Black students who stormed stage revisit Stanford campus

The Associated Press
Tuesday January 22, 2002

STANFORD — Nearly 34 years after black students stormed a stage at Stanford University, grabbing the microphone and demanding change, several are returning to the school this week to discuss whether their demands have been met. 

The group of about 70 students took over the stage on April 8, 1968, four days after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down at a Memphis motel. 

The students made 10 demands for change, then walked off the Memorial Auditorium stage without incident, returning the microphone to Provost Richard Lyman. They received a standing ovation. 

“When Lyman starts talking, we decided, we’re not going to hurt him — we’re not going to hurt anybody — but we are going to have our say,” said Keni Washington, a senior philosophy student at the time and co-chair of the Black Student Union. “We were tired of listening.” 

As part of a two-week celebration of King’s life and accomplishments, Washington and others who participated that day will return to their alma mater Wednesday to talk about positive changes on campus and what still needs work. 

The original demands included increasing Stanford’s minority enrollment, hiring more minority professors, offering minorities more financial aid and introducing more classes that deal with minority issues. 

“We felt the university had no one that could speak to the black experience at school,” said Charles Countee, who served as co-chair of the black organization with Washington. “Even if they were well-intentioned, they couldn’t understand the level of concern black students had.” 

The microphone incident led to the formation of African and African-American studies, Stanford’s first ethnic studies program, as well as the start of several campus minority groups, including the Committee on Black Performing Arts, Ujamaa House, Kuumba Dance Ensemble and the gospel choir. 

Prior to 1960, only two black students had enrolled at Stanford. By 1966, there were 35 and about 100 the following year. 

This year’s graduating class includes 166 blacks, and black students account for 9 percent of Stanford’s enrollment. In colleges nationwide, blacks make up 12 percent of enrollment. 

But some say it’s still not enough. 

“We do not have enough black faculty or women faculty, and when you combine the two, it’s dismal,” said Jan Barker Alexander, assistant dean of students and director of the Black Community Services Center. 

Black faculty increased at the university from 27 to 47 in the 1990s, but that represents only 3 percent of the total. 

“One thing Dr. King understood fervently was to not take action in the face of a wrong was a signal, in fact, a surrender,” Countee said.