SPRINGFIELD, MA—The Springﬁeld Museums is proud to present A Legacy of Campus Activism: The Springfield College Protests of 1969-1970, March 29 through June 26, at the Wood Museum of Springfield History.
What does it mean to recognize that change is needed? And then how can you make significant change? What benefits are realized and at what cost? Thanks to a grant received from the Council of Independent Colleges, Springfield College students have had an opportunity to contemplate these questions.
Working under the supervision of Associate Professor of History Ian Delahanty, College Archivist Jeff Monseau, and Vice President for Communications and External Affairs Stephen Roulier, student researchers Isabella Bruns, Jack Duignan, Emily Gentile, Sabrina Moore, and Sabrina Williams pored through archival documents and photographs, listened to dozens of hours of oral history interviews, and collaborated throughout the fall and winter of 2021-22 to produce this exhibit. Their work was generously supported by the “Humanities Research for the Public Good” grant program of the Council of Independent Colleges. In the fall of 2021, students in Professor Delahanty’s class, Making History Public, contributed essential research and insight into the project.
The scholars explored Black student activism and protests on the Springfield College campus during the period 1969-1970. A tumultuous time for the United States, with a war in Vietnam and civil disobedience pushing the American population to rethink the status quo in favor of a more equitable society, Black Springfield College students and allies stood up for their right to equal representation at their school.
“The students wanted higher acceptance rates and more scholarships for Black students,” said Delahanty, who is in the Humanities & Social Sciences Department at Springfield College. “They wanted additional courses in Black studies, and fair representation in all manner of student life. Their work paved the way for activist success today, not only in a campus setting, but also in the larger community.”
Because the community did get involved. “Letters to the College President at the time vilified the student protesters,” Delahanty said. “Business CEOs, community leaders, and parents called for harsh punishment.” The Black student activists’ parents also became involved, protesting unfair treatment of their children. Many prominent local Civil Rights advocates weighed in, leading to campaigns within the broader Springfield community focused on racial equality, and questioning of the role the college played in its sensitivity to the needs of the surrounding neighborhood. “This shift from just a campus protest to a community-wide revelation is noteworthy,” Delahanty said. “And that is why we wanted to bring this history to light again.”
Until recently, this brief but formative period of student activism was largely forgotten or unacknowledged at the College, the contemporary students reported. In 2020, many of the alumni and former students who mobilized to make the institution more inclusive for Black students in the late 1960s reunited as the Legacy Alumni of Color group. Over the past year and a half, their commitment to improving the circumstances of students of color at Springfield College has helped to sustain current students working to bring about a more inclusive, racially just College community. “The past few years have witnessed a resurgence of student activism on college campuses and high schools across the country,” Delahanty said. “Our hope is viewers will learn from this exhibit that there is a rich tradition of student activism in the City of Springfield.”
“We were so pleased when Springfield College approached us about displaying this exhibition,” said Maggie Humberston, Curator of Library and Archives for the Springfield Museums. “This is an important and inspiring part of Springfield History.”
Museums al la Carte Lecture
Reflections on a Legacy of Campus Activism
The Springfield College Black Student Protests of 1969-70 and Their Significance Today
April 14 @ 12:15 pm–1:30 pm
Amid the nationwide Black Campus Movement of the late-1960s, Black student activists at Springfield College (SC) demanded greater representation within the college and worked to make the institution more inclusive. When their demands went unmet, they staged numerous protests on campus. Community members supported their efforts, and the students themselves drew attention to problems of racial injustice in the greater community. While the SC Black student protests of 1969-70 did not accomplish all or even most of the students’ aims, they imparted a legacy of activism to future generations of students. This panel brings together veterans of the campus movement and present-day SC students who have followed in their footsteps both as activists on campus and as researchers and historians who are telling their stories. Panelists will reflect on the history of SC’s Black student protests and discuss their significance to the college and community in the present.
Moderator: Martin Dobrow, Professor of Communications, Springfield College, and author
Panel: Teresa Burr (SC ‘70) former Dean of Liberal Arts, Springfield Technical Community College; Richard Griffin (SC ‘73) former Guidance Counselor, Boys’ Club, East Harlem Clubhouse; Sabrina Moore (SC ‘23)History major, Springfield College, and member of the Black Student Union; Sabrina Williams (SC ‘21) double major, English and Sociology, Springfield College, former student-trustee, and president, Women of Power club
Image: Dr. Jesse Parks (front row, second from right) leads Springfield College student activists and supportive community members on a march down Alden Street after a student takeover of the Administration Building on May 14, 1969. Springfield College Archives and Special Collections.
About The Springfield Museums
THE SPRINGFIELD MUSEUMS are located on the Quadrangle at 21 Edwards Street in the heart of downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. The nationally accredited and Smithsonian-affiliated consortium of museums includes the Springfield Science Museum, the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, and the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, the first and only museum dedicated to the beloved children’s book author and Springfield native.