“A Proposition concerning Black Survival”
On Wednesday, November 11, 1970, Russell Larkin (aka Kwahu Shebazz Nkrumah) and 20 students met with Fr. Colman Barry, the SJU President at the time. They laid out their two demands in their manifesto, “A Proposition Concerning Black Survival.” Fr. Colman was given until noon on Monday, November 16, to meet their demands. After meeting with his Administrative Council, Fr. Colman refused their demands because of the lack of signatures on the document.
The two demands:
- During the 1970-1971 academic year, SJU/CSB would allocate $10,000 (equivalent to $66,664 in 2020) to the OAAS to promote “culture and unity among people of African descent on the twin campuses socially and politically.”
- SJU/CSB would continue to support the OAAS in the coming years, by an amount “decided by the Financial Committee of the Organization of African American Students with the assistance and consent of its members.”
A list was included amongst the six pages of the manifesto, stating what the money was needed for and justifying the amount.
At 2:45 pm, on Monday, November 16, 20 Black students walked into the President’s office with food and boards to barricade themselves inside. Fr. Colman knew of this occupation beforehand but was out of town for a funeral. The secretary was asked to leave, but she opted to stay and finish her work. At 3:30 pm an injunction was issued by the district court. At 4:50 pm, the injunction was read to the students, giving them 30 minutes to leave. All but nine students exited the building at 5:20 pm. The remaining students were given ten minutes to leave. The students stayed and locked their arms in a circle. Authorities came in and arrested them. Overall, it was a peaceful protest.
Following the sit-in, enrollment of Black students decreased on campus. While they did not get the monetary support they had hoped for, in the 1971-1972 academic year, the BSU (Black Student Union, the new name for the O.A.A.S.) was given a budget of $500.00. The Presidents were encouraged by the Executive Governing Board of SJU to fundraise money on the behalf of CSB/SJU to be expended on the legitimate needs of the Black students. They were also encouraged to start a conversation with the Black community.
The nine who were arrested were the president of the O.A.A.S., Homer Brown (Soph., St. Louis); Charles Harvey (FY, St. Louis); Russel Larkin aka Kwahu Shebazz Nkrumah (Soph., St. Louis); Leroy Smith aka Amiri Damu Imara (FY, St. Louis); Michael Rolle (Jr., Bahamas); Madie Anderson (FY, Arkansas); Maeola Brunson aka Maisha Lamumbah Tawfiq (Soph., Arkansas); Elizabeth Harris (FY, Chicago); and Shirley Sanders aka Furasha Nkrumah (Soph., Mississippi). They spent the night in jail.
On Wednesday, November 25, 1970, the nine students were given a 30-day suspended sentence by Judge Paul G. Hoffman. The sentence was reduced from the typical 90 days. On December 7, 1970, the All-College Board met and agreed that the punishment of the court was enough and there were no additional actions that needed to be taken.
On December 18, 1970, both SJU and CSB came out with new policies in response to the sit-in. Disruptions or occupations henceforth would be met with civil authorities, legal action, and suspension.
Jones, Ken. "Wrestling with History: The Black Student Experience at SJU 50 Years Ago." Saint John's Alumni Magazine, Winter/Spring 2021, p. 16-27.
Roske, Peggy. "A Proposition Concerning Black Survival": Black Students Occupy the SJU President's Office". Powerpoint presentation, 2013.
Roske, Peggy L. and Jones, Kenneth M., "A Proposition Concerning Survival: Black Students Occupy the SJU President's Office" (2017). Intercultural Directions Council Lectures. 13.