Perspectives: A Brief History of CBS's Roots
The history of black student movements at Grinnell is relatively short with its beginning sometime around 1967. Prior to 1968, indeed, there weren't enough black students for there to be a movement. Black students at Grinnell before 1968 were the privileged few - they were the recipients of the fruits of Civil Rights legislation and activism. Many of these black students came from middle-class backgrounds and they didn't want to make waves. Those students who didn't come from middle-class backgrounds were those whose parents had scrimped, saved, and sacrificed for their children. No grateful assassination of Malcolm X and, later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fully delineated the harsh reality of race relations in the United States. There flowered a new consciousness among black students. They began to ask questions. They began to make demands of their 'liberal' educators. 'Black power,' 'black is beautiful,' and 'black consciousness,' were all watch words and symbols of a new call to black assertion a nd pride. For the most part, the activism and radicalism of black students after 1968 was a microcosm of what was happening in the larger macrocosm of America. In particular, black students at Grinnell were trying to hold onto and rediscover their uniqueness as black Americans in a predominately white setting.
1968 was a pivotal year for black students at Grinnell. On the national scene, they had witnessed the execution of 'the dreamer.' Their hopes for a more equal tomorrow were all but extinguished. On the local scene, town and gown relations were particularly tense due to the fact that more black students were being admitted to the college. The townspeople, or 'townies,' were aware of this increase in number. Perhaps, even, they felt threatened by the black presence. Perhaps they were just poor, ignorant people who had never really experienced black people - perhaps. Whatever the case, a great deal of racial hostility was directed toward black students when they ventured into town.
At the college itself, many black students felt isolated not only from the wider campus community, but from one another as well. There was no collective voice for black students to air their concerns and have them acted upon. Their concerns would soon congeal into a viable body.
The Concerned Black Students (CBS) made its definitive debut in 1967. Black students, at last, were taking the initiative and mobilizing. They knew that a united front was necessary to their political and social well-being (survival) at Grinnell. Furthermore, they were realistic enough to know that the solutions to their concerns would not be handed to them on a silver platter. This was the time for action. CBS assumed the political, social, and academic voice of all black students at Grinnell. Their activism centered on: recruitment and retention of black students, faculty, and staff; the creation of a Black Studies department; and the general representation of the black voice. Black students at Grinnell now had the political means for exacting changes in the socio-political and academic atmosphere at Grinnell.
By 1971, CBS had evolved into quite a dynamic organization. The consciousness-building of the Black Power Movement probably contributed to the pride and assertiveness CBS was no radiating. It was probably this hyper-consciousness that fanned the flames of black students 'radicalism.' This 'radicalism' came to a head on November 30, 1971, when members of CBS took over Burling Library. The takeover was a direct reaction to administrative indifference and apathy toward black student concerns. The Black Manifesto, a list of demands/concerns of students, was created as a direct result.
Needless to say, few of the demands of CBS were met. The College agreed to consider only those revised demands which could be feasibly met or which had prospective significance or benefits of ALL students on campus. However, CBS had scored an important political victory. They knew now that they wielded a great deal of political power. Two important results of the takeover were: the establishment of a new admissions board for black students (consisting of the Minority Affairs Director and two black faculty); and a Black Library (formerly, the Black Library consisted of four shelves of books next to the lost and found). Black students were making a name for themselves as shakers and movers.
On November 27, 1974, once again, CBS asserted its newly established political power. Citing "numerous instances of discriminatory grading, blatant racial slurs, and a veiled propagation of the myth of black intellectual inferiority," CBS demanded the resignation of two faculty members in the Sociology Department. A special committee of administrators and faculty was formed to investigate the charges. Their conclusion was that CBS had published "unsubstantiated charges of unprofessional behavior" without going through the proper (bureaucratic) channels. Thus, they felt the statements should be retracted due to the public exposure of the "unsupported and undocumented allegations." CBS's response was:
In this case, the procedural bureaucracy failed to give anyone justice. This is illustrative of other cases recently processed by the institutional mill. When we first submitted our charges, Dean Walker and President Leggett did not refute them on the basis that they were unsupported by evidence, indeed, they tacitly agreed that the charges could possibly be perfectly valid, but they disagreed with our method of publishing charges. That is, they were bothered by the fact we by-passed the channels which had prove in the past to be closed to us. At this point in time, allow us to submit that unless the College changes the present bureaucracy to a form more responsive to the needs the College will daily face, the College will die, a suicide, hanged by its own red tape.
The founders of CBS have left us a great legacy indeed.
By David SimmonsEdited by Frank E. Thomas '71