Please Respond Personally: Commemorating the 1974 Black Student Sit-In
March 11th – July 19th, 2024, Schimmelpfeng Gallery
Dodd Center for Human Rights, University of Connecticut
Exhibit Opening Event: March 28th, 3-5pm @ Archives & Special Collections, Dodd Center
Opening to the public Monday, March 11th, 2024, the UConn Library’s Archives & Special Collections will mount a 50th Anniversary Exhibition commemorating the direct action taken by Black and Brown students on the Storrs campus to challenge structural racism in higher education by sitting in at the Wilbur Cross Library on April 22nd 1974. This historic event of activism, where roughly 370 students occupied the library at varying times across 3 days, was the culminating event during a semester long campaign of student organizing to demand representation and resources for students of color at the University of Connecticut. Through curated documents this exhibition will feature the perspectives of the student organizers, the Afro-American Cultural Center, the University and its administration to portray this campus-wide call to action which resonates to our present day. This 50th anniversary is also an opportunity to highlight approaches to student activism and the centrality of the library as an institutional setting both for democracy and also one vulnerable to upholding systems of oppression.
This exhibition draws from the experiences of alumni Rodney Bass (’75BA/’76MA) who read the demands during the sit-in and was co-chair of the Organization of African American Students (OAAS). The archives podcast d’Archive produced an interview with Rodney about Black student organizing in the mid-1970s on the Storrs campus which is revealing in understanding their approach to making demands upon the university for their representation in the student body.
Harrison B. “Honey” Fitch was a basketball standout at his high school in New Haven, and in 1932 enrolled as a freshman at the Connecticut State College (the name changed later to the University of Connecticut). He was a strong member of the CSC basketball team yet endured racism and harassment at times from the players of opposing teams, most notably in a game, on January 27, 1934, against the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. The Academy refused to play the game if Fitch was on the court, arguing, as Mark Roy wrote in the February 2, 2004, UConn Advance, that “because half of the Academy’s student body was from the southern states, they had a tradition ‘that no negro players be permitted to engage in contests at the Academy.'”
Fitch’s teammates threatened to leave the basketball court if he was not allowed to play, and Fitch joined them in warming up for the game, while the officials argued and delayed the start of the game for several hours. Although the Coast Guard relented, and CSC won the game 31 to 29, the team’s coach, John Heldman, inexplicably kept Fitch on the bench the entire game.
Fitch left CSC at the end of the 1934 academic year and transferred to American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. He then worked in research for the Monsanto Corporation, married in 1939 and had two sons, and died in the early 1990s. His son, Brooks Fitch, told Mark Roy that his father told him he had a good experience as a student at the CSC and was always a fan of UConn basketball.
In 1914 Alan Thacker Busby of Worcester, Massachusetts, enrolled at the Connecticut Agricultural College, the first African-American student to attend what would become the University of Connecticut. He worked his way through college by milking cows, feeding hogs and cutting ice from the campus pond and was an honor student and a member of the football team his Junior year. In 1918 became the college’s first African-American graduate. After he graduated from college he served in World War I as a member of the Army’s all-black Field Artillery Unit, which stayed in France months after the war ended. After his military service he was an Animal Husbandry professor at Bordentown Industrial School in New Jersey, Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Alcorn, Mississippi, and Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Busby Suites, a dormitory on the Storrs campus, was named in his honor.
This photograph shows Prof. Busby back at the University of Connecticut, when he returned to his alma mater in Fall 1990 to act as Grand Marshall of the Homecoming Parade.