San Francisco State University (then San Francisco State College) was uniquely situated to address racial inequities during the 1960s. In the early 1960s, several SF State students traveled to the South to participate in the Freedom Rides in order to desegregate interstate travel. And in October 1962, a wooden Speaker’s Platform was built on campus which became the first college-sanctioned free speech platform in the nation. Tensions grew on campus through the mid-1960s as a coalition of student groups protested the releasing of student information to the Selective Service Office and anti-black animus that resulted in the beating of black students on campus. Students felt the campus administrators were racist and ignoring inequalities readily apparent on campus. Using the free speech platform, students developed an innovative Third World curriculum through an ambitious experimental college as they developed networks for civic engagement in underrepresented neighborhoods beginning in 1966. In 1968, the suspension of an English Instructor (and Black Panther Minister of Education) George Mason Murray set off the longest college strike in American history. After changes in the school’s president, activism from students and faculty, and the ultimate closure of the campus and numerous campus demonstrations, the coalition of the Third World Liberation Front and the Black Students Union, supported by the Students for a Democratic Society, issued demands seeking a resolution to the strike. The result was the creation of one of the nation’s first Black studies curriculum and Black Studies Departments, as well as the School of Ethnic Studies.
It is not surprising that the longest college strike in American history would unfold at SF State throughout 1968 as students from different ethnic backgrounds came together to fight for educational self-determination and curriculum relevant to their lives.
“On Display” is a Process series that spotlights digital archival collections in order to connect readers, researchers, and educators to the rich and expanding store of primary source materials of U.S. history online. Archivists are encouraged to submit annotated highlights of their digital collections for what we hope will be an ongoing series.
Black Studies Curriculum
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In the years leading up to the strike, the Black Student Union (BSU), a leading organization in the strike, had been active in SF State’s student-initiated experimental college and developed a Black Studies curriculum spanning disciplines. This pamphlet chronicles the development of SF State’s Black Studies curriculum, first offered in spring 1966, and provides a multidisciplinary snapshot of Black Studies courses and educators. This student-initiated curriculum garnered national attention when student leaders active in community-based organizing drafted a proposal for a Center for Educational Innovation grant that could expand the Third World curriculum at SF State. Campus administrators appeared to stall the submission of this proposal, which frustrated students.
SF State Sit-In
On March 5, 1968, a coalition of students in the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), which represented allied members of the BSU, the Mexican-American Student Confederation (MASC), the Latin Tutorial Project, the Filipino-American Students Organization, El Renacimiento, and several other student organizations, issued their first resolution. They demanded the retention of three dismissed professors who had taught a Third World curriculum: Black Studies professor Nathan Hare; Juan Martinez, a Mexican American who had been instrumental in the formation of the TWLF; and Richard A. Fitzgerald.
In May, 1968, the TWLF stepped up their demands, renewing their protest of the treatment of lecturer Juan Martinez, and demanding the relocation of ROTC programs off campus. In conjunction with these escalating demands, the coalition staged a sit-in on May 21. This silent KQED (PBS, San Francisco) archival footage of prominent attorney Terence Hallinan, active with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), aired on May 26, 1968. This footage shows Hallinan, at the Speaker’s Platform, supporting the protesting students. While the protesters were only partially successful in getting their demands met, they had successfully tested protest tactics that would be used in the coming months.
Student Strike Begins
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The student strike started on November 6, 1968 and the BSU/TWLF issued 15 demands.
At noon on November 6, members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and participants in the Experimental College congregated at the Speaker’s Platform on the campus quad in the drizzling rain. The group diverted attention as members of the TWLF entered buildings to disrupt classes. BSU and TWLF members recruited local “Third World” high school students from ethnically diverse neighborhoods to attend SF State, but George Mason Murray, who taught these students in English Department in fall 1968, was removed to a non-teaching position. In response, the BSU and TWLF issued fifteen demands derived through consensus.
Student Coverage of the Strike
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Student newspapers, like the November 8, 1868 issue of the Phoenix, chronicled the student protests. The Board of Publications of the Associated Students published the Open Process and Daily Gater while a Journalism Department lab produced the Phoenix. Once campus officials summoned San Francisco’s Tactical Squad in response to the protests, tensions and rhetoric escalated: just as the Tactical Squad quieted one situation, another would pop up. SF State president Robert Smith’s attempt to call constituencies together for a convocation proved unsuccessful; CSU trustees subsequently replaced Smith with semantics professor S. I. Hayakawa as acting president.
Semantic Professor Stifles Free Speech
KQED (PBS, San Francisco) recorded this footage on December 1, 1968, when Hayakawa attempted to take control of events at SF State. In snippets of separate press conferences by Hayakawa and the TWLF (beginning with Roger Alvarado), tactics shifted. SF State came under a national spotlight as Hayakawa, surrounded by a crowd of angry students, defiantly dispersed crowds at the Speaker’s Platform and then pulled the plug on sound truck parked off campus on December 2, 1968.
Nacio Jan Brown’s photograph captured the electrifying unity of purpose following Hayakawa’s dramatic first day as acting president. The BSU invited four black community leaders, Dr. Carlton Goodlett, “Sun Reporter” newspaper editor; Reverend Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Memorial Church; Ron Dellums, Berkeley City Councilman; and Willie L. Brown Jr., California State Assemblyman, to a rally on December 2, 1968 that would be remembered as “Bloody Tuesday.” Brown’s photograph of SF State Fists (used as the cover image for the underground newspaper San Francisco Express Times on December 4, 1968), shows the unity between students and the community before the Tactical Squad closed in.
Professors joined with their own faculty strike in January 1969. It would be March 1969 before all parties hammered out an agreement that resulted in creation of a Black Studies department, a bachelor of arts degree in Black Studies, the admission of over one hundred students from underrepresented communities, and the formation of the College of Ethnic Studies (now the only College of Ethnic Studies in the nation), housing Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Latina/o Studies, and Race and Resistance Studies.
To learn more about the resolution of this landmark strike in higher education, please visit the SF State Strike Chronology LibGuide.
Meredith Eliassen is the Special Collections Librarian at the J. Paul Leonard Library working with the University Archives and Historic Collections as well as the Frank V. de Bellis Collection. Eliassen has a personal interest in design and doing grassroots local history. She presented her research on Drs. Charlotte Blake and Adelaide Brown who advanced medical care for San Francisco’s women and children between 1875 and 1925 to the 2006 OAH Conference and recently had her original history of the founding of the SF SPCA published for its 150th anniversary.