1969: Change Begins

In the late 1960s, a group of dedicated student activists and faculty members began a plan to bring minority studies to the Claremont Colleges. The Black Student Union led the movement to create the Black Studies Center, with some support from both Black and nonblack faculty, United Mexican-American Students, and other progressive-minded students. Through the students' hard work and negotiations with Provost Mark H. Curtis, the other college presidents, and the trustees, the Black Studies Center, the Mexican-American Studies Center, and the Center of Urban Studies were founded in the fall of 1969.


In the days prior to March 8 of 1969, the Black Student Union (BSU) issued this statement in a letter to the provost detailing their plan for a committee to implement the Black Studies Center. The BSU members were frustrated with the provost's statement on March 2 that it was unacceptable to the College Consortium presidents that the proposed Center would have the autonomy of a college, but would operate without the Claremont Colleges' governance and regulations. The BSU posited that the relative autonomy of the Center was essential because it could then act without the leadership of the (at the time) white-governed consortium. The BSU argued that administrative issues with the proposed Center should be worked out after the consortium committed to its creation rather than being dismissed out of hand.


On March 8, 1969, the Presidents of the Claremont Colleges committed to the implementation of a committee to plan the Black Studies Center, moving the negotiation process from hypothetical to concrete. This statement directly responded to the BSU policy statement issued between March 2 and March 8, providing a more definitive commitment from the provost and presidents and responding to the BSU's detailed policy proposal. The intercollegiate committee includes the provost, six trustees, six faculty members, and eight students selected by the Black Student Union. The Center was set to be implemented in the fall semester of 1969.


In this article from Pomona Today, Ray Frazer, PO '47, offered a detailed account of the creation of the new programs implemented in the spring of 1969: the Black Studies Center, the Mexican-American Studies Center, and the Center of Urban Studies. The article included interviews with Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran and John Payton of the Black Student Union, and Jim Gutierrez and Luis Mata of the United Mexican-American Students. The students discussed their frustrations with the policy-implementation process and their hopes that the new programs would create future leaders and bring change to the Claremont community (and to the Los Angeles area at large).


John Payton, a leader in the Black Student Union and member of the Blacks Student Union Committee in 1969, discussed and addressed the reactions of white students to the proposed Black Studies Center. Many white students were confused by Black activism at the Claremont Colleges because racism wasn't as perceived to be bad as it was at other college campuses, but Payton points out that "not terrible" can still be "bad." He also addresses the question of whether white students can join the BSU, saying that only a racially alienated white person could identify with the cause. This issue is still a concern today, since college-sponsored organizations cannot officially exclude members based on race.