A Glimpse of History: Scenes from the Howard University 1968 Takeover

During the sixties, even before students on white campuses demonstrated against the Vietnam War, students on black campuses raised the issue of whether their institutions of higher learning were "relevant" to the needs of the black community. In the forefront of this movement was Howard University in Washington, D.C., then known as the "Harvard for blacks."

In 1968, two months before Martin Luther King's assassination, students seized the administration building in a dispute over the right of the campus newspaper to criticize the policies of the university president. The demands soon widened. Students demanded that the university establish a department of Afro-American history and culture. They wanted a black university president appointed. And they wanted courses which allowed them to reach out into the working class community around Howard.

The students were largely successful in their demands, and the Howard University takeover became a metaphor for black students who sought to succeed in the white man's world on their own terms.

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who remembers watching this PBS film during the summer after he graduated from high school, says that seeing this documentary made him aware that there was a community of black student activists. It was a community, he says, of which he aspired to be a part.

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