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Duke University Allen Building Takeover, 1969

In 1967 a number of black students at Duke University formed the Afro-American Society and began negotiating with the school administration to improve a campus racial climate they considered dismal. After more than a year, feeling their negotiations were leading nowhere, about 50 members of the Afro-American Society, along with a few former students, occupied the Allen Administration Building just after its offices opened on February 13, 1969.

They issued a statement including a list of 11 demands including:

  • Establishment of an Afro-American studies department

  • Establishment of a black dormitory

  • An increase in black undergraduate enrollment to 29 percent (at the time, there were 85 blacks among about 6,000 undergraduates at Duke)

  • Reinstatement for black students previously forced to leave Duke "because of the stifling social and educational environment."

They also threatened to burn university records if the demands were not met or if police were sent to force them out.

The statement concluded with these words:

"We seized the building because we have been negotiating with Duke administration and faculty concerning different issues that affect black students for 2 1/2 years and we have no meaningful results. We have exhausted the so-called 'proper' channels."
Two African-American people inside a building peer through a window.

Students inside Allen Building talk with students on the outside during demonstration at Duke when students took over the Allen Building on February 13, 1969. Photographer: Harold Moore, Durham Morning Herald. . Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project Collection (NCC.0040), North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library, NC . Photo ID: mss_0040_054

The occupation created an enormous uproar on campus, as more than 1,000 onlookers and supporters gathered outside the Allen Building. Caught completely by surprise, administrators met through the afternoon; so did student and faculty groups. Just after 5 p.m., Durham mayor Wense Grabarek notified the Duke administration that 240 National Guardsmen had been mobilized in case they were needed. Meantime, a contingent of Durham police prepared to move into the building, even as the students, after talking with administrators and local activists, were preparing to move out.

A group of officers wearing gas masks and carrying batons stand together.

Members of the N.C. Highway Patrol and the Durham Police with riot sticks and tear gas gun in hand, stand in front of side entrance to the Allen Building on Duke's west campus. Photographer: Harold Moore, Durham Herald Sun. . Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project Collection (NCC.0040), North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library, NC . Photo ID: mss_0040_057

Police confronted about 200 students, most of them white, blocking the building's entrances. When objects began to fly, the police fired off tear gas without warning. More students poured out of their dormitories, and for an hour police and students charged at and retreated from each other. Twenty students were later treated for injuries sustained during the melee, and police made five arrests. In protest, the black students created Malcolm X Liberation University. Many of the white students boycotted classes for three days.

A police office holding a baton stands over a person laying on the ground. Other people and smoke are visible in the background.

Policeman stands over a white student (an onlooker or protest supporter), while tear gas hangs in the air during the Afro-American Society takeover of Duke University's Allen Administration Building. Photographer: Harold Moore, Durham Herald Sun. . Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project Collection (NCC.0040), North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library, NC . Photo ID: mss_0040_055

After subsequent talks, the university agreed to act on some of the students' demands, including establishing a program in Afro-American studies. In March, the university brought 13 "ringleaders" of the occupation to an on-campus hearing under Duke's "Pickets and Protest" policy. The other 48 involved in the occupation appeared at the hearing in support of their leaders. All defendants were allowed to remain in school but were given one year of probation.

Howard Fuller and an unidentified student stand in front of a building with a sign that reads "Malcom X Liberation University."A large group of primarily African-American people with the Duke Chapel in the background. They carry a banner that reads "Malcolm X Liberation School."A white man with blood dripping down his face holds a bandage to his head. He is helped by another man with other people in the background.