Black Bourgeois Activism: The African American Student Movement and Three Ivy League Institutions, 1945–75

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:40 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Stefan M. Bradley, Saint Louis University
This paper will cover the influence of the movement for black freedom on Ivy League institutions. More specifically, using archival material and oral history interviews, the paper will detail the efforts of black students to draw Princeton and Brown Universities and Dartmouth College closer to the schools' institutional goals of liberal education and training for young leaders.  Each of the three elite centers of education existed before the Constitution of the United States was ratified, and the paper argues that the institutions were more American than the nation itself.  With that in mind, in the decades after WWII, black students felt obligated to use what I consider to be their Black Student Power to confront the lack of educational access for black students, the dearth of scholastic attention paid to black history and culture, and their institutions' commitment to the advancement of black people in the United States and the African Diaspora. These students’ activism on behalf of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements changed their schools for the better by making the Ivy League more responsive to the needs of black people. Furthermore, the black students (and white allies), who risked their opportunity of achieving social and economic security by receiving a degree from the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, briefly transformed their schools into American examples of progress.  Knowing the importance of their particular Ivy League institutions made the students’ efforts that much more critical for the narrative of twentieth-century activism.  Finally, by focusing on black student activism in these elite schools, the paper widens the conception of the space that the Black Freedom Movement occupied.  Civil Rights and Black Power have traditionally been located in the South and in major urban areas; the efforts of black students in the Ivy League prove otherwise.
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