HIS 365 - Public History (Spring 2019)

The Rollins Black Student Union and Black Awareness Week

This timeline situates the founding of the Rollins College Black Student Union (BSU) within the greater national narrative around desegregation, the emergence of the Black Power movement, and the formation of the Black Panther Party (BPP). It is intended to encompass a long span of history (100 years) for the purposes of showing just how long and hard black Americans fought to achieve equal rights and access to education. Members of the BSU were deeply aware of the national social and political landscape surrounding racial equality; in fact, the raised fist symbol of the Black Power movement was the first adopted logo of the Rollins BSU.

Rollins College, founded in 1885, remained a segregated university until 1964, when it enrolled it’s first back student, John Cox. It’s first black graduates in 1970 were Lewanzer Lassiter, Bernard Myers, and William Johnson. However, once the decision to integrate was made, black students attending Rollins consistently reported facing racial discrimination and a lack of a community with which they could identify. In 1969, in direct response to this discrimination black students attending Rollins developed a formal petition with a list of specific steps the school could take to create a more integrated and accepting community. The document resembled a list of demands (examples below) and served as a springboard for the formation of the Rollins Black Student Union (BSU) in 1970.

BSU members suggested:

(a) a stepped up program for the recruitment of black students

(b) more financial aid for black students on scholarship

(c) a faculty advisor familiar with problems peculiar to black students

(d) tutorial service commensurate with the needs of black students

(e) more books and courses dealing with the history, sociology, and literature of black people

(f) special consideration for and re-evaluation of black students experiencing academic difficulty

(g) a program for the hiring of qualified black instructors

The Rollins BSU’s first elected leader and President was a junior economics major named Krisita Jackson (’73). She was a dedicated scholar and also very involved in student government. The BSU usually met in the alumni house and had close to 20 members it’s first year. The organization outlined four primary goals for itself at the time of its charter.

Its constitution specified the following aims:

(a) create a relevant social and academic atmosphere for black students

(b) foster a unity between black students on campus and the surrounding community

(c) provide black students with positive symbols and values that are essential to the development of the whole individual

(d) plan programs and activities emphasizing the cultural achievement of black people

The creation of the Rollins BSU was essential to laying the foundations for racial progress on campus as it provided a safe space and community for black students and established pivotal campus-wide events, such as Black Awareness Week, fostering advocacy and dialogue with the rest of the student body about the realities of racism in the U.S.

The Rollins BSU hosted its first Black Awareness Week in 1972. It included presentations from noted black academics such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, artistic demonstrations in various creative forms, and public dedicated to fostering an open conversation about race in America. While the event was initially met with a mixed reception by the white student population, it was crucial in creating the foundations by which the BSU and the event itself could grow over time. Following the first Black Awareness Celebration numerous other events were held annually by the BSU, and Black Awareness Week remained an ongoing program throughout the seventies and eighties, finally transitioning into an event called Africana-Fest in the early nineties.

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