Our History: Formation of the Center

First Collection

Swarthmore's Black Cultural Center (BCC) was born in much the same way as many cultural Centers around the country, through student protest and struggle. The call for the BCC was part of a host of demands made by Black student activists, who also requested greater numbers of Black faculty, staff and students. To continue this legacy, the center fully welcomes students from all experiences and will support them and their efforts to thrive at Swarthmore. Students will be encouraged to explore the complexities of their identity, their connections to members of the Black community, both locally and globally, and to learn how to live productively after Swarthmore.

July 10, 1969
Don Mizell outlines the need for a Black Cultural Center (BCC): to provide "opportunities [for Black students] different from, but in addition to , the more general social and cultural life of the College;" as a means of enriching the cultural and social experience of Black students; and of "helping Swarthmore establish stronger and more effective ties with the surrounding Black communities."

February 9th and 11th, 1970
Swarthmore African-American Student Society (SASS) outlines plans for a BCC to President Robert Cross. They object to the continued use of Lodge 4, which had been utilized up to that point.

February 13, 1970
President Cross proposes use of Lodges 5 and 6 for 1970-71, with the College refurbishing and re-equipping the lodges. He assures the use of another facility if one becomes available. He further suggests that activity funds be sought from Student Council Budget Committee.

February 17, 1970
SASS rejects the offer of Lodges 5 and 6 because: (1) the need for a larger facility to accommodate an increased black population; (2) structural inadequacies of proposed lodges; (3) and poor location. SASS asserts that resources for an adequate facility are in fact available, but that the College has misplaced priorities. SASS objects to having to seek activity funding from Student Council; calling it degrading to negotiate with "sons and daughters of our white slave masters" for "satisfaction of basic needs..."

March 3, 1970
SASS, in a letter to President Cross, takes issue with several points raised in a letter from Dean Barr regarding a SASS lodge party, e.g.: Black students singled out for drinking; Barr's criticism of black students for not confining the party to one location (unoccupied facilities were used to accommodate the number of guests); the use of extra watchmen service.

March 11, 1970
SASS, in letter to President Cross, concludes that Robinson House is the only acceptable location for a Black Cultural Center. They state that the black community should define who will participate in activities in the house and when. They request an activity budget of no less than $7,000 and no more than $10,000 per year to: (1) develop activities for the entire College community; (2) conceive and implement community development programs; (3) purchase equipment; (4) decorate the house; and (5) maintain a guest room. They also request from the College: (1) basic maintenance service; (2) removal of downstairs wall; and (3) furniture.

March 12, 1970
Professor J. Deotis Roberts of the Philosophy and Religion Department, in a letter to President Cross, expresses his sympathy with the Black students' request for a Black Cultural Center, which he believes is needed also by black faculty and staff. He takes issue with the manner in which the matter has been handled, and suggests sensitivity training in the area of race for faculty and staff. He also calls for a "sufficient 'black presence' on the faculty and staff." President Cross agrees to assign Robinson House as the Black Cultural Center.

March 14, 1970
President Cross, in a memo, discusses the issues to be considered regarding a BCC i.e., the degree to which Swarthmore can make special facilities available to particular groups, and under what circumstances. He states that the College can facilitate but not "coerce its students into social or political attitudes or affiliations." The College "should not promote unreasonable discriminations or exclusions," therefore, he calls for the creation of a steering committee to develop, coordinate, and implement programs for and access to the center.

March 17, 1970
President Cross informs the College community that, following discussions, and the SASS vigil in his office, he has agreed to implement the provisions outlined in the March 14, 1970 memo for the creation and maintenance of a Black Cultural Center.

April 2, 1970
SASS outlines structure of the BCC Steering Committee, called for in President Cross' letter of 12 March 1970. They recommend as members of the Steering Committee: Dean Cline, Dean Closson, J. Deotis Roberts, Kathryn Morgan, and Harold Hoffman.

April 10, 1970
President Cross acknowledges SASS letter of 2 April, and suggests that the Steering Committee maintain close liaison with him. He consults with College counsel, the deans and the vice president on various aspects of implementation of the Center.