Hundreds of students cried “On strike, shut it down,” fists raised to the sky as they marched through Malcolm X Plaza while they passed police officers donning riot gear. This is what SF State looked like from November 1968 to March 1969.
Nearly 50 years have passed since the 1968 strike, but current Black Student Union members still continue to organize against relevant issues that affected African-Americans and other people of color in the past.
“History repeats itself,” BSU member Andranee Nabors said. “Racism used to be blatant and out front and in your face. Now, it’s behind closed doors and behind contracts and work ethics that no one can prove. It’s so hidden but yet, so out there at the same time. It’s the same situation but different circumstances so it has to be approached in a different way.”
The BSU and the Third World Liberation Coalition went on strike November 1968 at what was then called San Francisco State College. Students demanded the creation of a college of “third world” studies and proper funding and employment of the black studies department. By March 1969, the strikes ended and the College of Ethnic Studies was created, according to the 2009 documentary Activist State.
“These were students, whether they were in the Black Student Union or in the broader Third World Liberation for that matter, also radical whites and Students for a Democratic Society, who were attempting to not only want to study the world but really seeking to transform it,” said Jason Ferreira, director of the Race and Resistance Studies program in the College of Ethnic Studies.
SF State is the only institution in the country with a dedicated College of Ethnic Studies. The College consists of the Africana studies department, the American Indian studies department, Asian-American studies and the Latina/Latino studies department.
One of the original strikers, Daniel Phil Gonzales, helped create the curriculum for Asian-American Studies in 1969 and has remained at SF State as an AAS professor since then.
“I decided ‘yeah, I think I’m doing okay here,'” Gonzales said. “‘Let’s make sure that I’m making a contribution that’s worthwhile,’ and that’s how it went.”
Throughout the years, Gonzales said he has seen the difference between students 47 years ago and now.
“It (1968) was a very interesting time,” Gonzales said. “It was a lot more intentional building of relationships across ethnic lines which is something that’s lacking, I think, nowadays.”
BSU was instrumental in creating the original curriculum for what was then called the black studies department and was involved in other community efforts to combat land redevelopment in the Fillmore, Ferreira said.
Nabors said that the organization was still doing community work by participating in programs that help African-American youth. She said she was glad to be part of the legacy that BSU members in 1968 established, though she was not proud that organizations like BSU needed to exist.
“I feel like me being educated and me being black, it’s part of who I am,” Nabors said. “To get to know the people who were here before me and figure out how to help and how to progress things that they have already paved before I came.”
Ferreira said that events like the Black Lives Matter movement and the police brutality protests are valuable reasons why being privy and sensitive to social issues is vital.
“Ethnic studies is not something marginal, on the side, not something that is really just an elective,” Ferreira said. “It is as fundamental to an educated person as math is or critical thinking.”