On this date in 1968, a student-led strike at San Francisco State University led to the suspension of classes. The Black Student Union and a multicultural group of student activists known collectively as the Third World Liberation Front joined forces to challenge SFSU to make ethnic studies a part of its curriculum and to protest the Vietnam War.
The strike is considered by historians to be the longest U.S. student strike in history, and the five-month event caught the attention of the administration and the nation. Beginning in November 1968, the TWLF’s coalition began to mobilize across nearly all ethnic groups pushing for the same goal. At the time, widespread rioting and looting was reported. While that did occur, archival footage shows that police were violent towards the students, escalating a peaceful strike.
Despite the pushback faced by the TWLF and SFSU’s BSU, they ultimately prevailed in the creation of an ethnic studies course on campus. Other schools and universities were inspired by the TWLF’s successful efforts and followed suit with their own ethnic studies courses on their respective campuses. The strike ended in March 1969, and has been hailed as an early victory in the name of progressive and youth-led political movements.
In 2008, SFSU commemorated the event by celebrating the strike’s 40th anniversary and honoring its impact in changing the course of history. Veteran actor Danny Glover was a student at SFSU during this period, although he didn’t graduate from the school.
Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who was the city’s first Black mayor, was a lawyer at the time who worked on behalf of students jailed during the protests. Former U.S. Congressman and former Oakland mayor Ron Dellums also represented several of the students from the strikes as well.
PHOTO: San Francisco State University