This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.
In 1972, Walter Burford, the director of Duke’s Black Studies Department, referred to Duke’s program as “the most progressive in the South.” 1 Though at the time there was still much progress to be made towards the department’s permanent establishment, its presence was seen as a huge benefit for students on campus and the wider Durham community. In Burford’s eyes, Black Studies was a crucial element of a modern education, and he was “convinced that no one can receive a complete education without exposure to the experience and concerns of black people.” 1
After its founding in 1970, the Black Studies department sponsored courses, symposia, and lectures to give the African American experience a stronger voice in Duke’s academic community. In addition to high participation from the school’s African American students, courses offered by the department also saw interest from many white students; in a 1972 article written for Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, Burford mentions religion and pre-medicine majors in particular “who see the relation of black studies to their own fields.” 1
While the creation of the Black Studies Department was a huge achievement for Duke, of the designation “most progressive in the South,” Burford acknowledged that “given the history of white, Southern institutions, I don’t know how much that is saying.” 1 Burford especially hoped to be able to bring more black faculty to Duke so that course offerings in the department could be expanded, but at the time continued funding was a major concern. Initial development for the department was sponsored by a $100,000 two-year grant from the Ford Foundation. In the third year, Duke University took responsibility for supplying the program’s funding, though annual funds were reduced from $50,000 to $41,000. To continue to meet the needs of the young department and its students, Burford strongly believed that the program would need space and money to grow.
Burford’s thoughts on Duke’s Black Studies Department can be found in this 1972 article from The Chronicle, digitized through the CCC grant as part of the Department of African and African American Studies records.