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African-American Student Activism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1968-1978: Timeline

This guide provides information about grassroots activism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that culminated in the establishment of the Center for Afro-American Studies in 1969, one of the first two Afro-American Studies programs in the U.S.


March 20, 1968: Responding to perceived weaknesses in minority education, UWM staff presented “Project Potential – Wisconsin #1” to a group of staff members and students who later became leaders of the United Black Student Front (UBSF). The students criticized the project as incomplete and started work on their own program proposal titled “Black Education for the Black Man by the Black Man.” “Project Potential – Wisconsin #2” would incorporate the proposals from the student group.

April 8, 1968: Over 500 UWM students joined a memorial march in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated on April 4. Chancellor Klotsche cancelled classes in Rev. King's honor. King had spoken at UWM on November 23, 1965.

May 6, 1968: The two “Project Potential” proposals were presented to faculty at a meeting of the UWM Institute of Human Relations, with the invitation to pick one or use both as a reference to create a new plan. Students in attendance reported that the meeting was completely unsuccessful and no decisions were made.

May 14-17, 1968: The United Black Student Front met with Chancellor Klotsche and presented a list of its demands for African-American education. Klotsche's promise to explore various options apparently did not satisfy the group. On May 16, UBSF held a press conference stating that Chancellor Klotsche did not answer any of its demands. Dr. Ernest Spaights, a professor of educational psychology, and four other African-American faculty members met with non-leadership members of the UBSF a day later to discuss the situation and present an alternative proposal. 

June 3, 1968: The Faculty Senate approved the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee to create a Center for Afro American Culture (CAAC) at UWM. They also voted to create a Black Student Union (BSU) by September 1968. In response, the UBSF sent a letter stating its desire to have a greater role in the process.

September 30, 1968: The first Black Encounter Week was sponsored by various organizations as a way to bring understanding of African-American culture, the Black Movement, and other aspects of the African American community to students of other races and ethnicities. The Week's sponsors considered it a failure, however, as apathy and low non-African American student attendance was reported at all events.

January 31, 1969: The CAAC Ad Hoc Committee passed a motion to officially approve the center for the fall semester of 1969, at which point the committee would focus on developing the center as a degree-granting unit. The meeting was marred by Dr. Spaights' resignation from the committee after all student members voted against his motion. Spaights indicated that he felt he had outlived his usefulness as a committee member.

February 13-14, 1969: A rally was held in the Union lobby in support of 91 Black students who had been expelled from UW-Oshkosh the previous November and banned from applying to other UW System schools. Fifty student protesters disrupted the Board of Regents meeting over its decision not to admit the suspended Oshkosh students.

February 19, 1969: Fifty African-American students presented Chancellor Klotsche with demands to interview James Turner, an anthropology lecturer at UWM, for head of the CAAC. After presenting their demands, the students joined another 200 students at a rally in the Union and march across campus.

March 1, 1969: James Turner and 50 African-American students met with Chancellor Klotsche. Mr Turner criticized the Chancellor's handling of the CAAC, and the BSU announced its displeasure with progress on the center.

March 13, 1969: The BSU withdrew its support of the CAAC in a special meeting with UWM faculty. Seventy-five students informed the faculty that they would no longer support any type of African-American Studies programs created by the faculty and the university.

March 17, 1969: The Cooperative Ministry sponsored Black Encounter Week II to build on the progress, or lack thereof, of the first Black Encounter Week. According to Rev. Cross, the leader of the Cooperative ministry, the event was successful since attendance at their events was between 60-75% Caucasian students. The BSU issued a statement that they did not endorse Black Encounter Week and denounced it as “showing polite exploitation of black people.”

March 24-25, 1969: A brawl broke out at the Union snack bar between a group of African-American students and Caucasian fraternity students, which prompted Campus Police to close the snack bar temporarily and City police later to close it for the rest of the day.

July 31, 1969: Daniel Burrell, a Milwaukee community organizer, accepts the position of director of the CAAC.

December 6, 1969: The Board of Regents approved Chancellor Klotsche's proposal for a permanent Center for Afro-American Studies.

July 1, 1971: The Center for Afro-American Studies became a department in the College of Letters and Science.

December 8, 1978: The Board of Regents approved the B.A. in Afro-American Studies at UWM. Previously, courses offered by the Department of Afro-American Studies counted towards the B.A. degree, but no degree of its own was offered.