The Black Revolution on Campus
reviewed by Janine Franklin - February 22, 2013
Martha Biondi in the Black Revolution on Campus presents a compelling piece of literature that reviews the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on local Black student led protests and campaigns at various college campuses. These protests centered on the creation of Black Studies within the broader university curriculum. Through specific accounts of student led activism, Biondi allows the reader to capture a sense of the opposition, violence, and struggle Black students faced on college campuses during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Black students during this time were focused on gaining control of and defining their own education and knowledge. Whether at Ivy league schools like Harvard or HBCUs like Howard, Black student resistance and activism during this time period sparked a great move toward the fusion of knowledge, theory, and educational revolution that changed university culture. Biondi specifically uses the campus protests at San Francisco State, Northwestern, Harvard, and City University of New York to illustrate the method and process by which these protests came about. Biondi discussed three central themes consistent throughout the book: the rise of Black Power, the fight for Black Studies, and the role of Black Student Unions in the Black student movement.
THE INFLUENCE OF BLACK POWER
Noted by a change toward a more physical display of Blackness, often marked by outward adornment of African garb as well as a shift in African-centered language, the rise of Black power became prevalent for high school and college students during the late 1960s. Termed by Biondi as a move toward Blackness, she contends that Black students were more visible in their pride of themselves and argued that their heritage, as well as their presence, had something to add to colleges and universities. Biondi notes through student accounts, revolutionist influences on how students perceived resistance, as well as examples of opposition to integrationists, exactly how Black power transitioned from concept to social movement. Biondi does a good job delineating not only the pivotal moments that led to the rise of Black power but also illustrates well the within-group dynamics of Black students that added to the complexity of the expression of Black Power on college campuses.
THE FIGHT FOR AND CREATION OF BLACK STUDIES
Central to the thesis of the book are the stories of resistance on college campuses that demanded the creation of Black Studies programs and greater representation of Black students on campus. Core to each of the protests Biondi discussed were Black students push for greater control of their education. Biondi reasons through historical and primary source accounts that not only did Black students want a Black Studies department, but also these students wanted a voice in its creation and implementation. Biondi explained the desire for control by describing not only what students demands were at the time but also the work these students put into making sure these demands were met, even if they had to do it themselves. The quest for ownership of Black studies departments reflected the students push to redefine what scholarship and intellect really meant. The formation of these Black studies departments was contentious, as many administrators of these college and universities didnt deem them legitimate in the academic sense. Biondi highlights for her reader the predominantly White administration and community reactions to student demands, whose resistance to agreeing with those demands often followed with violence.
BLACK STUDENT UNIONS
A third core theme of The Black Revolution on Campus is the rise and formation of Black Student Unions on college campuses. The brain source for many student activists, Black Student Unions became the intellectual space and vehicle for student-led protests. Biondi does highlight the gender dynamic that sprouts within these Black Student Unions. With a push for male representation, most female leaders were asked to step down or take on a more supportive role in the movement. Black Student Unions overall at this time were defined by self-determination within the context of education. Even at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black students resisted assimilationist attitudes and fought for greater representation in the curriculum. They pushed for greater representation and admission of Blacks on campus, more financial assistance to Black students, the ability to room with other Black students, amongst other things. Biondi does a good job connecting the similar themes of Black student unions across campuses and across regions.
IMPLICATION AND CRITIQUES
Biondi has created a clear and concise scholarly piece regarding a less talked about period of resistance and occupying Americas colleges and universities. This piece of academic work highlights the creation of Black Studies at colleges and universities and also illuminates current contentions through a historical analysis and lens of critique. Broader than the creation of Black Studies is the overall account this book lends to the Black student movement that played a crucial part in determining what we now know as university culture. Biondi gives very detailed information of the Black Student movement at each campus she covers including administration and community reactions. While Biondi does mention the sexist dynamic of power within the Black student movement and Black student unions, a more in-depth analysis could have been discussed. While Biondi addresses briefly the critique from Black women on the male domination of power within the movement, the discussion of gender issues within each campus protest and regional account may have been helpful. Lastly, Biondi attempts to recount local Black Student movements through a national backdrop, by discussing the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and the influences of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, but a broader national conception of the civil rights movement isnt provided. Adding this to the discussion may have clarified the positions and growing tensions, protests, and violence on campuses and in the Black student movement. All in all, Biondi does a superb job consolidating a plethora of historical research and making plain an often forgotten movement.