a small insurrection, a great divide

On Wednesday night, December 18, in a heated meeting that saw both sides bringing in emeritus faculty to vote who hadn’t attended a faculty meeting in years, the resolution passed, 55 to 53. The genteel siege of Eliot Hall was lifted that evening.

For Howard and Freeman, it certainly felt like a victory at the time, and the Black Studies Center was finally approved and funded in March of 1969. William McClendon was hired as its director in October of that year.

small insurrectionBy 1975, it was all gone.

Levich, who was then vice president and provost, wrote in a memo to Rosenblum’s presidential successor, Paul Bragdon, on September 27, 1975: “The Educational Policy Committee came to the tentative conclusion last evening that it would recommend to the faculty that black studies not be considered an essential part of a liberal arts curriculum at Reed. In effect, the recommendation holds that black studies, while desirable, is not necessary.”

Linda Howard, today a trustee of Reed and an attorney specializing in sexual harassment law, now realizes that the center, set up outside the standard divisional structure, never had a chance.

“What we got was something they could easily let die,” she says. “Reed believed they could bring in a new kind of student without having that somehow change the college—they didn’t think it through.”

On the day the takeover ended, Calvin Freeman told the press that the barricade had been absolutely necessary and said he hoped that “the fact that neither the students nor the administration saw the need to resort to violence would set a precedent for other colleges afflicted with dissention.” Today Freeman, who is a consultant in several areas of health policy, believes that “the level of anger we felt varied a lot between people and over the time of the sit-in, but collectively we were very serious. The concept of racial unity was shocking to Reed at that time, and the takeover was also our way of staying linked to the broader African American community, not withstanding how isolating Reed could be. I think it was a galvanizing event that provided some basic training in activism that we have carried forward through our lives—that part was a win. In terms of lasting change at Reed, no.”

The events were the opposite of galvanizing for the faculty. Also gone from Reed within a year or two were Victor Rosenblum and many of the young faculty members who came to Reed in the mid ’60s. Some of those who left describe it as a purge of those who actively supported the black studies center—most of those who stayed say the notion of a purge is completely unfounded. But they all agree on one thing: for that generation of the Reed faculty, the chasm never closed.

“ This quite literally split the college in two,” says a former faculty member, “and the memories were painful even years later.” A 1980s Reed report detailing the history of minority student recruitment on campus says of the 1968 takeover: “It seems to us that the wounds from this series of events are still raw. Many faculty with whom we have talked trace their antipathy to black studies courses to those events.”

“The black studies program died on the vine,” says Carl Stevens. “The only lasting impact was bitterness among the faculty.”

“We were deeply, intensely divided by those events,” adds Marvin Levich. “I’m not sure our generation of the Reed faculty ever recovered.” End of Article

Todd Schwartz is a writer who lives in Portland. He wrote about the legacy of Lloyd Reynolds in the last issue of Reed.