On Nov. 7, 1967, the Black Student Movement (BSM) at UNC was formed to unite Black students and give them a voice at the University. By 1969, Black students made up about 1.4 percent of the population. It quickly grew into something that Black students on campus supported.
Chris Suggs, president of UNC BSM, is a junior and has been involved since he was a first-year student.
“Our primary focus is to create an environment where Black students feel engaged, empowered and comfortable here at Carolina,” Suggs said.
One of the first things the group did was give then Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson a list of demands to improve conditions for Black students on campus.
“They have continued to challenge some of the things that we accept to just be,” Dexter Robinson, a member of the UNC Class of 2006, said.
Robinson has long been involved with UNC. After graduating in 2006, he worked with the Carolina College Advising Corps and as an academic advisor for the campus.
“One of the things that will always be memorable in my mind is the worker’s right compensation,” Robinson said. “Making sure the folks that are on campus are treated fairly.”
In February 1969, there was a UNC Food Workers Strike. Preston Dobbins, the first president of the newly formed BSM, became a leader in this movement as well. Despite attempts by law enforcement to quell the protests with force, the overwhelming support of faculty and students could not be suppressed.
Years later, BSM was heavily involved with the opening of the Black Cultural Center in the Student Union on July 1, 1988. It was renamed after faculty member Sonja Haynes Stone after her passing in 1991, establishing what is known today as the Sonja Haynes Stone Center. In 1993, the University approved the creation of a free-standing building that was later opened in 2001.
UNC Alum Jim Tanner, class of 1990, said BSM heavily supported the opening of the center.
“My freshman year there was a march organized by the Black Student Movement at the time,” Tanner said. “We marched to the Chancellor’s Office in support of opening a Black Cultural Center.”
At UNC, Tanner has served on the Board of Visitors as well as the Morehead-Cain Central Selection Committee and Board of Directors.
During his time at Carolina, Tanner says the organization was popular amongst students.
“It was something that everyone was a part of and everyone engaged with,” Tanner said.
Today, BSM hosts a wide variety of events on campus for its members and the campus community as a whole.
“Anything from educational empowerment and academic resources to just making sure that students are doing all this for the primary reason we are here at school: to obtain a degree,” Suggs said. “But we also have lots of fun and entertainment events. We host parties, social gatherings and movie nights.”
Seven years after King’s visit, the formation of the Black Student Movement changed the course of UNC's development over the next 53 years.
When asked what they had done for the University, Robinson laughed and responded, “What haven’t they done?”
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