The efforts of the Black Student Union (BSU) to chronicle their history at Williams culminated last Monday with the presentation of an exhibit on the recently restored BSU library in Rice house.
The restoration of the library has mainly been the work of the two BSU historians, Evin Steed ’99 and Robert Griggs ’01. The presentation featured remarks by both Griggs and Steed as well as a speech by Dean of the Faculty David L. Smith.
After an introduction from Adwoa Boahene ’00, Griggs began the presentation. He talked about how he saw his role as a BSU historian as being more than just the person who keeps the library clean.
After some research “we noticed that the BSU had people who used their voices,” said Griggs. “If this is our house now, we have to create our own memories.”
Griggs mentioned the cross burning that took place on Perry lawn in 1980 and a visit to campus by Stevie Wonder as two of the more interesting things that his research turned up.
After Griggs’ remarks, Steed spoke about some of the surprises that he has encountered in restoring the library.
One of the major finds, according to Steed, was a list of 15 non-negotiable demands issued by the Williams Afro-American Society (WAAS), which was the forerunner to the current BSU. The administration’s failure to meet all of the demands led to a takeover of Hopkins Hall by the WAAS in 1969. The takeover lasted a few days and was resolved without any major repercussions.
However, Steed looked at these demands and noted that there has been great progress in race-relation at Williams since the 60’s. The Demands focused on broadening the Afro-American studies program, increasing black enrollment, and working towards attaining a more racially diverse administration.
“You can look around and see that some progress has been made,” said Steed.
Following Steed, Dean Smith spoke about the need for the Williams community to come together as a whole. “[At Williams] there are many little groups pursuing their own activity, but not that much thought of being one community,” said Smith.
Since his arrival on campus in 1980, Smith described his relationship with the BSU as being “mixed.” At one point Smith fought the BSU on its one-time exclusionary policy regarding Mears House, but also had some kind words to say about the organization. Smith spoke well of the BSU’s “ambitious commitment to try to make change in the bigger community where you are,” and its failure to be satisfied with the way that things are.
After the presentation, Boahene explained that the archive exhibit was the result of her thoughts about black experiences at Williams as well as the arduous work of the historians. “I think it is a way to look back and remember the unique experience that black students at Williams have had and will continue to have,” said Boahene about the exhibit.
Boahene feels that it is important that every Williams student visit the archive, mainly because it is fascinating part of Williams history. “The very documents themselves speak to a different time and the issues of that period. More importantly, it is at once comforting and disheartening to see that we continue to struggle with some of the same issues,” said Boahene.
Royce Smith ’01, BSU political education coordinator, considers the project to be “one of the most special and most personal” events of the year for the BSU. Smith hopes “to acquire and enjoy a new understanding of the history of our organization, the many paths that we have followed, and maybe even a glimpse of the roads that we will pursue.”
The BSU library collection is composed of books, photos, and video/audio recordings which until recently had been lying around in no particular order. The collection was started in memory of Alana Haywood, who died while a student in 1992. Due to the efforts of Griggs and Steed, the library should continue to be an active resource for students well into the future.
A second phase of the project will take place on April 10 when a group of alumni and current students will examine and identify artifacts that are currently unmarked.
The public is welcome to view the current exhibition of material which is on display in Rice House.