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The Black Revolution on Campus

A scholar of black radicalism feels the black student movement of the late 1960s and early ‘70s deserves greater recognition.

Dr Martha Biondi of the African-American Studies Department at Northwestern University said black students of that era transformed higher education by engaging in direct action protests at colleges and universities around the country. She said they created affirmative action and ethnic studies, and fought for access for working class and black students.

“When I first discovered this in the archives, I was incredibly impressed by the fruits of the struggle, and it struck me it had been really downplayed in the narrative of the civil rights and black power movements,” she said.

Biondi is author of The Black Revolution on Campus. She is scheduled to speak at Western Illinois University, Morgan Hall Room 109, Thursday, February 6 at 7:00 pm.

Biondi said many activists were inspired by the American Civil Rights movement.

“I think it’s really appropriate to see the black student movement as a critically important chapter in the long black freedom struggle,” said Biondi.

She said Stokely Carmichael was influential and students admired the Black Panthers, but no single person emerged as a leader of the black student movement.

“This was a very decentralized movement. It was led by autonomous campus groups all over the country,” said Biondi.

“The students, for the most part, were not famous people. They were ordinary college students who really committed themselves to being effective and skilled activists, and they won many, many reforms across the country.”

Credit Northwestern University
Martha Biondi

Biondi said some of those gains – such as affirmative action -- have come under attack through the nation’s legal system. She believes it might be time for another round of 1960s-style activism, not just on campuses but in society as a whole.

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“As Dr. (Martin Luther) King would say, ‘We need a revolution in values,’ and I completely agree with that,” Biondi said.

“The whole country would benefit by a revolution that brought us more jobs, more affordable higher education, the end of the school to prison pipeline.  We have more African-American men in jail than in college in some states and that’s just an abomination, that’s an embarrassment for all of us.”

Biondi also said she was surprised to discover the level of the FBI’s infiltration of black student groups in the late 1960s.  She said FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered black students to be a threat to the nation and ordered agents to cultivate black informants on college campuses.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.