta­tion, logis­tics, and the work­places of retail and ser­vice work­ers, to name just a few. To get involved, please email us at round­ta­bles AT view­point­mag DOT com.

#WALKOUTWEDNESDAY, Berke­ley High School

By Kadi­jah Means
11.10.protest.VIGNET2 2“The turnout for these actions gave my com­rades and me some­thing we had not had for months – hope, mov­ing us to orga­nize some­thing big­ger. Des­per­ate for a taste of vic­to­ry, in a war that is seem­ing­ly nev­er-end­ing, Damani McNeil, Lucy Rosen­thal, Finn Col­lom, and I orga­nized a 1,500 per­son strong walk­out, ral­ly, and die-in on Wednes­day, Decem­ber 10, 2014 – #Walk­outWednes­day.”


By Gar­rett Fel­ber and Austin McCoy

“The goal of the Speak-Out reflect­ed many of the aims of the orig­i­nal Teach In: to raise vis­i­bil­i­ty and edu­cate stu­dents regard­ing these issues, facil­i­tate coali­tions across var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions, and put pres­sure on the admin­is­tra­tion. The event was designed as a 12-hour takeover of Shapiro under­grad­u­ate library in three parts – Demon­stra­tion, Polit­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, and Strat­e­gy. We hoped to com­bine the tes­ti­mo­ni­al pow­er of the open-mic “speak out” with the his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance of the ‘sit in.’”

CHANGE THE NAME OF NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST HALL, Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­si­ty

By André Cantyphoto“When Bree New­some cut the Con­fed­er­ate Flag from the South Car­oli­na state capi­tol, we all saw our­selves up there. We were tired of wait­ing – and hear­ing the ‘her­itage’ debate. A sim­ple con­ver­sa­tion among friends online led to our most recent cam­paign. Con­sid­er­ate it ‘Round 3.’”

PRESERVE AN INDEPENDENT AFRICA CENTER, Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia

By Oyinkan Muraina
12187767_1073583039328338_6775796335016582572_n“When Char­i­ty Migwi and I called our class­mates togeth­er to dis­cuss the fate of the Africa Cen­ter the night before, I nev­er imag­ined we would be protest­ing less than twen­ty-four hours lat­er. But this was, and is, the real­i­ty of a uni­ver­si­ty in the post-Mike Brown era. The cam­pus that once host­ed a “Top One Per­cent Par­ty” in an ode to the Occu­py Move­ment now accom­mo­dat­ed reg­u­lar protests, with par­tic­i­pa­tion not only from Penn stu­dents but also from neigh­bor­ing schools and the Philadel­phia com­mu­ni­ty.”

#CANYOUHEARUSNOW, Col­gate Uni­ver­si­ty

By Kristi Carey, Melis­sa Melén­dez, Kori Storther, and Natasha Tor­res

enhanced-11599-1411648247-7Vis­i­bil­i­ty is fatal in a world of pop­u­lar opin­ion. As I reflect on the sit-in that my friends and I led almost a year ago, those words are clear in my head. I hear con­stant echoes of the cries from my peers: “Can you hear us now. Can you hear us now. Can you hear us now.” For 101 hours, we occu­pied the Col­gate admis­sion office and begged for vis­i­bil­i­ty. We demand­ed to be heard. How­ev­er, as I look back on those days, I almost wish we nev­er brought our­selves into the light.”

DIE-IN, #SHUTITDOWN, Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas

By Tyler Eng­lish-Beck­with
2014-12-05_Garner_Protest_Marshall.Tidrick51177“Just hours after we lay on the asphalt for Eric Gar­ner, I got word of the mur­der of Rumain Bris­bon in Ari­zona. As I read the arti­cle about yet anoth­er unarmed Black per­son shot down by a cop, a pro­fes­sor approached me to share her thoughts on the protest. She described the Die-In as peace­ful and applaud­ed my ‘dig­ni­ty’ and ‘respect.’ She said that she had heard from a cam­pus police offi­cer that the protest went off with­out a hitch and that she didn’t expect any­thing less from UT stu­dents. I quick­ly made an excuse to leave the con­ver­sa­tion.”

PRISON DIVEST, City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York

By Leon Camp­bell

“Black lives still mat­ter after the car door slams and after the cell door bolts shut. Black and Brown peo­ple are being fun­neled into pris­ons where they are not sur­viv­ing and where they are exploit­ed as slaves, pro­duc­ing for the prison and prof­it. Right here in New York City, the prison system’s inhu­man­i­ty is appar­ent on a dai­ly basis. The case of Bronx Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege stu­dent Kalief Brow­der, who was held at Riker’s Island for three years with no charges, serves as a reminder that the prison sys­tem affects CUNY stu­dents direct­ly.”


By Michael McCown and Gabrielle Newell

“In moments when the Left is in retreat, there is a ten­den­cy among activists to con­cep­tu­al­ize pol­i­tics as a “psy­chother­a­peu­tic activ­i­ty.” If an action helps to tap into the rage of the par­tic­i­pants, it was pow­er­ful, even if it does not advance con­crete demands. But there can be a strate­gic and polit­i­cal­ly essen­tial role for emo­tion as well. I have been reflect­ing on this since the news that a Trau­ma Cen­ter will be opened on the South Side.”


Authors of the article

is a writer and activist, originally from New Haven, Connecticut. He edits the Nation's "Student Dispatch."

hails from Macon, Georgia, and is currently serving as a Fulbright Fellow in Ilorin, Nigeria.