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Student Activism at Duke University

Created by Jamie Patrick-Burns, 2014-2015 University Archives Drill Intern.

Allen Building Takeover Supporters Being Tear-Gassed, February 13, 1969

Allen Building Takeover, February 13, 1969Allen Building Takeover Supporters Being Tear-Gassed photograph, February 13, 1969, from the University Archives Photograph Collection, box 54.

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The Allen Building Takeover, 1969

On February 13, 1969, between 50 and 75 Duke University students (many of whom were members of the Afro-American Society) occupied the Allen Building (Duke's main administration building) to bring attention to the needs of African-American students. These needs included an African-American studies department, a black student union, protection from police harassment, and increased enrollment and financial support for black students.

The students remained barricaded in the Allen Building for most of the day, leaving sometime after 5:00 PM after an ultimatum from the Duke administration. Although their exit was peaceful, a large crowd of mostly white students had gathered outside the building during the day, and this crowd and the police became entangled. The police fired tear gas on the students, prompting further campus protests.

In March, after discussions between the Afro-American Society and the administration over the development of the African-American Studies program ended in disagreement, Duke students and their supporters marched in downtown Durham. Dozens of Duke's African-American students threatened to leave campus to attend the Malcolm X Liberation University, a newly-developed school led by community activist Howard Fuller. On March 19, 1969, a University Hearing Committee found the students who had occupied the Allen Building guilty of violating university regulations. All defendants were sentenced to one year of probation.

This powerful demonstration became known as the Allen Building Takeover.

Allen Building Takeover: Getting Started

Secondary Sources: These items include student research papers and honors theses, as well as scholarly books and articles.

  • Ellis, Atiba. "The Occupation of the Allen Building at Duke University: The Synthesis of Student Revolts." History 93S research paper, 1992. Available in the Department of History Records, box 6.
  • Fair, Bryan K. "The Allen Building Takeover: Origins of Black Student Protests at Duke University, 1966-1999." Undergraduate History research paper, 1982. Available in the Department of History Records, box 7.
  • Kendall, Deborah. "Framing the Takeover: How Local Newspapers Reported the February, 1969 Racial Demonstrations at Duke University." Undergraduate research paper, 1983. Available in the Student Papers Reference Collection, box 1. 
    • This research paper includes clippings from area newspapers about the Allen Building Takeover.
  • Lundberg, Greg. "Black Power and the Allen Building Takeover: A Culmination of Issues." Undergraduate research paper, 1986. Available in the Student Papers Reference Collection, box 1.

Campus Publications:

  • The Duke Chronicle: Includes coverage of the Takeover and and the campus and Durham response. Issues of the Chronicle from this time period may also be accessed online.

Related Websites:

  • The Student Activism album on the Duke University Archives' Flickr site contains several photos from the Allen Building Takeover.
  • Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project: Hosted by the North Carolina Collection at the Durham County Library, this site presents brief histories and photos of Civil Rights Movement actions in Durham, including the Allen Building Takeover is included.
  • Remembering WDBS: Duke alum Jeff Miller shares several photos of the 1969 Allen Building Takeover at the bottom of his website about Duke's WDBS radio station.

Allen Building Takeover: Archival Collections

Key Collection:

  • Allen Building Takeover Collection, 1969-2019: This collection documents Black Culture Week, the Allen Building Takeover, reactions on campus and in the community, and subsequent events. The collection has been fully digitized, and the documents may be viewed at the link above.

Other Relevant Collections:

  • Department of African and African American Studies Records, 1966-1981: One of the demands of the Takeover was the "establishment of a fully-accredited department of Afro-American Studies." After the Takeover, a student-faculty committee was organized to make this a reality. The collection has been fully digitized, and the documents may be viewed at the link above.
  • Harry Jackson Papers, 1969: A first-hand account of the Takeover by a Duke staff member, including copies of relevant administrative memoranda. A copy of Jackson's account is also included in the Allen Building Takeover Collection.
  • Douglas M. Knight Records, 1949-1970: Knight was president of Duke University during the Allen Building Takeover; he resigned soon after. Box 1 contains information and correspondence about what was then referred to as the "Afro-American Situation."
  • Office of the University Registrar Records, 1853-2023: Then located in the Allen Building, the Office of the Registrar was a target for the occupying students. Box 19 contains documentation about the Takeover, including copies of letters written by students to their families that were abandoned when they left the building.
  • Edward A. Tiryakian Papers, 1963-2008: Tiryakian taught in the department of Sociology from 1965-2004. Box 1 of his papers contains a small amount of materials on the Allen Building Takeover. 

Photograph and Audio/Visual Collections:

  • University Archives Photograph Collection, 1861-ongoing: Box 54 includes photographs of the Allen Building Takeover, including several photos taken by Duke administrators of the interior of the Allen Building after the departure of the students (see the folder titled "Allen Building Takeover, 1969 (Transferred from School of Law Records, A. Kenneth Pye Series)").
  • WDBS Collection, 1949-1983: Includes WDBS broadcasts about the Allen Building Takeover, including recordings of speakers and campus discussions.
    • Note: Please request the use copies (audiocassettes) of these recordings.