Students Occupy Administrative Building – The Allen Building Protest of 1969
In 1969, there were only 85 Black students among Duke University’s undergraduate population of 6,000. The University was one of the last major institutions to integrate. Without a significant number of Black faculty or University leadership, the students had to advocate for themselves. They wanted an African-American studies department, a Black student union, protection from police harassment, and increased enrollment and financial support for Black students.
After exhausting all of the “so-called proper channels” of negotiation with administration, members of Duke’s Afro-American Society occupied the Allen Building, Duke’s main administrative building, on the morning of February 13, 1969. The students blocked the entrances to the building and warned that they would burn student records if police were sent in. By the late afternoon, more than 400 supportive white students surrounded the Allen Building to protect the protesters inside.
The Black students remained barricaded in the Allen Building for most of the day. While they left the building via a rear entrance sometime after 5:00 PM after an ultimatum from the Duke administration, some of the white students positioned in front of the building clashed with police.
Early March brought some changes to university policy. A faculty committee recommended the establishment of “a program in African and Afro-American studies” at Duke, which would be supervised by a committee of five faculty members and three Black students. But while a Black Studies program debuted the year of the protest, it was not until 1983, 14 years after the protest, that the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture was established, finally meeting the students’ demands for a Black student union.
Ultimately, many of the demands of Black students were never met. In the wake of the protest, Black student voices were not elevated. Rather, they were disciplined, placed on year-long probations, and excluded from administrative decision-making. Today, Black students continue the fight for more Black faculty members, increased funding for scholarships, and expanded influence on Duke administration’s decision-making about issues affecting students.
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