“Herein, then, lies a brief history of the BSU. I would like to add that the BSU has been the BSU and will continue to be the BSU because of concerned students. So if you would like to carry on the ideas, expectations, and traditions of the BSU, or add yours, please feel free to join the BSU and do so. The BSU continues to be receptive to new and diverse ideas which will benefit Black people.” – Malcolm Duke
The BSU traces its beginnings back to the late 1960’s. At that time there were very few Black people at MIT. In 1967 a movement to increase the number of Black students on campus began. This movement led to the formation of Project Epsilon, which brought in 5 Black students for a summer program to give them pre-freshman training. One of the students that was responsible for this program was an undergraduate, Shirley Jackson. She was the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from MIT.
Black Students’ Union Intramural Basketball Team the year the BSU was established, 1968. Shown from left: William F. Eagleson ’64 (2nd from left); Robert Maurice Preer, Jr. ’65 (7th); Patrick C. Mbanefo ’64 (8th); James Henry Williams, Jr. ’67 (9th)
These five students from Project Epsilon, along with Shirley Jackson, continued to strive to get more Blacks to strive to get more Blacks to MIT. Their efforts led to Project Interphase started in the summer of 1969. (Project Interphase, today, is a successful summer academic enhancement program of the Office of Minority Education, is designed to assist underrepresented minority students admitted to the freshmen class to make the transition into MIT. The program enrolls one-third of the incoming African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students in a curriculum of physics, calculus, writing and physical education). That same year, 1969, 58 Black students were admitted to MIT. The five students from Project Epsilon and those students who were at MIT prior to that program began the Black Students’ Union in 1968, with Fred Johnson (one of the five students from Project Epsilon) and Shirley Jackson as the first Co-Chairs of the BSU.
After the formation of the BSU, its members continued to work to increase the number of Blacks at MIT and ultimately the number of minorities. Due to the strong efforts on the part of the BSU members, the Office of Minority Education was formed in 1973. The BSU also played an instrumental role in the creation of the Black Students’ Union Tutorial Program, which had black students giving academic training to black students. Today the Black Students’ Union Tutorial Program has been taken over by the Office of Minority Education and is now known as the OME Tutorial Services Program. It provides tutorial services to many students on campus in a variety of subjects. For a time, the BSU created The Ghetto, which was a Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Disco, and Funk music program heard on MIT’s radio station, WMBR, and was listened to by many in the Greater Boston area.
Black Students’ Union hold a soul-food sale fundraiser in Lobby 10 during Black History Week, circa 1970.
The BSU rallied in 1995 in response to a racially charged incident on campus. The members, in collaboration with Dr. Clarence G. Williams, Dean Ayida Mthembu and other supporters in the MIT community, documented the experience of black students on campus in a film entitled Intuitively Obvious (which can be seen here on the Diversity Initiative website).
The BSU, in efforts to unite the various student organizations of the MIT Black Community, founded the Council for the Advancement of Black Students (CABS) in 2008. The leadership from CABS member organizations, which include the BSU, the National Society of Black Engineers, Chocolate City, the Black Women’s Alliance, and the National Organization for Black Chemist and Chemical Engineers, meet regularly to address issues of the greater community in forum.