Black Arts at Oxy


During the academic year 1969-1970 Occidental college sponsored on campus opportunities that exposed students to black culture through music, art and entertainment. The Oxy yearbook and La Encina emphasized the importance of performance art as an outlet for black expression and thought. Despite preconceived notions and apprehensions, black art enabled students to widen their perspectives, fostering an atmosphere of exploration, creativity and self-growth.
Occidental students experienced black culture and art through weekly musical, theatrical, and artistic programming opportunities. On October 5. 1969, Occidental Weekly reporter Paul West attended “Jazz-service” in Herrick. West commented on how students thought Jazz, a historically black form of music, “has no place” other than “dancing” because they characterized it as “loud and vulgar”. West urged students who held preconceived notions to not only attend “Jazz-service” but to “take part” in the festivities because the students who did participate were so moved that “by the end of the service people were hugging each other for peace”. In addition to “Jazz-service”, students attended other black musical and theatrical performances from on campus groups like the Black Quartet, to theatrical performances of Black Orpheus. The pinnacle of African American arts on campus was the Black Arts Week, a three day long program that focused on black film, photography, poetry, music and theater. Black Arts Week, according to Occidental Weekly reporter Kwombtu represented an opportunity for“Oxy’s black populace” to share their “wealth of talent” with the Oxy community at large. Kwombtu suggested that the theme of the 1970 Black Arts Week was “Black is Beautiful”. Adhering to the theme the week, the Upward Bound Dance Troupe performed a dance in Herrick chapel, student Anita Austin presented a lecture regarding "The Role of Art in African Societies v. the Role of Art in the Western World" and various black students participated in a fashion show in Herrick chapel as seen in the photograph. In addition to performance art, the Brockman Gallery Collection provided photographs and paintings by black artists in display in lower Herrick.
In terms of opportunities to engage with black arts beyond the confines of campus, La Encina advertised events at The Brockman Gallery Collection. The Oxy newspaper advertised for John Outterbridge’s solo exhibition at the Brockman Gallery. While Brockman Gallery was fundamental to the LA black arts scene, traveling shows were also advertised in the Oxy Newspaper. Hubert Saal of Newsweek wrote an article featured in the February issue of the Occidental Weekly entitled "Ballet in Black", describing the importance of the return of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the premier black ballet company, to the Billy Rose Theatre on Broadway after months abroad. There was also an advertisement for "an evening with Bill Cosby" a comedy show dedicated to Mrs. Medgar Evers, that was hosted by the Claremont Colleges.
While the campus was enriched by the abundance of black art opportunities on and off campus, it would be callous to ignore student dissent and rising political tensions that resulted from opposition to the Vietnam War. In October 15, students participated in the Moratorium to End the Vietnam War along with over 500 colleges. The Vietnam Moratorium featured guest speaker Congressman John Tunney who hosted a discussion with faculty and students on the quad. Students expressed their opposition to the draft and recruitment into the armed forces; forty-four students stormed the Placement Office, located on the first floor of the College’s administration building to prevent Navy recruiters from meeting with students.

Page created by Emily Dwyer, Kellen Holt, Jennifer Keane, and Kailee Stovall in December 2016.


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