THE WEEK of November 11 marks the second annual commemoration of the violence used against black students because of their efforts toward a better educational system at Southern University in Louisiana. Following a tradition of protest and change, black students there have historically called for the improvement of their campus, quality in their faculty and student participation in democratic operation of the school.
In 1963, Southern students played a large part in massive demonstrations which desegregated public facilities in Baton Rouge. In 1969, they mounted a huge demonstration and boycott to protest the lack of black-oriented courses and to call for the end of near-feudal administration of the Southern University system. Once more, in the fall of 1972, black students at Southern sought mass action towards justice and resistance. A chronology of events lends some clarity to the importance of the students' efforts.
In mid-October, Dr. Charles Waddell resigned from the faculty, charging that the administration had blocked his effectiveness as head of the Psychology Department. In his support, various black students' organizations formed Students United presented a list of grievances to S.U. president Netterville. They proposed the establishment of a student-faculty council to give students a voice in the running of the university and the hiring or personnel. The president rejected the proposal and, consequently, 6,800 black students marched to the state capitol to see the governor. Two days later Students United held a two-day boycott of classes and 300 students, once again, converged on the president's office. In retaliation, the president closed down the Baton Rouge campus.
The day before Southern U at Baton Rouge (SUBR) was closed down, black students at the New Orleans (SUNO) campus in solidarity with SUBR, began boycotting classes, presented grievances to the vice-president of SUNO and finally seized an administration building for nine days. The following days saw black students meeting with state legislators and the governor.
On November 16, over 300 students at SUBR marched to the president's office. He told the students that he would go down town to see about their grievances. While he was absent, the students calmly remained at his office. Office workers and security guards continued their regular business throughout the building. No seizure had taken place. About fifteen minutes later, police, state troopers and Sheriff's deputies stormed the campus. A state trooper tossed a tear gas canister into a large crowd of black students gathered on the steps of the administration building. The remaining officers fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Amid the terror of shotgun blasts, two black youths fell dead.
THE BLACK STUDENT struggle at Southern represented an effort by students to obtain some type of dignity out of a position of powerlessness. They sought to gain a say in the daily decision-making process. In their attempts to transform the institution of Southern, black students maintained a clear distinction between the educational system. In their pamphlet, "Support Your Struggle," Students United wrote: "These are the same capitalistic and imperialistic forces [the financial interests that run the Louisiana black community] which grant various monies to Southern University such as Gulf Oil Company, IBM, etc.... Gulf Oil aids Portugal in her atrocities against African People..."
At 7:30 last night the Youth Organization for Black Unity sponsored a commemoration of Southern. The program consisted of two short films on black students at Harvard. A black Harvard alumnus spoke on his visit to Southern during the November 1972 protest. We at Harvard should think about what the black student movement at Southern means to all of us and our relationship to this university. And we should proclaim the week of November 11 through 16 as "Student Solidarity Week--Remember Southern."