On February 18 at the Alumni Center, current black student activists came together with alumni who were active forces in the Black Action Movement of the 1960s-70s to discuss the evolution of black student activism on campus.
Isolation, enragement, and silence were discussed as the prevailing issues faced by current students of color at the University. “It should strike you as problematic,” said Samuel E. McCargo, ’72, JD’75, “that 40 years later, the same sense of isolation is being felt now as it were before.”
Senior Ciarra Ross reflected on the night, emphasizing that the discussion went beyond the topic of race.
“It was made very clear that a fundamental consciousness of how identity functions in our daily interactions must be developed … we can’t ask the white elite institution to see us when we haven’t even looked at ourselves.”
David Green, PhD candidate in the Department of American Culture, also discussed the importance of recognizing the intersection of identities. He describes the contemporary motivation of black student activism as addressing the rage that seems to permeate the experience of being colored on campus and using this rage to break the silence surrounding the issues that many marginalized groups face.
“Often times, race is glorified and other intersectionalities are ignored,” Green said. “I recognize my own privileges. A lot of times, as activists, we ignore our own privileges. I consider it my responsibility to call people out on this.”
McCargo describes his motivation for activism in the 1960s and 70s as a force of passion, commonality and intimacy. McCargo and his peers worked out of sheer passion towards “improving the quality of life for those of us here, for generations to come, and for society as a whole.” McCargo and Green concluded that “rage” was being used as synonymous with “passion” in their discussion, thus unveiling a powerful consistency in black activism throughout the years.
An important disparity within the past and present movements was also addressed. McCargo and his peers were fully aware that their faces would be a novelty on campus—that their support system would be small. “What we found was what we expected,” McCargo said. However, this was not the case for current student panelists and recent alumni. Many were blatantly “bamboozled,” as Green put it, by being one of barely a handful of blacks in their classrooms. “In the long haul, this University has been what it is for centuries, but the word of reason will change the numbers, and numbers can change the quality of life,” McCargo said.Photos courtesy of Bentley Historical Library