Demands for Black Studies Department
Not Whether but How
African and African American Studies at Davis was born out of-- and into-- struggle. Shocked and distressed by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in April of 1968, students worked through the night photocopying programs and notices for a memorial commemoration. This event brought together Black students and those sympathetic to the cause of justice-- 3,000 people all told-- together in what former Davis Black Student Union President and Black Panther, and current Sacramento State Professor Dr. Stan Oden describes as “personal transformation through commemoration.” From this outpouring of grief, and celebration of resistance, came an organized effort to transform UC Davis materially and intellectually to better serve the Black community, and foster the theoretical and applied knowledges of African American consciousness here on campus.
Inspired by, in solidarity with, and alongside the Third World Liberation Front Strike at San Francisco State, and similar protest against segregation, police brutality, and racism at UC Santa Barbara, throughout 1968-69 the Davis BSU leaders-- among them Stan Oden, Ranya Alexander, Mel Posey, and Charles Smith-- met with administration dozens of times to discuss a program of thirteen measures to address head-on the institutional and societal conditions that made African American students’ success at Davis such a challenge. Some, like the establishment of a Black Studies Department by 1970 to expand upon the role of a mere program, would not be fully realized until more than twenty additional years of tireless effort and commitment. Others, such as an “immediate end to police harassment” continue to be sites of struggle locally and throughout the country. Some, such as an increase of 500 African American students before the following academic year, have never been met (the increase in the number of Black students on-campus from 2015-16 to 2016-17 was a total of 63). What is clear from the demands, however, is that this was a movement for and by the Black students on campus, and that they refused to bow to pressure. As one administrator noted in a letter to Chancellor Mrak in regards to student demands, “There was no talk of whether -- it was all how.” Film screenings exploring topics such as the burgeoning Black Power movement, and the first African American Studies classes on campus-- some taught by undergraduate students-- examining topics such as “Black Consciousness” and “Black Politics” followed and constituted this how, articulating the vision and laying the foundation for the field that we continue to develop today.
The Department of African and African American Studies gratefully acknowledges this legacy of contestation and the courage and persistence required to make our mission possible. It is in this spirit of responsibility to the community, and unwavering dedication in the face of unjust disparity, that we gladly continue the struggle for the next fifty years, and beyond.