This post is the 12th in a series 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.
This blog post examines a letter sent in 1971 to Duke President Terry Sanford by professor Walter Burford of Duke’s Black Studies Program. This and other letters from professors Burford and William C. Turner, Jr., found in the Department of African and African-American Studies Records, provide a rough timeline of the Black Studies Program’s struggles for recognition and support.
President Terry Sanford first rose to statewide prominence in the 1960 N.C. gubernatorial campaign when he dispatched a segregationist challenger in the Democratic primary. While in office, Sanford mandated statewide school integration. When Sanford arrived at Duke in April 1970, the university had recently experienced its own racial turmoil. In February 1969, sixty members of the Afro-American Society occupied the Allen Building — home of Duke’s administration — with twelve demands, including the establishment of the Black Studies Program. Although the occupying students peaceably exited the building, police engaged with students outside the building and fired tear gas upon them. The university responded to the takeover by forming a committee that in May 1969 officially proposed the Black Studies Program. (The records of the Allen Building Takeover will also be digitized in the coming years as part of the CCC Project.)
The letter shown above is the first sent to Terry Sanford by professor Burford, who wrote it contemporaneously to Sanford’s inauguration. Burford refers first to Sanford’s interest in Black Studies at Duke, indicating that Sanford likely asked Burford for this update as part of his orientation to the current issues facing the university. Burford then lays out a reasoned case as to why Black Studies deserved more recognition, funding, and professors. Burford uses the phrase “the ‘boy’ status” in describing his perception of how the Duke community perceived Black Studies. One could contend that Burford’s phraseology carried a double meaning, referring both to the newness of Black Studies as compared to other academic programs and the well-known use of “boy” as a denigrating term segregationists used in referring to African Americans.
Unfortunately, the records digitized for the CCC Project do not contain Sanford’s response to this or any of the other letters contained in the departmental records. What we can gather from the subsequent letters is that, while some improvement occurred, progress was neither rapid nor easy. In an April 1972 letter, Burford criticized the “weak support from the Administration” for Black Studies, going on to write the following strong rebuff:
I trust there is not a systematic disregard for such crucial matters as enumerated, for not only does such compromise the status of all Blacks at this Institution, but poses difficulties insurmountable to all seeking a relevant education.
The stern words must have initiated some progress; letters dated 1974 discuss transforming the Black Studies Program into a fully functioning department. We encourage you to peruse the records that are now available online to better understand the story of how the Black Studies Program at Duke transformed into the Department of African and African-American Studies.
Biography of Sanford from UNC-TV: http://www.unctv.org/biocon/tsanford/timeline.html
Allen Building Takeover: http://library.duke.edu/uarchives/exhibits/allen-building/page5.html