next page
2003

a small insurrection, a great divide

The arc that put the black students behind barricades in the president’s office began at Reed in 1964, when the Rockefeller Foundation made grants to seven private colleges “to recruit and support qualified minority students.” Over the next decade at Reed, 92 black students were recruited to the college. Before that, two blacks had graduated from Reed in its history.

film strip

The peak of black enrollment at Reed was reached in 1968, the same year in which black student dissatisfaction with Reed boiled over. The Black Student Union had been formed in 1967, and by the fall of 1968 the BSU was having mostly amiable discussions with faculty leaders about the creation of a black studies program. At the time, Reed had no black faculty or staff members and listed only two courses (“Negro Literature in America” and “Economic Development in Africa”) that touched on the African or African American experience.

A proposal emerged from these discussions for a black studies major, with courses taught within the existing divisions of the college, administered, as was usual, by an interdivisional faculty committee. By mid November, however, the BSU leaders, in the words of John Tomsich, then chairman of Reed’s educational policies committee, “seemed to think that decisions were being made too quickly, and advanced the idea that qualified black consultants be called in to help design the program.”

Calvin Freeman ’69, then a 22-year-old economics major and the first president of the BSU, remembers those initial discussions as “typical of Reed: polite intellectual discourse leading to no action. For me at least, the intent of the document we next presented was to move things beyond the ‘we can’t really do anything about this’ stage.”

next page

   

2003