During the 20th Century, black students in the United States engaged in different forms of activism. They organized the activism to protest whatever they considered unfair and discriminatory in nature. In fact, the roles they played were often critical to the success of some of the largest social reform movements of the last century. Interestingly, their agitation for fairness and human rights has not wavered in the 21st Century either.
Student activism has always been part of the life and culture of college students in the US. Since the 1920s, a large group of African American students aligned themselves with their colleagues or peers to press for more recognition. Mostly, they wanted recognition as human beings with equal rights as students of other races. Yes, discrimination based on race was rife in colleges around the country back then.
In its infancy, black student activism mostly focused on the goal the activists had at the time; that is, advancing their race. Back then, much of the activism happened at Hampton Institute, Fisk University, Lincoln University, and Howard University, among others. Student activists who ignited the flame upon which the fire of activism burned – and continues to burn – included W. E. B. Du Bois, among others.
Over the years, black student activism has posted different levels of success. In some cases, the demands the activists placed on their college and school administrators were granted. However, in other cases, they enjoyed only partial success. Nevertheless, activism continues to date. It hasn’t stopped. Activism remains relevant today, just as it did in the 20th Century in the following areas:
- Fighting for racial equality
- Bonding their communities
- Creating awareness about issues they hold dear
Origins of Black Student Activism
As you may have grasped by now, black student activism has always been prevalent in American colleges all over the country. As long as black students encounter discrimination, injustice, and unfairness of any sort, they will always group themselves together to fight for common causes. Nevertheless, the main issue that the initial activists rallied around was the effect of centuries of enslavement.
They organized the activism around three specific orientations; namely:
Slavery affected African Americans negatively. For centuries, this minority group had to struggle with the perception that they were an inferior race. Such perception denied them many of the opportunities that could have aided their cause academically, socially, politically, and culturally. It is little wonder that they had to move into activism. Without this, it would have been impossible for them to enjoy the rights they do today.
Where does it occur?
It is worth noting that black student activism isn’t limited to college students alone. Obviously, it receives more attention whenever it happens in colleges. Nevertheless, it happens almost everywhere you have black students. High school students are also active in this form of activism. After all, they need their issues resolved fast. Millions of black students across all institutions of learning around the country are actively involved in activism.
Examples of Black Student Activism
- University of Missouri Students
Students at the University of Missouri engaged in activism to raise awareness on issues regarding racism. They noticed a distinct lack of diversity within the campus. Their activism led to the resignation of the university’s president – Tim Wolfe. The highlight of the entire period of activism was the hunger strike that one of the college’s students – Jonathan Butler – went on to force Wolfe to look into the concerns he had raised.
- University of California
Contrary to popular opinion, black college students don’t engage in black student activism only for issues affecting their lives in the learning institutions. They also participate in protests, hunger strikes, and demonstrations for issues affecting the black populace in general. A clear example of this is the students of the University of California protesting their college’s decision to invest US$30 million in private prisons. The college abandoned its plans afterward.
- Washington State University
As you may have seen by now, most black students opt for activism as a way of protesting against racism. The students of Washington State University aren’t any different. When a member of the college’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity hurled racial insults at two black students, their colleagues started a movement known as WakeUpWSU, which created student protests. Students demanded that the fraternity be shut down. Activism continues to this day.
- Seattle High School Students
When Michael Brown was killed, college students around the country staged protests regarding the manner in which his death occurred and the fact that he was left on the road for four hours and thirty minutes. High school students in Seattle immediately took up the call and staged protests. In one instance, these high school students lay right on the road and stopped traffic for the same duration that Brown remained unattended while dying after a white police officer shot him.
All these are just a few examples that bring to the fore the fact that black students are aware of what happens around them. They have their hands on the pulse of the country and communities. They have embraced black student activism, which they continue using to fight for their rights as students as well as basic human rights. Thus far, the activism has led to positive results.