It was my honor to go to Duke University this past February and participate in a commemoration of the take over of the Allen Building on February 13, 1969 by concerned black students, two of whom were my parents. One of the great things about this weekend of programs, sponsored by the Duke University Department of African American Studies, was the ability to understand the impact on current thinking because of what these students decided to do 50 years ago. Most of what I learned about the takeover was through stories my mother used to tell as she listened to Archie Bell and the Drells or Aretha Franklin records. These stories were mostly apocryphal until I got to see the archival evidence compiled by undergraduates in Duke’s main library that let me know that my mother was even greater than she was in her own stories.
Most importantly students found a letter written by my mother, on Duke University stationary, in the archives (which they included in the exhibit). I can hear my mother’s voice here and imagine what my grandmother’s voice would have been in response:
This is to inform you that I am presently sitting in the basement of the Allen Building or at the present time known as the Malcolm X Liberation School. I am doing fine, don (sic) not worry-incidentally if you have not heard we took over the building. As of yet, and I said yet there has been no violence, But if there is……well C.B. will protect me. We have lots of food, peanut butter, jelly, gum, life savers, candy, bread, coffee, sugar, coffee-mate, and water, all the essentials to or for surviving. Do not worry about my education, it is not being interrupted, we are playing cards, listening to the news, carrying-on semi-intellectual conversations, sleeping, play8ng ball, learning to work adding machines, telephones, and typewriters.
Your Liberation Loving Daughter
Of course my favorite part of the letter is the sign off, because I, too, am a “liberation loving daughter.” I am also aware of the importance of legacy. Here is what those who took over the Allen Building look like now (without my mother, because she is no longer living):
There is also a great book about Malcolm X and student movements, including the liberation school at Duke, by my friend Richard Benson that a serious student of social justice should check out. Moreover, Dr. Howard Fuller, in commemorating this anniversary, reminds us of the importance to keep on fighting here: Dr. Howard Fuller