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Northwestern University commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1968 takeover by Black students of the Bursar’s Office with several days of events highlighting a year-long remembrance of the pivotal event.
During 1968, a year marked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as demonstrations and student activism at campuses across the nation, Northwestern experienced its first major student sit-in.
On May 3, 1968, more than 100 Northwestern students peacefully occupied the Bursar’s Office at 619 Clark St. to protest the Black student experience. The occupation lasted 38 hours, ending with a negotiated resolution in which the administration responded to a list of eight student demands.
The protest resulted in the “May 4th Agreement,” as it is popularly known, that had a significant and enduring impact on the course of the University. The takeover helped spur progress, ranging from increasing Black student enrollment and financial aid, to revised housing policies and the expansion of “studies of Black history and Black culture,” among others.
“The Bursar’s Office takeover 50 years ago was a significant and transformational event in the history of Northwestern University,” President Morton Schapiro said. “It was a turning point in the empowerment of our Black students, in the building of a more enriched curriculum and in the wider impact it had on diversity and inclusion at Northwestern. It still resonates profoundly with us today.”
One student who participated in the takeover 50 years ago, Wayne Watson (class of ’69), went on to become a triple alumnus, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate at Northwestern. He described himself as but one of dozens of students who participated, but also who saw the experience as “transformative, transactional and defining” for him and for others.
Mr. Watson was 22 at the time of the takeover, a junior on a wrestling scholarship, coming from the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Today he is 72 and retired as president of Chicago State University. “I’m a triple Wildcat,” Watson said proudly, “and Northwestern is what it is today, because we opened that door 50 years ago.”