Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Previous Exhibition

UJIMA: Collective Activism at the University of Michigan

This exhibit focuses on the concept of Ujima as it pertains to activism on the campus of the University of Michigan over the years, from the first African American students through the end of the 2010s.. We will explore how collective action can lead to powerful movements and present a chronological timeline that demonstrates the importance of community resulting in transformation. By seeing how collective action can lead to powerful movements, we seek to demonstrate the importance of community resulting in transformation. the The photos and articles are primarily from the DAAS collection within the Bentley Historical Library as well as  the archives of the Michigan Daily unless otherwise noted.

This exhibit is dedicated to the students, faculty, staff and alumni of the University of Michigan, who envisioned and exemplified the principle of Ujima to bring about a more inclusive and equitable university through their thoughts and actions. 

Curators: Elizabeth James, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies Program Associate, and the Black Student Union, (Justin Williams-Education and Research Chair, Solomon Lucy - Seba, Kai Dotson - Academic Concerns Chair, and Danielle Williams- Mass Communications Chair).

Narrator: Zoe Allen (DAAS Alumna)

Visual & Audio Tour Experience

Click the buttons below to be guided through this exhibition. Click the "+" to expand the sections.   

The Trailblazers

These individuals became activists through their very presence as they integrated the University of Michigan  campus. They  persevered to complete their degrees and continued working for equality  once they graduated. 


In 1853, Samuel Codes Watson was the first African American student admitted to the University. Born in South Carolina in 1832, Watson was mixed race and passed for white while attending Michigan. In 1857 he received his M.D. from Cleveland Medical College, as one of the first African Americans to do so. He later became Detroit’s first elected African American city official to the Detroit city council and was declared the city’s richest black property owner in 1867.


Mary Henrietta Graham was the first African American woman admitted to the University of Michigan (1876). Following graduation, she married Ferdinand Barnett, a journalist/activist and had two children. Barnett later married journalist/ anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells after Graham died in 1890.

Cornelius Langston Henderson, 1911.


Cornelius Langston Henderson was born in Detroit on 1888, and became the second African American to earn an engineering degree from the University of Michigan in 1911. In 1929, Henderson revolutionized the engineering field with the construction of the first all-welded-steel factory, the General Electric building in Peterborough, Canada. Henderson contributed his engineering expertise and knowledge of architectural design to two of the greatest Great Lakes Regions projects: the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Henderson was responsible for the structural steel design of the 1929 Ambassador Bridge, and the massive steel tubes of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.Henderson was actively engaged in civil rights for African American Detroiters. During the 1920s the majority of African Americans in Detroit were struggling for adequate housing, health care, wages, jobs, and equal treatment from white business owners.Prior to 1925, African Americans in Detroit suffered unspeakable indignities because of the white-operated cemeteries. In 1925, Henderson helped found Memorial Park in Warren, Michigan, the first African-American owned and operated cemetery in Michigan. Henderson designed and platted the acreage, including the road system and grave arrangements. He died in July 18, 1976, and is buried at the cemetery he designed.


Orval Wardell Johnson was the first non-white student to be elected as Senior Class President of the College of Literature, Science, and Art (1949), winning by a 2:1 margin. Johnson was from Detroit and was a magna cum laude graduate of Northwestern High School senior class.

While at U-M, he enrolled in Latin-American studies and chose that degree because he believed that "colored college students should prepare themselves to invade new fields."

Johnson also was a member of the UM Track and Field team. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds and the 220 in 21.6; one U-M media guide described him as “the speedy Detroit colored boy.” He was a slender 155 pounds, and his 5-foot, 11-inch frame often was immaculately dressed. A four-year letterman, he also was active in the Student Legislature, the Sphinx junior honor society and his East Quad dorm council.

If he stood out, it was because Johnson was exceedingly nice, dubbed “the gentlemanly runner” by coaches and reporters. “If I could make Val mad for a few races,” his coach, Ken Doherty, remarked, “he could become world champion.”

After graduating from UM with a B.A. in Latin American Studies, Johnson moved to Paris to work for the United Nations. Later he would teach at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He then returned to his hometown Detroit to teach high school Spanish. When he died in 1995, he was 69.

Negro-Caucasian Club

Formed in 1925, the Negro-Caucasian Club (its name a reflection of its time) was inspired after a pair of friends, one black and one white, were deliberately given dirty dishes instead of service at a local restaurant. After the club’s contested approval by the faculty senate’s Committee on Student Activities, its first action was to survey white students’ opinions on black people, which found a “belief in the sub-humanity of Negroes and unfamiliarity.” In response, they invited leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain LeRoy Locke and W. E. B. DuBois.

However, the club’s lasting legacy, at least for its members, was a sense of normalcy. One black student wrote, “(the club) helped relieve the Negro student’s sense of isolation.”

Black Action Movement I Origins - 1968

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, students protested against the University of Michigan administration for lack of support for minorities on campus.

Black Student Union Takeover

On April 9, 1968, the day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s burial in Atlanta, the newly formed Black Student Union took over the Administration Building (now the LSA Building) and chained themselves inside for five hours, demanding more funding for African American students and African American faculty hires. After a long talk with President Robben Fleming, the lockout ended. They joined a trend at colleges nationwide demanding the addition of black studies to universities' curricula. This led to the establishment of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies in 1970.

“Black Students Stage Lock-In,” The Michigan Daily, April 10, 1968.

Black Action Movement I - 1970

“OPEN IT UP OR SHUT IT DOWN” - slogan used during protests

The Black Action Movement protests began in late 1969, when black student organizations began to chafe at the slow progress of this proposed integration. Following their decision to become more proactive, the Black Student Union, Black Law Student Alliance, Black Psychologist, and the Black Educational Caucus among others entered into talks with university administrators. Accepting an invitation to dine and discuss with the university president in February 1970, the groups staged a demonstration on his lawn and demanded that by the beginning of the 1973-1974 school year, the number  of African American students and administrators proportionately reflect the state’s 10% black population. Other demands were for better support for minority students, including a recruiter for Chicano students and a Black Student Center, improved financial aid, and the establishment of a Black studies program.

The campaign closed the University of Michigan for 18 days through strikes, protests, picketing, blocking of buildings and streets, and interruption and shutting down of classes. During the last week of the strike, attendance of classes in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) dropped by 75%. The settlement reached on April 1, 1970 included the University's acceptance of the 10% enrollment goal.. In
a speech later that month, U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew. criticized university president Robben Fleming for his “surrender” to the students, calling the university's settlement a “callow retreat from reality.”

BAM I Demands (1970)

The following are a list of the demands BAM issued to the university during the BAM strike:

  1. Ten percent Black enrollment by Fall 1973.
  2. Nine hundred new Black students by Fall 1971 – 450 freshman, 150 transfers, 300 graduate students.
  3. An adequate supportive services program, including financial aid to finance Black students’ education.
  4. Graduate and undergraduate recruiters (9) to recruit Black students.
  5. A referendum to the March Student Government Council ballot to have students vote on assessing themselves $3.00 for one year for the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund.
  6. Tuition waivers for minority group students who are also residents of the state of Michigan.
  7. The establishment of a community-located Black Student Center
  8. All work of a permanent nature on the Black studies program is to be halted until an effective input is fully developed by a community-University forum.
  9. The creation of a University-wide appeal board to rule on the adequacy of financial aid grants to students.
  10. A revamping of the Parent’s Confidential Statement.
  11. There should be one recruit for Chicano students to assure fifty Chicano students by Fall 1970.
  12. Black students are to be referred to as Black, not Negro or anything else.

Founding of Minority Lounges - 1972

In 1972, the Ambatana Lounge became the first residence hall lounge designed as a space reflecting black culture and history. Jon Lockard, Detroit artist and a founding faculty members of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS), painted the mural in the lounge. Members of BAM called for the lounge because they lacked safe and culturally responsive spaces on campus to meet. The name Ambatana (a Swahili word meaning "stick together") was also the name of a South Quad African American student organization.

Black Action Movement II - 1975

The 1975 Black Action Movement II protests came about for a few reasons. One
of these was the lack of progress by the University in implementing the demands of the first movement. Another reason was the expulsion of a black nursing student. The final reason was the University's rejection of a Regent-approved candidate for deanship in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

While almost 300 students occupied the central administration building for three days in February 1975, the protests were considered milder than those of 1970.

Led by a "coalition of Black, Chicano, Asian-American, and Native-American student group representatives," they presented six demands calling for representation ofthe Chicano, Asian American, and Native American communities as well as the reinstatement of the expelled Black, nursing student. The occupiers elected to leave voluntarily after receiving word, from University of Michigan President Robben W. Fleming, that negotiations would take place the following week. Because the protesters were never asked to leave, allowing them freedom to protest, no one was arrested or received any penalty. While the administration building was being occupied, nearly 500 students from the Graduate Employers Organization (GEO) held rallies in support of the occupiers in the plaza outside of the Administration building


The following is a condensation of the BAM demands presented to the University by the Third World Coalition Council (TWCC):

  • That the TWCC be recognized as the sole bargaining agent for people of color in the
  • That Cleopatra Lyons be reinstated in the Nursing School
  • That the job appointment of the Native American advocate be raised from half-time to full-time
  • The establishment of an Asian American Council
  • The establishment of a Chicano Cultural Center
  • Total amnesty from all reprisals for demonstrators

Third World Coalition Council

The following is the set of demands pertaining to enrollment for faculty and students by the Third World Coalition Council:

  • That Blacks constitute ten percent of the student population by September 1975, thirteen percent by September 1976, and a percentage equal to or greater than the percentage of Blacks in the state by September 1977;
  • That each department be ten percent Black; and that the Black student population be half male and half female;
  • That the percentage of Blacks in the overall and in the individual department faculties be ten percent by September 1975, thirteen percent by September 1976, and equal to or greater than the state’s population by September 1977;
  • That all screening and preliminary examination for applicants for these faculty posts be “null and void” until the demanded percentages are met;
    • That the Black United Front be recognized as sole bargaining agent of University Blacks;
    • That the Black United Front be given control of the hiring and firing of all Black administrators, and that the number of Black administrators be increased immediately;
    • That all Black faculty members be granted tenure;
    • That the percentage of Blacks in research programs be raised to the percentage of all Blacks in the state;
    • That all grades of less than ‘A’ for Black students be “neutralized” until the enrollment and 1975 faculty demands are met;
    • That all Black students be exempt from examinations until the enrollment demands are met and until the group “feels there is an adequate Black faculty and administrative body to justly evaluate the academic ability of Black students”;
    • That the percentage of Mexican-American, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans at the University be increased to their corresponding percentage in the U.S. population.

Free South Africa Coordinating Committee (FSACC)

Shanties  were  built  on the U-M Diag to symbolize the general conditions of blacks in South Africa. In this photo, Anthony Vavasis exits the shanty as part of a national period of protests against apartheid and racism. The Free South Africa Coordinating Committee held a rally,  as well as a candlelight vigil on the Diag. The two-week campaign to highlight South Africa culminated on  April 4, 1986 - the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated - with a two-mile march through Ann Arbor.

Copyright: Copyright Protected
Rights Held By: Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News. March 21,  1986, Ann Arbor News.

During the era of the Free South Africa Coordinating Committee’s (FSACC) anti-apartheid shantytown located on the Diag, there were incidents of vandalism and in one case, a shanty was torn down.

FSACC took offense at these acts of vandalism that were not prosecuted by the Ann Arbor police and held a gathering to protest.

10th Anniversary Soweto Uprising

Almost 200 demonstrators turned out for a candlelight vigil  in Ann Arbor to protest apartheid in South Africa. The vigil commemorated the 10th anniversary of bloody anti-apartheid rioting in Soweto, a black township outside of Johannesburg. The demonstration on the University of Michigan Diag coincided with thousands of similar demonstrations around the world.

10th Anniversary Soweto Uprising Vigil

Copyright: Copyright Protected
Rights Held By: Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.Ann Arbor News, June 17, 1986.

Seventeen people were arrested outside the South African embassy in Washington for refusing to move along, and 20 demonstrators tried to disrupt a Lansing news conference held by Vice President George Bush to protest his fund-raising appearance at the home of publisher John McGoff, who has been accused of acting as an agent of the South African government.

Black Action Movement III - 1987

The 1987 Black Action Movement arose after several incidents, including racist jokes that were broadcast during a show at the student-run radio station WJJX; the response of the university and Ann Arbor police departments to a fight on campus; the university housing's efforts to address racist flyers dispersed on campus; and concerns of the African American faculty over the "racial climate on campus."

In 1970, the University announced the goal of having 10 percent Black students to match that of the Black population of the state of Michigan. Black enrollment fluctuated between 4.9 and 7.7 percent before 1987, when percentage of Black students was 5.4. The University's Vice President for Student Services stated that too few high-school graduates from large cities were academically qualified for admission. 

In 1987, more than 250 U-M students from the United Coalition Against Racism blocked the Fleming Building to protest a series of widely-publicized racist events on campus. Black student enrollment had declined by 1987 to 5.3% of the student body from the high of 7.7% in 1976 and never reached the 10% goal targeted by administrators in the early ‘70’s. Demands included that the University close in recognition of MLK Day. The creation of  a position to monitor minority affairs at the University, and an advisory committee including "representatives from Black faculty, student and administrators' organizations and members of the community" to monitor the progress made by the University.

The United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR) - 1987

The United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR)  protested against the prejudice Black and
other minority students faced on the Ann Arbor campus. They also led anti-apartheid protests in solidarity with FSACC.


The following are the twelve demands made to the U-M administration by the United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR). UCAR protested against the prejudice Black and other minority students faced on the Ann Arbor campus.

  1. Submit a specific plan to guarantee a substantial increase in Black student enrollment.
  2. Establish an Office of Minority Affairs with an autonomous supervisory commission elected by the minority campus community.
  3. Create a Financial Aid Appeals  Board to make sure no student is forced out of the University because of economic discrimination.
  4. Establish a mandatory workshop on racism and diversity for all incoming students.
  5. Set up a program of orientation for minority students to meet and talk with the already enrolled minority students and faculty to minimize feelings of isolation.
  6. Institute a program of tuition waivers for all underrepresented and economically disadvantaged minority students until the goals for minority enrollment are realized.
  7. Create a minority Student Lounge and Office in the Michigan Union where minorities can meet in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere on a regular basis.
  8. Establish a required course on diversity and bigotry to be taken by all matriculated students before graduation from the University, with input for the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies.
  9. Full observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday including cancellation of classes and the  closing of offices.
  10. Honorary degree for South African leader  Nelson Mandela at May commencement.
  11. Full, public and immediate investigation of all reported incidents of racial harassment, and a mechanism set up to facilitate the on-going reporting and documentation of such incidents.
  12. The immediate removal of all those involved in incidents of racial harassment from university housing since they have demonstrated their inability to live in an integrated setting.

United Coalition Against Racism

Baker Mandela Center

In the fall of 1988,  UCAR opened the Ella Baker-Nelson Mandela Center for Anti-Racist Education (BMC). The Baker-Mandela Center served as an alternative educational center run by student activists and provided the Ann Arbor and campus communities with information on the large part of history and culture rarely  taught in University classrooms beyond CAAS.

UCAR published Voices of Struggle, a newsletter of anti-racist activism. (Source: Premilla Nadasen, a former member of UCAR; and Michigan Students Rally Against Racism by Sophia A. Van Wingerden, The Harvard Crimson, March 21, 1987).

The Michigan Mandate - 1990

During the 1980s, many minority students expressed dismay with their experiences at Michigan and called upon officials to make changes. The 1980s also saw serious racial incidents rock the campus.

By the 1986-1987 academic year, James Duderstadt, then the university provost, responded to the difficulties by bringing people together to develop the Michigan Mandate. After becoming president in 1988, he implemented the mandate and made significant investments to reach out to prospective students and to recruit minority faculty.

Martin Luther King Day

Throughout the years, there was a deep commitment on the part of many students to find a way to honor the legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beginning with the initial protests in 1968. By 1987, students were calling for the university to be closed in solidarity with the movement being led on a national level by civil rights leaders like his widow Coretta Scott King and Congressman John Conyers.

These protests continued and eventually, the University began celebrating MLK Day to coincide with the national holiday that had been signed by Ronald Reagan in 1983 to begin being celebrated in 1986. However, MLK Day continues to serve as a day of protest as in 1994 and 2014.

Students of Color Coalition: The Tower Takeover - 2000

Founded in 1901, Michigamua was a not-so-secret society at U-M that tapped campus leaders for its membership. Famous past members included Gerald Ford, Bo Schembechler, and Harlan Hatcher. The group historically called itself the Tribe of Michigamua and its members were “braves” who referred to non-members as “palefaces.” Controversy swirled around the group from the 1980’s into the early 2000’s.

In 2000 the Students of Color Coalition occupied the Michigamua office space in the Michigan Union for 27 days, protesting their adoption of pseudo-Native American styles and names. Native American artifacts continued to decorate the meeting area of the organization, even though the University had instructed Michigamua to take them down in 1989. The group moved out of the Union in 2006, changed its name to the Order of Angell, after its founder, and promised to cease mimicking Native American traditions.

Tower Takeover 200 - Exposing a legacy of cultural appropriation and stereotypes

Battle for Affirmative Action - 2000 to 2005

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court found in favor of U-M’s use of race as one factor among many in considering student applicants.  In 2006, however, Michigan’s Proposal 2 prohibited the use of race or gender in the applications process. Proposal 2 was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in June 2014.

#BBUM - 2013 to 2014

In 2013 members of the University of Michigan's Black Student Union reacted to a series of racist events. They were  specifically prompted by a Theta Xi fraternity, whose invitation described a party as "World Star Hip Hop presents: Hood Ratchet Thursday." Outrage over the event's racist theme and complaints led to the cancellation of the party. It also fueled students  to bring attention to the decreasing numbers of black student enrolled at the University ( blacks comprising  only 4.1% of the freshman class at the time) as well as raise awareness of the treatment of those students.

On Tuesday November 19, 2013, the Black Student Union launched  the Twitter hashtag #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan).

The BSU asked students to share their “unique experiences of being black at Michigan.” People were encouraged to post both positive and negative experiences.

Initially, there were 1,000 responses, but over the course of a few days, the hashtag went viral and received national attention.

“I don’t think this is a problem specific to the university, I think it’s an experience that black students at predominantly white universities across the nation are facing,” Tyrell Collier said to the Michigan Daily in an article about the campaign.

Conversations like this are not isolated to the University of Michigan. A video from students at UCLA recently went viral and sparked national interest and conversation about diversity on college campuses after shining light on the fact that the school has more championships than black male freshmen (Michigan Daily).

On January 20, 2014, leaders of the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan held a rally during which they delivered the 7 demands that they had for the University. The problems fought for remain unsolved 44 years after the initial protest began. Included in the Black Student Union demands were a new Trotter Multicultural Center in a more accessible location on Central Campus, better representation on campus for blacks, and more affordable housing options.

The protest lasted barely ten minutes, but the ultimatum was clear: seven demands, seven days. Coinciding with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, students from the Black Student Union protested the University’s response to racial issues on campus. As the first wave of students and staff filed out from social activist Henry Belafonte’s keynote address at Hill Auditorium, a line of about 15 students from BSU were waiting on the steps, signs in hand.

Engineering junior Robert Greenfield, BSU treasurer, stepped onto a lamppost platform and addressed a crowd of about 30 people. “What brings me here today is not that social action is done. What brings me here today is the unfinished business of the first three fights of the Black action movement,” Greenfield said.

LSA senior Erick Gavin, a member of the BSU, took Greenfield’s place on the lamppost and laid out a concrete list of demands, some of which were addressed by the University. Business senior Shayla Scales, who spoke last, demanded a response from the University’s administration.“We have heard the University use the phrase ‘We are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response. We are tired of waiting for a response,” Scales said. “We allow the University seven days to end negotiations and to come to conclusions on our seven demands.”

Engineering junior Robert Greenfield, BSU treasurer, stepped onto a lamppost platform and addressed a crowd of about 30 people. “What brings me here today is not that social action is done. What brings me here today is the unfinished business of the first three fights of the Black action movement,” Greenfield said.

LSA senior Erick Gavin, a member of the BSU, took Greenfield’s place on the lamppost and laid out a concrete list of demands, some of which were addressed by the University. Business senior Shayla Scales, who spoke last, demanded a response from the University’s administration.“We have heard the University use the phrase ‘We are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response. We are tired of waiting for a response,” Scales said. “We allow the University seven days to end negotiations and to come to conclusions on our seven demands.”

#BBUM Demands (2014)

The list of demands was tweeted under the trending BBUM hashtag:

  1. We demand the University to give us an equal opportunity to implement change. The change that complete restoration of the BSU’s purchasing power through an increased budget would obtain.
  2. We demand the University available housing on central campus for those of lower socioeconomic status at a rate that students can afford to be a part of university life, and not just on the periphery.
  3. We demand for an opportunity to congregate and share our experiences in a new Trotter (Multicultural Center) located on central campus.
  4. We demand an opportunity to educate and be educated about America’s historical treatment and marginalization of colored groups through race and ethnicity requirements throughout all schools and colleges within the University.
  5. We demand the equal opportunity to succeed with emergency scholarships for black students in need of financial support, without the mental anxiety of not being able to focus on and afford the University’s academic life.
  6. We demand for increased exposure of all documents within the Bentley (Historical) Library. There should be transparency about the University and its past dealings with race relations.
  7. We demand an increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent.


Students4Justice is an organization at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor that was sparked by racist events happening on the U-M  campus following the 2016 election.

Students 4 Justice Demands (2017)

These are our concrete demands as black students and other students of color for President Schlissel:

  • Acknowledge our humanity and address us -Black folx and other people of color on campus- in person.
  • Create a space for black students and other people of color without white students, before the Launch of the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Plan on Thursday, October, 6th at 9:00 am. This space needs to be accessible (both physically and temporally) for the students that want to be addressed by you.
  • Declare solidarity with us as black students and students of color, as well as with those same students at Eastern Michigan University and other schools in the nation who experience racism and anti-Blackness on campus.
  • Address the current events regarding police brutality and recognize how that impacts Black students, faculty and staff in our personal, professional and academic lives.
  • Construct more office hours and time for students to voice their concerns to the President directly.
  • Continuously provide safe spaces for both Black students and other students of color to talk about the DEI plan as it’s being implemented without white students.
  • Create a unique short-term emergency plan with Black and POC student input made paramount--meant to address and redress issues within the next year.
  • Rename buildings to reflect students on campus and also to acknowledge the harm that the people the buildings are named after have caused.
  • Create a protocol that is more accessible for the entire campus community to be informed about bias incidents. We have the right to know about these incidents.
  • Fulfill the seven demands of the BBUM movement that was presented two years ago.
  • Create a permanent designated space on central campus for black students and students of color to organize, and do social justice work. This is not the same as Trotter Multicultural Center, because we want a space solely dedicated to community organizing and social justice work specifically for people of color.
  • Display a Black Lives Matter flag, as a physical symbol of solidarity for black students on campus. Atop other clear policy changes that we are demanding, this is the recognition that students have said that they need in order to feel safe on this campus. Black Lives Matter is not a political issue - it is a human rights issue, fighting for the humanity of Black folx.

Source: Michigan Daily, March 9,2017

BSU 2020 Video