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July 21, 2019

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Mass Arrest of Black UIUC Students - 50 years later

September 11, 2018

 

Today in Black UIUC History: September 10, 1968

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the mass arrest of 240 Black UIUC students and Black community members. The cause of the arrests was a Black student led sit-in held in the Illini Union. Even though the university had admitted 565 Black students in the fall semester of 1968 as part of its Project 500 promise, there was a lack of necessary scholarship funds, adequate housing, and campus institutions to adequately support them. 

 

 

This was due to the poor execution of the university administration on its haphazard Project 500 program, made public a day after Black students demanded 600 new Black students be admitted each year in the Spring of 1968.

 

Begun by Black women, the protest at the Illini Union grew throughout the night of September 10th as other Black students and Black community members from Champaign joined in solidarity. Unwilling to leave until their grievances were heard and reconciled by the chancellor, the Illinois administration decided to lock up nearly half the number of the newly admitted Project 500 class.

 

These Black student activists would have to deal with these charges for years to come. To this day, this event remains one of the largest arrests of students on a college campus.  

The issues students protested against in 1968 still exist today. Black students remain under 6% of the university, despite making up nearly 20% of the Illinois public school system. Additionally, by the early 1970’s, Black students were already protesting the university’s unwillingness to continue enrolling over 500 Black students per year, which it stopped doing once the nationwide Black protest energy following Dr. King’s assassination began to fade.

 

Indeed, for Black students to reach equitable numbers on this campus, we would need a recruitment initiative that aims at admitting over 2000 Black students per academic year - quadruple the number offered by the university in their 1968 Project 500 program.  Every semester, scores of Black students are not being retained by this university due to the lack of scholarship funds and an unwelcoming campus environment for Black students, among other reasons related to the racist Illinois public school system and its funding.

The Black campus institutions that the Project 500 class of Black students struggled for, the Black cultural center and the African American Studies Department, are still starved for resources by university administrators--thus unable to meet the intellectual and cultural needs of a small Black student body.

 

As we observe the 50th anniversary of this important event in Black student resistance, let us not allow the university administrations’ glorified Project 500 promotional campaign to cloud the facts. This university is opposed to redistributing power and resources to the Black campus community because it is a white supremacist institution, and enforce this will through state violence and arrest when they find it necessary to do so.

 

The struggle continues,

 

DRUMS editorial staff

 

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