Remembering Race at Brown

Inspired by Brown’s 250th anniversary, the sophomore seminar Race and Remembering collaborated to critically examine race at Brown University. This digital exhibit highlights University legacies of erasure and histories of resistance. This is a call to REMEMBER.

Author: Myacah H Sampson

Additional Readings

Williamson, Joy A. “In Defense of Themselves: The Black Student Struggle for Success and Recognition at Predominately White Colleges and Universities.” Journal of Negro Education.

Foucault, Michel. “The Subject and Power” Chicago Journals. 8. (Summer 1982). P.781. JSTOR. Web.

John Hay Library University Archives, OF-1C-13 Heffner files –“Students –Black Student Incident 12/68” I.262 December 17, 1968 “Letters opposed to agreement with black students”

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

University Noncompliance

In their letter to the editor of the Brown Daily Herald, Black men stress the University's prolonged noncompliance to the demand for a minimum 11% Black incoming class. They describe the walkout as the "only course of action left available to us."

In their letter to the editor of the Brown Daily Herald, Black men stress the University’s prolonged noncompliance to the demand for a minimum 11% Black incoming class. They describe the walkout as the “only course of action left available to us.”

Outnumbered

In this video, Black Pembroke graduates Sheryl B. Chapman ’71 and Bernicestine McLeod ’68 describe the “all white environment” of Brown University’s campus when they arrived as freshmen and note that racial tensions had existed on campus prior to their arrival.

 

Narrative

On December 5th, 1968, 65 Black students walked off Brown University’s campus in protest of the school’s lack of commitment to students of color. At the time, Black students made up only 2% of the student body and were surrounded by white peers, administration and faculty who lacked knowledge of Black history and culture. [1] In a letter addressed to President Heffner, Black students described Brown as a “stifling, frustrating, [and] degrading place for Black students” where they were “little more than tolerated.”[2]

For months Black students met with administrators from Brown and Pembroke to demand improvements to the schools’ commitment to Black students. Black students’ primary demand called for the incoming class of 1973 to be at least 11% Black — representative of the percentage of Black people in the United States. Unfortunately, the University dismissed this demand. The goal of the walkout was to either improve Black experiences at Brown or allow it to be “seen for what it is— a racist institution that plans to remain that way,” as President of the Afro-American Society Glenn Dixon ’70 stated. [3]

Today, the 11% demand has still not been met as Black enrollment remains around 6.7% at Brown’s undergraduate college.[4] As we are encouraged to reflect on Brown’s 250 year history and imagine its future, we should also remember its 46 years of unmet Black student demands. An accurate remembrance of Black students’ early efforts at reform is an essential aspect of University history.


 

[1] Peter Warren, “Blacks Set To Leave University.” Brown Daily Herald. [Providence] December 5, 1968.

[2] John Hay Library University Archives. OF-1C-13 Heffner Files – “Students—Black Student Incident 12/68” I.262 May 1968. Original Statement from the Afro-American Society addressed to Heffner, signed by twenty-two members of the AAS.

[3] Schwadron, Terry H. “Sixty-five In Noon Walkout” Brown Daily Herald. [Providence] December 6, 1968

[4] Brown University Student Body Diversity for Fall 2014 Full-time, Degree-seeking.” Brown University Website. Web.