Tribute to our Founders
By Dr. Finnie Coleman
1968 is one of the most important watershed moments in world history. The Battle at Khe Sanh in mid January of that year followed closely by the Tet Offensive on the last day of January would prove to be harbingers of one of the most remarkably violent and turbulent years in world history. Here in the United States two American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy would be slain within months of each other. In September of that year the Black Student Union at San Francisco State demanded the founding of the first Black Studies Program on a 4 year campus. The program was not recognized until the spring semester, 1969 and then only after numerous confrontations and a student strike. As with so many other Black Studies created from 1968 to 1971, the Black Studies Program at the University of New Mexico was the direct result of the courageous struggle of Black students. In her paper and proposal titled “To Break the Chains; Black Studies Proposal, University of New Mexico,” Barbara Simmons shares with us the circumstances under which our academic program came into existence. In her seminal essay we learn that UNM’s Black Studies program came into being only after “the BSU began to use the direct action method to gear energy into a constructive Black Studies Program for the University of New Mexico community.” And while Ms. Simmons’ writings help us to understand that this was a collective effort, four outstanding individuals stand out as “The Founders” of Black Studies on our campus:
These individuals were members of the recently established Black Student Union (1967). It should also be noted that Ms. Simmons was a burgeoning young scholar at the time she produced “To Break the Chains.” Even so, her analysis of the issues that Black students faced on campus was remarkably sound and uncannily predictive of the struggles that the Black Studies Program, the Black Student Union, and the Afro-American Cultural Center would face from that moment to the present. Indeed, we continue to strive to achieve the primary objective as set out in the original proposal some 40 years ago: “the Black Studies Program is to become a degree-granting program within the university as a permanent autonomous department within one of the existing colleges.”
It is with great pleasure and honest pride that the students, faculty, and staff look back on the history of our program and recognize the commitment, dedication, acumen, and personal sacrifice made the students who founded Black Studies at the University of Mexico. We hope that you will join us in formally recognizing and offering heartfelt thanks to “The Founders” of our program during this our 40th Anniversary Black History month Brunch.