Feb 1, 2024 - History

The San Francisco student strike that created Black studies

Photo of Black leaders arm in arm leading a protest

African American community leaders head a march across the San Francisco State campus on Dec. 6, 1968. About 3,500 took part in the rally to demand Black studies. Photo: Howard Erker/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images

In 1968, African American students led a campus walkout in a bid to demand Black studies at San Francisco State College, now known as San Francisco State University.

Why it matters: The 133-day strike eventually made San Francisco State the first four-year college institution in the U.S. to create a Black studies department.

Details: Driven by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the students protested racist scholarship and traditional Euro-centric views of Black experiences.

  • White supremacy was the "norm of the day," Nesbit Crutchfield, a member of the Black Studies Union that led the strike, said in a 2020 interview with KQED.
  • "We wanted to find out and be educated about ourselves," Crutchfield said. "If we could not get that, then nobody could get an education."
  • The five-month strike, which led to frequent and violent police standoffs, became one of the longest of its kind in U.S. history.

Of note: After multiple failed attempts to quell the protests, the administration established a College of Ethnic Studies, which housed a Black studies department, on March 20, 1969.

  • It inspired a wave of Black studies departments at college campuses across the nation and paved the way for other ethnic studies disciplines.

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