Durham’s Civil Rights Heritage
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In 1967 a number of black students at Duke University formed the Afro-American Society and began negotiating with the school administration to improve the campus racial climate. After more than a year, feeling their negotiations were leading nowhere, about 50 members of the society and a few former students occupied the Allen Administration Building just after its offices opened on Feb. 13, 1969.
They issued a statement including a list of 11 demands, among them establishment of an Afro-American studies department, establishment of a black dormitory, an increase in black undergraduate enrollment to 29 percent (at the time, there were 85 blacks among the roughly 6,000 Duke undergraduates), and reinstatement of black students previously forced to leave Duke "because of the stifling social and educational environment."
The statement concluded with the words:
"We seized the building because we have been negotiating with Duke administration and faculty concerning different issues that affect black students for two and a half years and we have no meaningful results. We have exhausted the so-called 'proper' channels."
The occupation created an enormous uproar on campus, as more than 1,000 onlookers and supporters gathered outside Allen Building. Caught completely by surprise, administrators met through the afternoon, as did student and faculty groups. Meantime, Durham police prepared to move into the building, even as the students, after talking with administrators and local activists, were preparing to move out.
Police confronted about 200 students, most of them white, who were blocking the building's entrances. When objects began to fly, the police fired off tear gas without warning. More students poured out of their dormitories, and for an hour police and students charged at and retreated from each other. Twenty students were later treated for injuries and police made five arrests. In protest the black students created Malcolm X University. Many of the white students boycotted classes for three days.
After subsequent talks, the university agreed to act on some of the students' demands, including establishing a program in Afro-American studies. In March, the university brought 13 leaders of the occupation to an on-campus hearing under Duke's "Pickets and Protest" policy. The other 48 involved in the occupation appeared at the hearing in support of their leaders, and all 61 pleaded "nolo contendere." They were exonerated and allowed to remain in school.