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.

Tag: Afro American Society

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.

The Day of the Black Walkout

The Black men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University and Black women of Pembroke College walk out December 5th, 1968.

The Black men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University and Black women of Pembroke College walk out on December 5th, 1968. [1]

The student-administration efforts had so far not produced the desired results of increased Black enrollment. In addition to the administration lacking in urgency, they misrepresented the demand of having 11% Black students in the incoming class as a racial quota system and undermined student power. This act of resistance became known as the 1968 Black walkout.

The Afro-American Society stated, “We, the [B]lack men at Brown University have therefore decided to dissociate ourselves from the University as of 12:00 noon…”[2]

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[1] From 1968 to Now | Brown 250. December 5, 1968. Imagine 250+, Brown University, Providence. Accessed December 1, 1968. http://250.brown.edu/

[2] The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University. Letter to the editor, Brown Daily Herald, December 5th, 1968.

The Public Sphere

The Evening Bulletin newspaper article titled, “Perplexing,” published December 4th, 1968. [1]

This article justified the Brown administration’s resistance to the demands of its Black students. By highlighting the administration’s attempts to keep communication open, the writer attempted to subvert the reasons for the walkout, and draw negative attention away from the administration. The demands were further characterized as irrational when the writer appraised administration and questioned student demands.

“I’m puzzled by their action…I feel that there has been real progress made this fall, especially among the black students here.”

Brown President Ray L. Heffner, December 4th, 1968. [2]

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[1] “Perplexing.” The Evening Bulletin. December 4, 1968, Ray Lorenzo Heffner files, Box 35, U.A.

[2] Ibid.

Remembering the 1968 Walkout

Undermining the student activism of the 1968 Black Walkout and the Brown 250+ Celebration


Today, the popular conception of Brown University as a historical supporter of student activism requires further examination. In 1968, the admissions office refused the Afro-American Society’s main demand of increased Black enrollment to 11%. [1] The administration undermined student demands and impeded their efforts by arguing that a ‘racial quota’ would admit Blacks, “for the sake of reaching a percent-age figure.” [2] However, the students’ intention was a minimum goal. [3] Frustrated with the slow “concerted effort” the administration offered that increased enrollment less than 1%, Black students from Brown and Pembroke walked out on December 5th, 1968. [4]

The University has had more than enough time to change…We will not wait any longer.”

—The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University,  December 5th, 1968. [5]

For Brown’s 250+ Celebration, several panels were displayed around campus. The John Hay Library exhibit presented a panel on the 1968 walkout that portrayed a succinct event in which a problem arose, and with minor adjustments, the administration was able to solve the issue quickly. It states that through organized student protests and administrative support, “Brown evolved…[to a] diverse student body.” [6] In this way, the panel minimized tensions inherent in the administration’s early reluctance to adhere to student demands. Contrary to this easy evolution, we must remember the Black student protest and the administration resistance to the 1968 walkout. It is crucial to understand the history of students of color at Brown, whose contributions in shaping University values of social change must not be forgotten.

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[1] The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University, letter to the editor, Brown Daily Herald, December 5th, 1968.

[2] Alberta F. Brown to Black Women in Pembroke College, 1 November 1968, Ray Lorenzo Heffner files, Box 35, U.A.

[3] “Negroes at Brown U. Begin a Boycott of Classes.” The New York Times. 6 December 1968, Ray Lorenzo Heffner files, Box 35, U.A.

[4] The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University, letter to the editor, Brown Daily Herald, December 5th, 1968.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Elements of Tradition and Change: Brown University’s First 250 Years.” John Hay Library. Brown University. 11 November 2014.