- The Black Revolution on Campus by Martha Biondi
The fight for equal access to education is a well documented aspect of the long civil rights movement. In The Black Revolution on Campus, Martha Biondi explores the American contradiction of a racist educational system existing within the “land of opportunity” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a special emphasis on the years 1968–1969; Biondi’s focus is on the black students who came together in these years to fight against the injustice of continued segregation in colleges and universities. These students demanded African American representation in scholarship through the creation of black studies departments and, ultimately, reshaped higher education across the nation. Biondi argues that the reforms in education [End Page 378] came out of the work of these black students—students who envisioned a future in which they had an equal part in shaping America and the next generation of students and their studies—much more than from white students reacting and responding to the conflict in Vietnam. Overall, the book traces the arc of African American student activism in higher education as one that began in black colleges, expanded to white universities across the nation, and then into politics and life outside these institutions.
Biondi opens her book in the early 1960s, during which time black student movements began to form at traditionally black colleges. Even with the “successful” integration of the collegiate school system, African American students continued to face traditional forms of discrimination on campus; additionally, there were few African American faculty members at collegiate institutions and the education students received was filtered through a biased lens in which the intellectual content of courses did not provide for black perspectives. The reaction across the nation, then, was to form black student organizations. Just as for the civil rights era organizations before them, the question of gender roles and leadership was a significant aspect of these groups: leaders determined the shape of emerging black studies departments and the African American voices in power on campuses. However, Biondi argues, many students quickly grew dissatisfied with their new black studies departments’ failure to engage with the racial politics of the community outside universities.
After setting the stage, The Black Revolution on Campus concentrates on previously unexamined colleges and universities across the United States that played significant roles in forcing black studies departments to become political rather than merely strive for respectability within a white-dominated academy. Many of these struggles for racial integration and equality (not simply desegregation) on college campuses escalated into strikes, protests, and rallies; such demonstrations often incited violent reactions from white law enforcement personnel and resulted in conflicting or unsavory depictions in the media. Using San Francisco State College, Northwestern University, Crane Junior College in Chicago, City College in New York, Brooklyn College, and Southern University in Baton Rouge, Biondi demonstrates that the push towards creating a discipline that would examine “the black experience” happened almost simultaneously across the nation in the years 1968–1969. In doing so, she also shows that this demand for a racially conscious course of study took place at predominantly white institutions of higher education as well as traditionally black ones.
Biondi culminates her work by widening the scope of inquiry on student demand for black studies. Rather than approaching the history of this burgeoning field of study as insular to each specific campus or the network of colleges and universities, she examines the debate over black studies as a national [End Page 379] dialogue rife with political tensions; she does so by returning to conflicts over the vision for the discipline of black studies. In the early 1970s black studies was accused of promoting black nationalism and antiwhite scholarship; Biondi asserts that this new field of study actually ushered in modern approaches to academic analysis because “it emphasized interdisciplinary study, questioned notions of objectivity, destabilized metanarratives, and interrogated prevailing methodologies” (175). These transformations in scholarship, she continues to argue, resulted in the expansion of black studies beyond the walls of higher education—beyond African American...