Monday, February 1, 2016

The Founding Years of UNCG's Neo-Black Society, 1968-1973

In November 1967, UNCG hosted a Black Power Forum, organized in large part by the UNCG Student Government Association to "inform students and faculty members of this movement and its actions and to give us a chance to discuss Black Power, its history, its political and social implications for us and the nation." The forum was organized around three topics: "Black Power past and present," "the ghetto," and "Black Power and the self-image of the Negro." Speakers from across the country were brought in for presentations and discussions held in Cone Ballroom.


This event on UNCG's campus took place in the midst of major national protests, riots, and changes. African American students at UNCG began discussing the need for a formally-recognized student organization to represent their needs and issues. As Marie Darr Scott (class of 1970) noted in her 2011 oral history interview, "this Black Power Forum was just—I mean, it just opened up a whole new thought and mind for the black students at UNCG ... Not everyone got involved but almost all of the black students were interested in forming a black student organization on campus."

At the start of the 1968-1969 academic year, students officially petitioned for and received university recognition for the Neo-Black Society (NBS). The NBS stated three major goals of the organization: "1) to help in voter registration drives, 2) to work with the Greensboro United Tutorial Service (a community group aimed at connecting college students with community educational efforts), and 3) to try to help establish an Afro-American history course on this campus." An October 18, 1968, editorial article in The Carolinian student newspaper reported that the organization was "a group of students who are willing to work within the framework of our society to bring about constructive and much-needed change."

From the outset, there were tensions; some students accused the NBS of "reverse racism." But the NBS continued pushing towards its stated goals and mission of working for change. In 1968, the NBS was recognized by UNCG's Student Government Association (SGA), meaning it was able to acquire funding from the university to support its work and events.

In 1971, the NBS received lounge space in Elliott Hall following a petition drive which garnered 106 signatures. The petition itself stated that "the lounge can serve the following three basic functions: a) the lounge will provide an atmosphere conducive for a united effort towards educating ourselves in respect to those elements of our culture that are beyond the traditional realms of the university curriculum, b) it will develop a cultural awareness of those artistic accomplishments of Black people that should be used to further the cultural enrichment of this campus, and c) it will provide a positive atmosphere that will enable Black students to enter into meaningful relationships which we believe will alleviate the following problems of Black students on this campus: 1) the lack of social activities that are appealing to Black students, 2) the lack of appeal to prospective and incoming Black students, and 3) the lack of an atmosphere that is beneficial in alleviating the tensions and the apprehensions caused by our position as a minority group on this campus."

Two students in the NBS lounge in late 1971


By 1973, however, the allocation of student funds to NBS was questioned by several white students who claimed that the organization was in violation of the SGA constitution and by-laws because it "discouraged white membership" and was allegedly affiliated with a "national militant organization." Stay tuned next week for a post on this funding conflict and its resolution.

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