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History of the Black Cultural Center

History Timeline of Black Cultural Center

  • Idea for a Black Cultural Center on campus first discussed in 1968
    • Ralph Boston, coordinator of minority affairs, and members of the Black Student Union (later called Afro-American Student Liberation Force), credited for planning and implementing the center


  • Black Cultural Center (BCC) opened during the first week of the fall quarter in August 1975
    • Occupied two floors of a former residence, on the street level and one floor below street level
    • Began as an academic unit under the cultural studies program in the College of Liberal Arts; its funding came from the Liberal Arts budget
    • Its original goals were to
      • Provide a better understanding of the black experience in the university
      • Collaborate with Knoxville College in its academic programs
      • Provide expertise and resources for the surrounding community
    • Included a library, a classroom, meeting room for organizations, a lounge, desk spaces for campus organizations, and campus mailboxes; storage space, conference room, and exhibit space
    • Original staff: director, clerk, graduate assistant, and work study students and student volunteers
  • Dennie Littlejohn appointed director of the center August 1, 1975


  • First open house on November 14, 1975
    • The Daily Beacon reported the BCC took over some of the functions of the minority affairs office, including planning the Black Arts Festival, Black History Week, and tutorial and advising programs
  • 1978-1979:
    • BCC works with student groups on campus, including Afro-American Student Liberation Force, the Ebony Love Dancers, Repertory Company theater group, and the Liberation Concert Choir
    • Continues to provide advising, tutorial services, cultural programs, and a library and resource center
    • Plans/Participates in Black History Month activities, community research projects, special classes, MLK Jr. memorial lecture-celebration, and Malcolm X memorial celebration
  • January 1980: BCC director Dennis Littlejohn reassigned (fired) from his position
    • This action, along with a demand for funding for a black cultural program, prompted students to protest in a weekend-long sit-in at the center, led by the Afro-American Student Liberation Force
    • An eviction notice ordered the end to the sit-in, and led to 18 students being arrested; they were not violent but had refused to leave
    • The day after, 200 students marched to Andy Holt Tower and demanded to see Chancellor Jack Reese; they eventually dispersed once the BCC reopened
  • 1980: the Office of Minority Affairs opened and expanded services, including overseeing the BCC
    • Jane Redman, assistant vice provost, appointed director
    • Office of Minority Affairs restructures BCC’s purpose, moving away from promoting understanding and appreciation of the black experience to serving all students regardless of race, religion, or background
  • 1982:
    • First mention of Academic Support Unit – tutoring services and academic advice; a video tape room for free information for research and programs; library for current news, letters and journals to educate students on black history
    • Minority Career Day – annually sponsored event with Career Placement Office
    • Cooperates with Admissions to recruit students across the state and develops programs to bring high school students to UT to tour campus; talk to student leaders and organization representatives; and learn about financial aid and admission requirements
    • Sponsors guest speakers through the Black Cultural Programming Committee
  • 1994:
    • First mention of a gallery located in the BCC that houses artwork by local African American artists
    • Programs coordinated with BCC and Black Cultural Programming Committee
      • Welcome Week Block Party
      • Alex Haley Memorial Picnic
      • Homecoming Ball
      • Kwanzaa Celebration
      • Coffee House Poetry Readings
      • Harambee Celebration Month
      • Health Fair
      • MLK Jr. Celebration
    • Programs coordinated with Office of Minority Affairs:
    • Minority Advisors Program, Mentorship Program, Student Speakers Bureau, Early Alert Program, Academic Assistance Program
    • Programming offered: Freshman Symposium & Orientation, Freshman Mixer, Freshman Rap Session, Student Organizations’ Study Nights, African Heritage Day & Open House, 48-Hours Study Sessions, Male/Female Relationship Workshops, AIDS Awareness Workshops, Bone Marrow Drives, MLK Youth Symposium, African Student Week, Unity Week


  • 1996:
    • Office of Minority Student Affairs and BCC split responsibilities
      • OMSA oversees academic and support programs
      • BCC oversees programs related to social interaction and discussion of African American issues
    • Begins offering Bridge Builders program, renamed FOCUS (Finding Our Common Understandings and Strengths)


  • 1997:
    • First mention of Book Loan Program, which allows students to borrow textbooks for an entire semester as long as they are returned at the end of the semester
    • First mention of UT’s African-American Hall of Fame – photographs of blacks that made significant impact or contributions to university
  • Task force established in September 1998 to plan a new Black Cultural Center. The task force consists of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members.
  • Groundbreaking ceremony for new BCC held March 27, 2001.
    • Deemed first building on campus built specifically for black students
    • Designed by Adams, Craft, Herz, Walker of Oak Ridge
    • Contractors: Johnson and Galyon of Knoxville
    • Students voted to fund construction with student activity fees – cost $2 million
    • University raised private funds for endowment supporting center’s programs
  • New BCC opens September 6, 2002 with grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony and tour
    • Student-designed, 80-foot brick frieze showing African and African-American history
    • Includes wireless computer lab, library, lounge, meeting rooms, offices, a fully equipped kitchen, and other amenities
    • Courtyard paved with bricks inscribed with donors’ names
    • Meeting rooms for Black Student Alliance, NAACP, Black Greek Letter organizations, and other student-facilitated groups
    • Houses African American Hall of Fame
    • Maintains Academic Support Unit of Minority Student Affairs, Book Loan Program, Early Alert Program, 48-Hour Study Session for final exams, and free peer tutoring programs


Resources Consulted:

“Black Center.” Volunteer, 1979 (p. 72-73).

“Black Cultural Center.” Volunteer, 1978 (p. 56-57).

Campbell, Kim. “The Black Cultural Center: About Diversity in Academia.” Volunteer, 2004 (p. 126-127).

Clemmer, Polly. “Black Cultural Center prepares to open.” The Daily Beacon, August 1, 1975.

The Daily Beacon Staff. “UT Black Cultural Center to hold open house today.” The Daily Beacon, November 14, 1975.

Dockery, Bill. “Work Under Way on Black Cultural Center.” Torchbearer, Summer 2001.

Garnigan, LaTria. “A New Beginning: Black Cultural Center opens in new location.” Volunteer, 2003 (p. 180-181)

Loveday, S. Yvonne. “Open for Business: New Black Cultural Center.” Torchbearer, Summer 2002.

Parson, Paul. “Cultural center enhances awareness.” The Daily Beacon, February 25, 1997.

Plemons, J. Douglas. “Cultural center open to help all students.” The Daily Beacon, July 16, 1996.

“Sharing Cultures.” Volunteer, 1982 (p. 53).

“A Spark of Dissent.” Volunteer, 1980 (p. 136-137).

Street, Jenna. “Making the Difference.” Volunteer, 2005 (p. 112-113).

University of Tennessee, Knoxville Minority Affairs Information Sheet, November 1, 1994, Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015. University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, Special Collections.