Afro-American Society/Black Students' Union Collection
Scope and Contents
This collection includes only documents that were recovered from the Black Students' Union space in The Octagon in the Spring of 2016. These documents range from the founding constitutions of both the Afro-American Society and the Black Students' Union to clippings and ephemera produced by allied student groups such as La Causa and the Asian Students Association.
Incoming and outgoing correspondence has been kept together and organized chronologically; newsletters and flyers for events are included, but these holdings are far from complete. The BSU Correspondence file for the 1980s includes details of the 1988 renovation of the Octagon.
Series 3 is a catch-all for material not produced by the Afro-American Society or the Black Students' Union, but directly related to the mission and activities of these groups. Because these materials were part of the group transferred from the Octagon, they will be retained with this collection rather than disbursed. Documents in this series include newsletters, flyers, and correspondence of other student groups as well as Amherst College programs such as Black Alumni Weekend and the Minority Mentoring Program.
The file "Rodney King Verdict Protest, May 1992" includes a list of student demands submitted to President Pouncey and the President's formal statement in response to the protests.
The two issues of "Black Woman's Newsletter" from 1991 appear to be the earliest Amherst College student publication specifically for women of color. These two issues are the only copies held by the Archives.
Series 4 includes all video and audio recordings transferred from the Octagon; it also includes a small group of unidentified photographs. The video reels were digitized in fall 2016 and are available for viewing in the Archives. As of Spring 2017, none of the audio recordings have been digitized.
- Creation: 1969-2016
- Amherst College. Afro-American Society (Organization)
- Amherst College. Black Students’ Union (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
In general, there is no restriction on access to the collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted.
Conditions Governing Use
Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.
Biographical / Historical
The Afro-American Society at Amherst College was established in 1968 by Harold Wade Jr. ‘68, and is the predecessor to today’s Black Student Union. The Afro-American Society was the first black-majority organization at the College and its formation was inspired by the Afro-American Society at Mount Holyoke College. The main objective of the association was to develop and promote an awareness of Blackness and Black heritage not only among the Black student body, but within the non-black communities at Amherst College as well. Over the course of the 1970s, the Afro-American Society was very active and successful, establishing the Black Cultural Center in The Octagon (Later the Gerald Penny Memorial Cultural Center), and holding a day of celebration in honor of Professor Sonia Sanchez who was pivotal in the creation of the Black Studies Department at Amherst College. In 1980, the group changed its name to the Black Students’ Union but maintained all of its basic principles. As stated in the BSU Constitution preamble, “The Black Students’ Union at Amherst College evolved from the Afro-American Society as the organization responsible for the articulation and manifestation of the African/ Caribbean/ American experience on campus. As such, the BSU recognizes its primary function as a support system for those students of African/ Caribbean descent. This support comes in the form of many programs exploring our culture, manifesting our culture, and preserving our culture in the context of our immediate academic environment.”
4 Linear feet
Language of Materials
This collection includes documents that were recovered from the Black Students' Union space in The Octagon in the Spring of 2016. These documents range from the founding constitutions of both the Afro-American Society and the Black Students' Union to clippings and ephemera produced by allied student groups such as La Causa and the Asian Students Association.
One of the original functions of the Black Student Center in The Octagon, was to serve as a resource center for black cultural materials, including a library supported by The Posner Fund. For most of the life of the Afro-American Society/Black Students' Union, the group did not deposit any materials in the Archives. Recognizing the lack of security for important documents in the history of students of color at Amherst College, this collection was transferred from The Octagon to the Archives in May 2016.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
In the Spring 2016 semester, four students designed a Special Topics Course on the subject of "The Black Experience at Amherst College." In the course of their work, the students sorted through the papers in The Octagon and brought a significant group of materials to the Archives, including several video recordings of events in the 1970s. The students responsible for the creation of this collection are: Matt Randolph ’16 (BSU Historian 2015-16); Amira Lundy-Harris ’16; Ajanae Bennett ’16; and Darienne Madlala ’16 (co-founder of ACSU).
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