The Matheson History Museum commemorated the actions of University of Florida students who fought for their rights to cultivate a black community on campus.
“We are so excited to celebrate the 51st anniversary of Black Thursday at the University of Florida,” said Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney, director of the Matheson History Museum, at an event celebrating the 51st anniversary of Black Thursday at UF. .
The celebration included details of the historical, cultural and institutional impact of the protest, and was held virtually and in person Thursday at the museum located at 513 E. University Ave.
The event also featured the exhibit “We’re Tired of Asking: Black Thursday and Civil Rights at the University of Florida,” which was researched and curated by UF graduate Alana Gomez.
On April 15, 1971, known as “Black Thursday,” about 70 students marched through President Stephen C. O’Connell’s office at Tigert Hall with a list of demands, including that the university address the shortage of black faculty and students at UF.
David A. Canton, Ph.D., director of African American studies at UP, paid tribute to the students who protested.
“I am the result of the work that students sacrificed 51 years ago today,” Canton said. “When you think of Black Thursday, you have to think of the impact of the Black Power movement
Students were protesting institutionalized racism at UF and demanding the creation of the Institute of Black Culture, more black faculty and staff, and more teaching about black studies, Canton said.
The protests caused a wave of change around the university.
The Institute of Black Culture was established in the fall of 1971 and was dedicated on February 11, 1972. The University Senate worked to meet BSU’s demands and increase the number of black students and faculty .
“The student protests were a nationwide movement across the country,” Canton said.
E. Stanley Richardson, Alachua County Poet Laureate and Matheson History Museum Board Member, wrote a poem titled “Golden” about Black Thursday and shared it with the public.
He spoke of his experience in 1970 when he was integrated into Alachua Elementary School from Mebane High School, which was the K-12 separate school in Alachua.
He remembers that the school year ended when he was in the second year and Mebane high school became a middle school.
He recited this verse from his poem: “Our cup is tilted, how agency flows from below upwards, Makes it difficult to measure our victories and our displeasure—eternal. A free feather falls from the sky into the abyss. A thread of silk floats on the breath of Babylon.
Next, Hof-Mahoney described how Gomez created the exhibit.
Gomez recently graduated from UF with a double major in history and English.
She became interested in African American studies when she took a class on race and disability with her advisor, Steven Noll, during her sophomore year.
After taking the course, she was inspired to work with Noll on her graduation thesis dedicated to uncovering the history of Black Thursday.
“Being able to turn her memoir into a piece of public history is a really difficult task and she did an admirable job,” Hof-Mahoney said.
Hof-Mahoney read Gomez’s remarks to the audience.
“In 1969, as black students entered historically white colleges and universities, they found themselves lost in a sea of white faces,” Gomez wrote. “In seclusion from all comfort or familiarity.”
Gomez described the experiences of two students who felt like they were in a foreign land when they integrated into white colleges.
She said a student named Stan Herring from Ganon University described his experience as a school with the following words: “I felt like a lonely man – a stranger in a foreign land.”
“With the precedence of the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement, these angsty students knew what they had to do,” Gomez wrote. “In order to get the attention of the watchdog organizations and state governors who have worked to keep their voices quiet, they have to find a way to make them listen, they have to speak loud and clear.
The keynote speaker for the event was Betty Stewart-Fullwood, Ph.D.
Stewart-Fullwood was an undergraduate at UF in 1971 who participated in the Black Thursday protests and withdrew with other black and white students when demands for better terms were not met.
She is originally from Gainesville and graduated from the former all-black Lincoln High School, attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach before moving to Gainesville where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Master of Arts in Psychology social and a doctorate. Diploma in Counselor Training from UF.
She showed photos and articles about what happened during the Black Thursday protests and spoke about the demands of the Black Student Union.
“Black students had been requesting a meeting with Dr. O’Connell for months and it kept being denied,” Stewart-Fullwood said.
She showed a copy of her withdrawal form.
“History is important,” Stewart-Fullwood said. “I’m so glad I took the time to keep the items and try to remember what was going on at the time. I think that’s really important. Like Alana [Gomez] said, “Everyone commemorates Black Thursday except the University of Florida.”