Desire and Action: The Development of Black Studies at MHC

Desire and Action: The Development of Black Studies at MHC

Black Studies, now called Africana Studies, was not a part of the Mount Holyoke College curriculum until the academic year of 1972-1973. For five long years students demanded the development of a department on campus, or at least for the History department to offer more courses related to Black Studies. When students began to protest for change in 1967, the only course offering was “History of Africa”.

The items in this exhibit represent the evolution of Black student activism at the College. In 1949, a woman wrote to the office of Public Relations asking how many Black students attended the College. The response back was “five”. From this, the case shifts to the late 1960s where the focus is on three women who were key activists in starting protests on campus. Finally, the case shifts to the early 1980s, when one can observe that James Baldwin came to deliver a speech at Mount Holyoke College. Throughout these highlighted moments, students created support groups and staged a sit-in of administrative offices. These details are noted in the Choragos student newspaper reproduction poster. 

The history of a Black student presence on campus is long and complex. The activism of MHC students would not have been possible without the support of approximately 1,000 other Black students from the other four colleges in the Consortium. Broader student activism supported the change that MHC students sought.

by Leo Rachman

Desire and Action: The Development of Black Studies at MHC