Race and the University: A Memoir (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Race and the University: A Memoir. By George Henderson. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010. Pp. xx, 248. $24.95 cloth) [End Page 129]

During a mass struggle now known as the Black Campus Movement (BCM), which began about 1965 and ended in 1972, hundreds of thousands of black students requested, demanded, and protested for a relevant learning experience. At traditionally white and historically black colleges and universities across the nation, black campus activists formed politically and culturally progressive black student unions (BSUs) and gained control of many student government associations (SGAs). They utilized these pressure groups to advocate for a range of campus reforms, including an end to campus paternalism and racism, and the addition of more black students, faculty, and Black Studies courses and programs. Inspired principally by the booming calls for black power or self-determination and self-love, the BCM disrupted and changed the racial contours of upwards of a thousand colleges and universities in forty-nine states. In Kentucky, black student activism challenged Berea College, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Kentucky State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville, among others.

On many campuses, African American students in their struggle to diversify higher education had an assortment of allies. White, Latino, Asian, and Native American students sometimes supported black student demands and protests. Nearby black communities often provided crucial sustenance, and black student groups regularly traveled and aided their peers on other campuses. Furthermore, black professors were usually crucial advocates of the Black Campus Movement. Nathan Hare (Howard University and San Francisco State) and Charles Hamilton (Roosevelt University and Columbia University) were arguably the two most nationally renowned activist professors. In 1967, Hamilton coauthored Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America with Stokely Carmichael, the patron saint of the Black Power Movement, while Hare spoke on several campuses and published articles on the movement in many prestigious magazines, including Ebony and Newsweek. There were many locally renowned black professors, but few have left their records. Even fewer document [End Page 130] the understandably clandestine exchanges between activist faculty and students. While several white professors have published memoirs on their activities in the student movement of the 1960s, African American professors have remained silent the last forty years. They have been silent that is until George Henderson spoke up in his moving memoir on the Black Campus Movement at the University of Oklahoma. Race and University was not billed as such, but Henderson gave the scholarly community the first detailed and behind-the-scenes story of the BCM from the vantage point of a black faculty member. An instant treasure in the burgeoning scholarship on the BCM, Henderson carefully recounts the racist and lily-white conditions he found when he arrived at the University of Oklahoma to begin his sociology professorship in the fall of 1967. “From 1948, when George McLaurin became the first black student until the late 1960s, black students the University wished year after year that goodness would prevail and they would be treated as people of equal worth to whites. But it seldom happened” (p. 60). The “dream exploded” during Henderson’s initial semester, as students formed the Afro-American Student Union (AASU).

In March 1969, the AASU issued “The Black Declaration of Independence” with fourteen demands concerning black admissions, Black Studies, athletics, housing, faculty, and black student power. Henderson recounts the lead-up, the presentation of these demands, the fallout, negotiations, and reaction, the successful and failed efforts of the university to “redefine its morality,” and ultimately the “winds of change.”

The highlights of Race and University were Henderson’s narrations of the BCM and a few interspersed short first-person life stories from some of the OU black campus activists. Henderson impressively encapsulates the life of African American students at historically white colleges and universities (HWCUs) in one sentence: “For most of them . . . their college lives were a series of emotional obstacle courses that they barely cleared, with discomfort inherent in each hurdle” (p. 27). At times, Henderson veers away from the narrative [End Page 131] for too long to discuss his (and the students’) ideological drivers or...


pdf