The Dean of Students Office established The Black Cultural Programming Committee at the University of Tennessee in 1979. During this time, the University and the African-American students were in conflict over the goals and objectives of the office.
Since its inception, the committee’s objectives have been to:
- Develop and present programs and activities that enhances public awareness of African-Americans and their accomplishments within the international society;
- Foster an atmosphere for the interaction and unity of African-American students within the University community;
- Provide an opportunity for African-American students to maintain positive and continuous communication/involvement with the academic and local communities;
- Serve as a catalyst to motivate the African-American students’ self-development, discovery, and esteem during their educational career at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
In 1967/68 the Black Student Union also known as the Afro-American Student Liberation Force was the only organization that assisted African-American students and the masses of African-American people. The AASLF constitution stated that its purpose was to “…enable the Black students with pride and self esteem to partake of the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship…”. It was the organization’s desire to provide for the cultural, educational and political needs of African-American students on campus.
The Black Cultural Center was established in August of 1975 after much protest, demonstration, and negotiation between the AASLF and the University’s administration. The students believed the center was needed on campus and would serve to enhance and thus strengthen unity, pride, and cultural awareness among African-American students.
After much negotiation, the center opened but functioned with an inadequate faculty, staff, and low funding. The center provided African-American conscious workshops, volunteer tutorial services and an African-American oriented audiovisual library. It also served as home for the Black Cultural Repertory Company and Ebony Love Dance troupe, as well as worked closely with the AASLF and other organizations to provide beneficial programs and activities.
During the summer of 1978, the AASLF through extensive research discovered the University had an estimated four million dollars invested in corporation doing business in South Africa. The AASLF made this publicly known and educated the student body of the apartheid system that existed there. The AASLF met with the Board of Trustees on October 20, 1978, to formally request withdrawal of all University investments directly or indirectly with South Africa. The meeting became disruptive and four students were arrested. All charges were later dropped but University disciplinary action continued against the four students.
The University then moved the Black Cultural Center from the College of Liberal Arts to the Office of Student Affairs, making it directly amenable to the University hierarchy. A new position, Dean of Special Student Service, was established and had authority over the Black Cultural Center and the Office Of Minority Student Affairs. The person to hold the new position was to be selected to join the committee but by the time the member was notified the selection of the candidate had been narrowed down to two individuals. Dr. William Byas was appointed but the AASLF felt the selection process was inadequate and moved to open the position so that a wider range of candidates could be interviewed.
The administration then removed Dennie Littlejohn as Director and gave him three options: 1) resign from his them present position, 2) move to another position within the University, 3) be fired from his present position. The administration stated that the reasons for Dennie Littlejohn’s removal were mismanagement of funds, unethical practices, insubordination, and misleading students. None of these charges were ever substantiated.
In the spring of 1979, the AASLF submitted its annual budget proposal and, as in the past seven years, funds were allocated to the organization, but the administration did not give that money to the AASLF. Instead the administration set up a programming committee, the Black Cultural Programming Committee, that was to be under the authority of Dean of Students. The students refused to support this committee because they felt that it was an attempt by the administration to destroy the AASLF.
During the week of January 15, 1980, the students organized an all night study session in the center as part of their celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’ s Birthday and to demonstrate the need for a Black Cultural Center. On January 18, the chancellor ordered the center closed and all students present to vacate. The students refused to leave and for the next four days negotiations with the administration continued. The issues were: 1) reinstatement of Dennie Littlejohn as Director of the Black Cultural Center, 2) return of the AASLF funding, 3) abolishment of the Black Cultural Programming Committee to set up a more democratic committee, and 4) more student input into policies effecting African-American students. On January 21, the negotiations were stopped and the University security cleared the center and arrested eighteen students. The students were released and all charges were later dropped.
In light of these occurrences, the committee began. The Black Cultural Programming Committee has made great advancements since its beginning in 1979. The AASLF, which then stood in opposition to the committee’s existence, now serves as the nucleus of the committee. The primary goal of the committee is to stimulate and increase the knowledge of African-American culture and its contributions to the progress of American society and in so doing foster an atmosphere for UNITY.