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“Institutions Need to Be Pushed”: An Oral History of the Allen Building Takeover

Posted May 21, 2019

Tear gas outside the Allen Building on February 13, 1969. Source: Duke Online Exhibits

By Sarah Xu and Rachel Rubin

On February 13th, 1969, approximately 60 Duke students occupied the first floor of the Allen Building to protest the university’s failure to meet the needs of black students. Their demands included the creation of a black studies program, a summer transitional program for black freshmen, and a black student union. Protesters remained in the building until 5:00 p.m. Their exit ignited a clash between students and police on the main quad in front of Perkins Library.

No two protestors experienced that day–or the months and years that followed–the same way. Over time, the protest has been absorbed into Duke’s history, leading to an official commemoration on the 50th anniversary. But beyond the public recognition, the memories and lessons of that day remain deeply personal for many of the protesters, whose lives were changed by the act of resistance, the risk of deadly force and potential retaliation from the university.

From original interviews, testimony at events, and archival material, we’ve compiled personal stories of the 1969 Allen Building Takeover – in the words of those who were there.

DUKE IN THE ‘60s

Duke’s first black undergraduates enrolled in 1963, making Duke one of the last private universities in the country to desegregate. While the number of black undergraduates climbed from five to around 100 by 1969, integration was not a universally accepted direction for Duke. President Douglas Knight recalled opposition to desegregation from Duke’s Board of Trustees: “This was not a unanimous decision; there were abstentions from the vote, and a good deal of silent unhappiness among alumni and others in the region.”

Michael McBride (Trinity ‘71, former chairman of Afro-American society): This is going to sound really strange…When my dad drove me up to Duke’s campus, I saw towers. It looked like the towers were moving behind the trees and stuff. I mean, that was like Hogwarts. It just blew my mind. I thought I was coming to a community of scholars and we’d be sitting up at night having intellectual conversations…We were all, from where we came from, we were smart. We thought we were going to be around a bunch of smart folks and we’d only do smart things. And then you got there and you found out that many of these smart people were bigots and didn’t want to accept you as being smart and being part of the university.

Chuck Hopkins (Trinity ‘69, co-founder of the Afro-American Society): [My freshman English professor] told me this: “Black students, black people are not smart enough to be successful at a school like Duke University and they don’t warrant the kind of attention professors should be giving them.”…The best I ever got in his class was a C.

Bill Turner (Trinity ‘71): In those days, middle class blacks did not go to white institutions, as they do now. Middle class blacks back then went to Howard, Tuskegee, North Carolina College etc. By being from the South, all black students were accustomed to all-black settings, and many of the blacks at Duke were reared in all-black schools, churches, and communities. Being at Duke, they had no black professors, leaders, surrounded by white people. Only other blacks at Duke were maids who made the beds.

Michael LeBlanc (Trinity ‘71): I’m from New Orleans. New Orleans, at the time, was probably 40 to 50 percent black. At Duke, I could go two or three days without seeing another black person. That was so totally disconcerting to me…I remember being in Page Auditorium and for some reason we got to Page Auditorium early and then they opened the doors to Page Auditorium and all of the students came in. I had an anxiety attack. The reason I had an anxiety attack is–don’t get mad–I just saw pink…The Caucasian students just rushed in. I couldn’t make out a face. I couldn’t make out blonde hair. I couldn’t make out black hair. I just saw this pink wave coming at me

Brenda Armstrong (Trinity ‘70) , as quoted in The Chronicle: There was no substantial administration movement in any area. We had a real problem with academic attrition – about 50 percent of the black students were either in academic trouble or leaving school…It seemed our concerns were really taken lightly…All of us felt our education, our way out, was roadblocked by racism.

Janice Williams (Trinity ‘72): I think that in the first few months, I spent hours and hours; [black students] spent hours together. You know what I’m saying? We were always in the Afro-Am office, we were always doing things together in between classes. If it was time to eat, we all sat together at what we called “the table” in the Union. And we took up two tables in the West Union, meaning all of the black students. We met each other’s family members.

BLACK WEEK

As Black History Month arrived without any formal recognition from the university, the Afro-Am Society began to plan a week to celebrate black culture. Between February 4-12, students performed plays about black history, published a magazine about black experience at Duke, and participated in cultural events. Speakers included lawyers, artists and activists: Carl Wayne Carter Jr., Howard Fuller, Ben Ruffin, Dick Gregory, Fannie Lou Hamer, Maynard Jackson, LeRoi Jones, Eleanor Rux, and James Turner.

Catherine LeBlanc (Trinity ‘71): It was the first time that we had had a Black Week on campus.

Chuck Hopkins: There’s no question Black Week was one of the three or four things that got us going as far as taking the building…. The purpose of Black Week was directed towards the white community. The purpose of Black Week was to hopefully educate white people on this campus about black culture…It did end up having a galvanizing effect on us also. The key thing for me was the speakers they brought here…Every last one of those adults supported us.

Michael McBride: Black Week was very galvanizing for us…It introduced the larger Duke community to us as important figures, not just as black students on campus but as a community.

Janice Williams: We had no black professors to help us, we didn’t have any black literature courses, black theater. How can you not have black theater?…Black Week itself, the involvement in the events, the performances we put on, helped us to realize we really do need all of these things because it’s not easy.

The cover of the magazine published during Black Week and a flyer for a Black Week event. Source: Duke Archives

“WATER BOILING”

Political tensions in the United States, and specifically in the Southeast, had been escalating through 1968 and 1969. Across the country, black college students were participating in protests to carve out space for themselves at white institutions of higher-learning. At Duke, the majority of black undergraduate students were involved in the planning of the demonstration.

Chuck Hopkins: I was aware of what was happening on other campuses as far as black consciousness and, you know, black student groups…I had that kind of consciousness and the other thing…was the real influence of the Durham black community. I think today that looking back, Durham was unique in the United States at that time as far as having one of the most conscious and well-organized black communities.

Catherine LeBlanc: We were in the midst of a civil rights movement as a country. Many of us as elementary students, junior high students had already been on picket lines and participating in some of the sit-ins that had been happening around the country

Michael LeBlanc: 1968 probably was one of the most contentious years the country ever experienced. In ‘68 you had Martin Luther King being assassinated, you had Bobby Kennedy being assassinated, and you had the Democratic Convention. Unrest around the country at universities was at a pretty high point at that time.

Chuck Hopkins: As someone who was organizing trying to get the thing to happen, it was difficult for me to get people to make that commitment to go into the [Allen] building…The turning point for me as an organizer of the thing was when grades came out, first semester grades came out. I had students come to me, black students come to me, who had never participated in any kind of Afro-American society came to me, black students who had never spoken to me, they came to me said, “Chuck we need to do something.“…After that, it was downhill. We had it.

Chuck Hopkins: It was hard to find a black individual at that time who criticized the things that we were trying to do.

Michael LeBlanc: This was not like a Tuesday we said we were going. This was like water boiling. It just got hotter and hotter and hotter.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

On the evening of February 12th, students who decided to enter the Allen Building met to discuss the plans for the following day. Charles C. Becton, a Duke Law student and the sole graduate student to participate in the protest, hosted the meeting at his house off-campus. They discussed the roles and responsibilities of each student, set expectations for how long they might be in the building, and laid out specific ground rules: no students would talk to the press, no students would touch or harm any Duke employees, no students would bring weapons into the building.

Michael McBride: The final plans were laid. That we would arrive early in the morning, that we would exit at the back of the truck, that we would clear the building.

Chuck Hopkins: I called Mark Pinsky at The Chronicle to make sure the national press would cover it…We were smart enough to know back then that we didn’t want it to be an isolated event down here in Durham, we wanted the nation, the world to know what was going on. To their credit, not surprisingly, The Chronicle did an excellent job.

Mark Pinsky (Trinity ‘69, writer for The Chronicle): I was in the third floor of the Flowers Building… I like to refer to those years as The Chronicle’s “Red Years.” So we were journalists, but we were also advocates as well. We understood the contradictions, but we accepted the contradictions. So we had a very strong editorial position in support of the African American issues.

Michael McBride: We discussed whether we would take weapons into the building…We just didn’t think that was wise. We were black folks living in the South. I thought that could only end in disaster…We actually thought there was a real possibility we might be killed anyway. Some people said we were brave, but that’s not a good word. We were not brave. We were young, and so naive…We were too young to be afraid, I’ll put it that way.

Janice Williams: I was a freshman in 1969. You can imagine my eyes were wide open. I was like a deer in headlights. But I was determined to follow them because I too grew up in a family where we were taught the discrimination, the hardships that blacks had suffered. My grandmother told a story to us growing up that her grandmother had actually been a slave and because she would not cry when she was whipped, the slave master cut her thumb off. So what she did was she slung her thumb and the blood and walked off and still did not cry. It was, “Don’t talk back or ask any questions,” because the moral you got was you gon’ be beat, you gon’ be strong, and you’re not going to cry.” So I came here with that kind of mentality and had no idea what I was walking into.

INSIDE THE ALLEN BUILDING

At 8:00 am, the students approached the Allen Building from Flowers Drive in a U-Haul truck. They entered the building, asked the staff to leave, and chained the doors closed. Throughout the day, they played cards, did homework, listened to the news, and answered phones. White students held “sympathy schools” in the upper floors of the Allen Building to discuss how to support the students below, and as the day went on, a crowd gathered around the building to protect and support the students inside.

Michael McBride: It was dark in the truck, and then there was light, and I ran out into the building.

Janice Williams: I had to carry a piece of chain that had been cut a certain length that was to be used to barricade the double doors we were gonna go through.

Chuck Hopkins: I got on the phone, called Dean Griffith and said, “Dean Griffith, this is Chuck Hopkins, chairman of the Afro-American society. We’ve just taken over the administration building. We’re in here now. And these are demands.” I read him the eleven demands. Bill Griffith he sort of stuttered a little bit and he finally said, “Okay Chuck, I’ll get back to you.” That was that.

The demands of the Allen Building protesters. Source: Duke Online Exhibit

Chuck Hopkins: The first time administrators came to our window and they read a statement of all the things they’ve already done for us and demand that we leave the building.

Janice Williams: We all took shifts answering the phones…the phones were very busy. All kinds of people were calling. So friends were calling, other schools were calling, the news-people were calling, The Chronicle was calling, you know? So there was a lot of phone calls that had to be answered, and people would get tired, so then it would be your turn. They’d say, “Oh, I’m sick of these people.” You know, and of course people were calling with ugly stuff. Then you really got sick of those…pretty quick because you didn’t want to be ugly back, and at the point where you would find yourself being ugly back, somebody would say “Okay, your turn is gonna stop.”

Lynette Lewis Allston (Trinity ‘72) took photos from inside the building. Source: Duke Archives

Chuck Hopkins: The second time they were asking us to send representatives to another room in Allen Building and negotiate some things. And we were kind of making progress on that because they were at least talking about the issues we had and our demands. At one point, it looked like something was going to come out of that but then President Knight returned because he was away that day…He returned to campus and President Knight’s position was as long as they’re in the building, they’re not negotiating.

Michael McBride: I remember Tony [Axam] saying “Mike, you gotta dissolve the officers [of the Afro-Am Society]. We can’t have any officers because the university will target the leaders.”

Michael LeBlanc: The school gave us three ultimatums. At the first ultimatum, a number of students decided to leave. This is maybe around 1:00. When you got to the 3:00 time frame, there was another group that decided to go. And then there was a group that just said we are not leaving…Then, we got word from I think The Chronicle, the athletes that were on the walkie-talkies saying [the police] are amassing in Duke Gardens and it’s a whole bunch o’ them and they comin’.

Catherine LeBlanc: We prepared for the incoming of the police and we started to put butts of cigarettes in our noses and we had been told that if we squeeze lemon juice [around] our eyes, it would help to deal with the tear gas.

Michael LeBlanc: I remember back then people used to smoke a lot, so they had these trash cans, black trash cans with the silver top. So we took the silver top off and put it on…So if you ever looked at it, we had filters coming out our noses, lemon in our eyes, crying, and a silver ash tray on top, and we were ready to fight the man. You know, and thinking that that’s gonna work.

Law enforcement gathering in Duke Gardens. Source: Duke University Library Exhibits

LEAVING THE ALLEN BUILDING

President Knight called the police to force the students out of the building. He was later quoted in The Chronicle stating, “Naturally the police have been called. You knew that.” When asked about whether the Board of Trustees would have removed him had he failed to call the police, he responded, “Yes, I would have been removed, but no one ever discussed it.”

Once the protestors received word that the police were assembling in the Duke Gardens, a number of students decided to leave the building. As the doors were now locked both from the inside by the protestors and from the outside by administration, students exited through a window facing Flowers Drive with the help of students on the ground. Twenty five students remained in the building despite the ever-growing threat of violence until around 5:15 pm.

Catherine LeBlanc: The ultimatum comes that they will send police to get us if we don’t leave.

Janice Williams: Howard Fuller came in and actually saved our lives, is what happened, because he and Ben Ruffin and a couple — we had a couple of people from Black Panthers who came to us — they really said, “Look, it’s no way, these walls — nobody can see through them, the guard’s going to come in here, they’ve got weapons, you all are going to be dead. You are going to be a bunch of dead people. Because their adrenaline is pumping and they’re armed for combat. They’re going to come in here to fight. They don’t care what you do. It’s going to be your word against theirs as to what happened inside this building.”

Howard Fuller and Ben Ruffin, community activists in Durham, on the day of the Allen Building Takeover. Source: Duke Online Exhibit

Charles Becton (JD ‘69): We take a vote on whether or not we’re going to stay or leave. The first vote I believe is 13 to 12 to stay in the building…Someone asked for a recount. When they recounted, it was still 13 to stay 12 to go but I announced it as 13 to go and 12 to stay.

Michael LeBlanc: I am so glad he lied.

Janice Williams: The guys, being very proud, very much double standard in a sense, said the only way they were coming out was if they came out a door…I climbed out the window…

When I left out of the building, I really was scared to death that I was really going to get to see what I had only been reading about or seeing the aftermath of in Alabama. And that I didn’t come to school for that…And I really just believe it was fate that I ran into the security guard that was the one I saw the most whenever I was coming back on East Campus past curfew…I think he used his guts and his instincts to say, “Let me trust this young lady and open this door.”…I was so happy that they came out before the National Guard came, you know. Just so relieved.

The protesters renamed the Allen Building the Malcolm X Liberation School in solidarity with protests around the country. After vacating the Allen Building, the protesters and their supporters walked down Chapel Drive. Source: Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project, courtesy of The Herald Sun

“WE’RE THE ENEMY”

When law enforcement officers found the building empty, they exited onto the main quad where over 1,000 students had gathered. Some 70 Durham city policeman, twenty-five highway patrolmen, and twelve Durham County sheriff’s deputies began making arrests and using tear gas, with National Guard troops on standby off-campus. Forty-five people were reportedly treated in the Emergency Room at Duke Hospital, two of them police officers, for injuries ranging from inhalation of tear gas to second-degree burns, head wounds, and separated knees and elbows. This violent clash, lasting almost 90 minutes, is unparalleled in Duke’s history.

Michael LeBlanc: They were throwing tear gas and coming through literally as we were walking out, but there were also people out front. The caucasian students…if they had not linked arms to protect us…we might be here but, I don’t know if all of our limbs would be working the same way.

Michael McBride: Some of us went to Canterbury Hall across the street.

Janice Williams: We went up to the third floor of Canterbury and we were able to go into rooms and look out the window at the Allen Building and watch the guard come up out of the Gardens…When they came out, a couple of the students heckled them. They laughed at them, and said “a-ha-ha-ha-ha” and threw spitballs. When they threw those spitballs, the guards went crazy. They threw the tear gas canisters and they were ready to fight.

Michael McBride: I may have felt good that [the white students] got tear gassed, I really don’t know. Good in the sense that they see that the authorities don’t care about them so much either. They can see that their skin won’t protect them from the man.

Reed Kramer (Trinity ‘69): We’d been in protests many of us, but we didn’t have the experience of police coming on campus. That was the first time they had ever done that. So we didn’t know what counter-measures we could take so we just showed up and we got more and more people out there while the negotiations were going on. Eventually, the black students came out of the building and left, basically, so a lot of the tear gas was directed at us. We ended up in the Chapel, and the tear gas came in there, too.

Wade Norris (Trinity ‘69), as quoted in The Chronicle: Police were there with all their riot gear on. It looked like something out of the 21st century. People at Duke had never seen anything like that before. If anything would have been a greater magnet for the anger and aggression of the students, they would have needed big neon signs saying, ‘We’re the enemy.’

Ike Thomas (Trinity ‘69): One of the enduring memories I have is seeing police officers with face masks down…and this is a very small detail, but nobody had on a nameplate and in riot situations. People don’t wear their name plates because they don’t want to be accountable for what happened.

Brenda Armstrong, as quoted in The Chronicle: For a moment, the innocent bystanders were treated just as those who were sympathetic or involved in the takeover. For that brief moment, everybody understood the desperation, the feeling of not having any options, of not even having a free, unbiased audience to hear complaints. They felt what it was like to not be heard.

Tear gas scatters the onlookers and supporters outside of Allen Building. Source: Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project, courtesy of The Herald Sun

THE AFTERMATH

Leaving the building was a matter of safety, not defeat. The next day, continuing to pressure the administration to meet their demands, black students began a boycott of classes. The university charged 25 protesters with violating the “Pickets and Protest” policy. On March 19, a Hearing Committee chaired by law professor A. Kenneth Pye heard the charges. The firm Chambers and Ferguson donated their legal services to support the students.

Black student relied on a strategy of solidarity. Despite the fact that their grades would be impacted, no student broke the boycott until it was collectively called off. Despite the risk of expulsion, black students who were not in the Allen Building signed affidavits claiming that they were. Ultimately, the administration gave 47 students a one year probation. No record exists of any law enforcement officer being disciplined for use of force.

On Saturday, February 15, members of the Afro-American Society met with administrators for three hours. The administration guaranteed to meet most of the demands, and to implement others to some degree. The summer transitional program and Black Studies Department were established soon after the protest.

Michael McBride: When I called [my father] after the Takeover to let him know I was okay, he asked me what was I gonna do. I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Well, pack your stuff and come home.” And I said, “Okay,” but I had no intention of doing that, and I didn’t…Because the fight wasn’t over. You can’t start something without finishing it, especially something like that…

We felt that a boycott would pressure the university because the university would look bad if all the black students left…It’s one of those things that as an old man, I wouldn’t do, but as a young man, I was willing to do…We weren’t so much thinking of ourselves as those who would come after us.

Mark Pinsky: [The average student] didn’t care. Didn’t care until the tear gas began going off and drifting into different buildings. So there were people who were not at all radicalized who didn’t like the idea of cops on the campus, who didn’t like tear. So one of the more popular slogans that was on a placard the next day was “You use gas, so we cut class.”

Social change …I would say this is self-flattering….is a redemptive minority. It’s always a minority. So in the 60s, everybody wasn’t involved. A small percentage of people at elite white and black colleges. Gradually opposition to the war grew in 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, but back in ’69, not so much. There were a lot of people who hated us, really. They wanted to get on with their careers and making money.

Edward J. Burns (Trinity ‘29), in a letter to President Knight after the Takeover: I do not think that the vast majority of Negroes qualify for attending Duke in any respect…Duke was a much better institution in a number of ways before they were admitted.

Michael McBride: I became a chain smoker. Phillip Cousin and Father Porter said that there was a dark cloud over me and they got somebody to counsel me…I think the pressure of the boycott affected me. I felt badly about that. I felt some responsibility for some of those students not coming back [due to low grades] because they tried to adhere to the boycott.

William Werber (Trinity ‘30), in a letter to President Knight after the Takeover: It also seems to me that these [n*****s] at Duke, and the description is carefully chosen, ought to get down on their knees every night and offer prayers of thankfulness for the privilege of attending a white University and white expense…It is nothing less than a tragedy that you fail to expel them now.

Charles Becton: Our strategy [for the judicial process] was to get everyone, all the blacks on campus, to sign a document saying that they were in the building…We figured the university would not suspend all black students…That actually worked and in fact that was part of the judgement that was rendered on.

Michael LeBlanc: Even though all black students did not go into the building, it was really hard to put their names on something that–we thought we were getting expelled. And to get expelled back then, especially as a guy, you going to Vietnam and there are a couple of us that are not here as a result of that….so it was very critical that the whole black community come together.

Charles Becton: As part of [our lawyer’s] closing argument, he said: “It’s not just the students on trial, it’s the university on trial.”

LIFE AFTER THE TAKEOVER

The Allen Building Takeover was not just a pivotal moment in Duke history, but significant to each of the protester’s lives.

Michael LeBlanc: When the police were coming in…that was just a very dangerous situation but the way that the university students and the black students pulled together. Some of us would not be here if the caucasian students had not protected us from the police…For me going to corporate America it made me more open to working in coalitions and understand that there is no all evil there is no all good there’s just people.

Michael McBride: I’m not sure when the FBI started watching me, but they did. I found out when I got ready to leave Durham. I was working at a post office…The FBI came by the post office…He said to me, “I heard you were leaving town soon so I rushed right down here.” “How did you know I was leaving town soon?” He said, “Well, I guess I picked it up somewhere.” He started to ask me about people I knew, he said, “Well, what’s Tony Axam doing?” I said, “Well how do you know Tony Axam?” And so he told me, you know, “Well, you know, we watched all you guys, we kept files on you.” I said, “Why?” And he said, “We didn’t know where your loyalties were.”

And until that happened I thought we were all flattering ourselves, you know, saying the FBI was keeping files on us but we weren’t, they were…They kept files on a lot of black students at white colleges. Fortunately that hasn’t affected me afterwards. It just shows you how we were viewed by the government.

When the protesters left the building, they left behind a mock FBI record. Source: Duke Online Exhibit

Catherine LeBlanc: I was sort of bathed in the commitment to wanting to make a difference in my community and so from that point on every job I took–whether it was corporate or not–involved me in some way with the black community. And after being in corporate for about 15 years, I did not have the same sense of purpose and fulfillment with my jobs in corporate. And so I actually left corporate.

And I remember a friend of mine saying to me, “You know, you are Harvard MBA. Why are you going to work for the Atlanta public schools?” He said, “You are an anachronism from the ‘60s.” …At that time, I guess I was. This was in the ‘80s. I left because of the level of commitment that had really gotten galvanized out of the experience, 1969, and at a certain point it just would not be silent, that desire to want to do something that would have a deeper impact on people of color every day…Since then I have worked in the non-profit sector. I have worked in the public sector. And I just have a very strong sense of purpose about my life and what I do.

Michael McBride: [The protest] was important to us, and it’s been validated through the years. One of my personal physicians some years ago said, “I had a daughter who came to Duke,” and he said, “I want to thank y’all for what you did.”

50 YEARS LATER

In February of 2019, many of the original Allen Building protestors and their families met for a weekend long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the takeover. From the Washington Duke Inn to the Nasher Museum of Art, the event celebrated the Takeover and its participants –a sharp contrast to how the students were treated 50 years earlier. The events included remarks from the chair of Duke’s African and African American studies program, members of Duke’s senior leadership team, testimony of the original protestors, and reflections of current students.

Dean Valerie Ashby (Dean of Trinity College), in an address to Allen Building protesters: I go into my office which is 104 Allen Building, which is right outside where you did your work and I am not confused. I am not confused about how I am able to walk into that office every day. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You began a movement in 1969 the benefits of which my colleagues are reaping every day. Our job is to make you proud.

Professor Mark Anthony Neal, in an address to Allen Building protestors: I speak with you…as the James B. Duke professor and chair of the nationally and internationally renowned Department of African and African-American studies in large part because of the vision and bravery of those students.

President Vincent Price, in an address to the Allen Building protesters: The occupation of the Allen Building was one of the most pivotal moments in our university’s history, a moment that would not have been possible without your courage and conviction and your willingness to stand up for what was right. In the actions that you took you forever shifted our sails toward the prevailing winds of justice and equality.

In the panels and our interviews, the protesters had varying opinions on being honored for actions that were condemned 50 years ago.

Vaughn C Glapion (Trinity ‘71): This weekend certainly was not President Price’s idea…If it weren’t for Cat LeBlanc, Bertie Howard, and other people part of the steering committee, I don’t know if this weekend would have happened…When I walk across campus, I don’t feel any more welcome now then back then. When I look around at everyone walking around campus, I don’t see any more flavor.

Janice Williams: You’re still invisible when you walk on Duke’s campus…I don’t want to contribute all of that necessarily to racism. I think some of that has to also do with the vast mix. You’re not in a microcosm of the Southeast where we’re taught to speak or you get in trouble if you don’t say hey to everybody…It’s almost the same feeling as when you go to New York.

Vaughn C. Glapion: I think the Washington Duke Inn was a great place to have the event. All I’m saying is when I went in there, I had a feeling of the old, entrenched plantation system…That Washington Duke Inn kind of reinforced what Duke really is…how entrenched racism is in American life.

When the protesters left the building, they left behind a mock FBI record. Source: Duke Online Exhibit

Vaughn C. Glapion pictured in the November 5, 1968 edition of The Chronicle protesting the playing of “Dixie” at a Duke football game. Source: Duke Chronicle

Michael McBride: I didn’t realize how ambivalent I was about Duke until about…Do you remember the Duke Lacrosse thing? Not long after that happened, I was part of a focus group in the Atlanta area that Duke had had. It was all black students in the focus group. I was the oldest one there, and the young alumni were very positive about Duke, about the experience they had.

I remember one young woman saying she could not understand how anyone who finished Duke could not support the school because she had a great experience and she would always support it so that others could have the kind of experience that she had. She convinced me to start contributing to the alumni fund, but you could tell how young the alumni were based on how positive their experience was, because mine was the most negative, and then the next oldest person was a little less negative, and then, you know, they became positive.

Catherine LeBlanc: We were just very pleased at this point that the university recognizes that something good took place and we really did make a contribution and whenever you get affirmed, I don’t care how long it takes, it makes a difference….Whenever you make a choice to take a stand in what you believe, you just have to prepared for the consequences, whatever form those consequences might take.

Original Allen Building takeover participants gather for a group portrait at Duke Gardens. Source: Duke University Communications

Janice Williams: I noticed this at the panel. All the people who got up to speak, other than us, got up to say, “Thank you so much, I wouldn’t have had my job if it hadn’t been for you.” But you didn’t see one white person say, “Thank you so much for enriching my life and enabling me to have to work for or alongside these people who are here.” I think that would have made a difference in your perspective on whether Duke has really made it.

Michael McBride: I think Duke had to be pushed. All institutions have to be pushed, even-so called “liberal institutions.” Institutions forget their missions, and they start to exist solely to exist. They just want to perpetuate themselves. They just want to live, it’s almost like an organism…

I could’ve left and gone to a black school, but we couldn’t do that. So we decided to fight. Freedom riders made sacrifices, people lost their lives. So I could fail some classes. I didn’t lose my life…I still had, and I’m still having a good life, is all I’ve got to say. I didn’t see that I had a choice. I don’t think that many of us felt that we had a choice. That’s what black people had to do. You had to fight. You had to win some battles, you lose some battles, but the struggle goes on.

Authors’ Note

As Duke commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover in February 2019, many of the original protestors gathered at Duke, creating a unique opportunity for journalists and documentarians to capture their stories. This oral history pulls heavily from a panel discussion that took place at the 50th Anniversary event. The panel featured Catherine LeBlanc, Michael LeBlanc, Janice Williams, Chuck Thompson, Michael McBride, and Charles Becton. We drew from speeches made over the course of the weekend by Catherine LeBlanc, Dean Valerie Ashby, Professor Mark Anthony Neal, and President Vincent Price.

We also conducted in-person interviews with Reed Kramer, Mark Pinsky, and Michael LeBlanc, as well as phone interviews with Janice Williams and Michael McBride. We also facilitated a conversation between Vaughn Glapion and Janice Williams. We had the benefit of 50 years of archival material with which to further tell this story. We spoke with University Archivist Val Gillespie and drew from the President Douglas Knight papers, previous editions of The Chronicle, the Allen Building Takeover Oral History Collection, the interviews of Bill Turner and Janice Williams conducted by Don Yanella in 1985, and the exhibition of the Allen Building Takeover curated by Alan Ko, Zara Porter, Alexandra Kadis, and Ellen Song.

It is our hope that current and future Duke students will see the Allen Building Takeover as the protestors did–as a complex event, as significant to understanding the challenges of minorities today, and as an incredible risk taken by students for the future of our university.

Sarah Xu

Sarah Xu is a rising sophomore who plans to major in public policy with a certificate in documentary studies.

Rachel Rubin

Rachel Rubin (Public Policy Studies ‘19) works as a program administrator for a drug court in Southern West Virginia and is committed to justice, human dignity, and storytelling.