Ohio State commemorates 50th anniversary of protests for racial equality
On April 26, LaQuita Henry walked into the main administration building at The Ohio State University like she had done on the same day, and nearly the same time, 50 years earlier. The circumstances, though, could not have been more different.
“I believe we were actually there a little bit before 10 a.m. It was right before noon that the administration building was taken over because there was so much resistance to what was being stated and what we were trying to negotiate – a change on campus,” Henry said.
Henry was one of the leaders of the Black Student Union at Ohio State who staged a protest inside what is now Bricker Hall to bring issues of educational inequality, racial disparities and police misconduct to the attention of university leadership in 1968. The flashpoint for the protest came after four black female students were kicked off a bus and allegedly harassed by campus police. Once the protest began, students pushed for more diversity in academic leadership, courses and the student body.
Henry joined several of her former classmates on a bus tour of the Columbus campus to get a sense of how much the university has changed. They were also the guests at receptions hosted by the alumni association, ODI and the African American and African Studies Community Extension Center, and they were guests of President Michael V. Drake.
John Sidney Evans was the spokesman for the Black Student Union at the time of the protests. He, like 33 of his peers, was expelled and criminally charged for the takeover of the administration building.
All had to fight to clear their names and reverse their expulsions. Evans said they also had to fight for their place in history.
|President Drake meets with members of the 1968 protest|
“I’ve met faculty members at Ohio State who didn’t know anything about what happened. You know I have, maybe, 10 first cousins who graduated from the school. They know about as much about the [protest] as the typical person on the campus right now and I’m their cousin,” Evans said. “So I thought that there should be a recognition of what happened 50 years ago.”
Evans and the other leaders of the Black Student Union talked to Drake about the progress made at Ohio State and the work still to be done. Drake spoke about the programs that came before his time as president that established classes focused on African-American studies and offices dedicated to expanding diversity. He pointed toward recent efforts to make college more accessible and more affordable.
Ohio State has recently committed to covering the full cost of attendance for Pell-eligible students and is a founding member of the American Talent Initiative to expand access to college for highly talented lower-income students.
“We are making it easier for students from a variety of backgrounds to be admitted and to move forward,” Drake said.
The 50th anniversary celebration also offered a look at what the protest had achieved. A panel of ODI scholars spoke to the group about the challenges they have faced in attending college but also the support that exists for minority students at Ohio State.
Amari Dryden, a fourth-year accounting major, was one of those students. She said she was unware of the Black Student Union protest before meeting the members but was moved by their story.
“I’m sad that it happened, but it was happening all around America so I’m not surprised,” Dryden said. “But I am thankful that it did happen because so much has changed.”
Dryden said her mother received her master’s degree in African-American studies from Ohio State, a degree program the student protesters fought to achieve. Her mother’s experience encouraged her to become a Buckeye.
“It was almost like [the protesters] kind of led me to Ohio State,” Dryden said.
Evans said it was gratifying to hear the student stories.
“The kid just presented themselves well. That’s why I made a speech afterwards to thank them for their time and telling us what they’re trying to do to support progress. But also it was good to hear them say there are some things that still need to be worked on,” Evans said. “We’re a work in progress and we’re at an educational facility. So what are we about? We’re about learning. So that’s what we’re doing. We keep learning.”