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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Impact at Kalamazoo College

BSO Student Protesters (Courtesy of the Kalamazoo College Archives) BSO Student Protesters (Courtesy of the Kalamazoo College Archives)

The assassination of Martin Luther King impacted individuals across the nation, and the community at Kalamazoo College was no exception. The Black Student Organization (BSO) formed in 1968 in direct response to MLK’s death. The purpose of the BSO, according to their constitution, is for “learning more about ourselves and relating our experiences to the black community as a whole.”

The group demanded increased black student enrollment, greater black representation in the faculty and staff, and more courses offered in the area of African American studies. Today, the BSO and the Intercultural movement continue to pursue these same demands.

The BSO jump-started their initiative to increase the enrollment of students of color, visiting local high schools and targeting African American seniors. Later, the BSO would follow-up with visits to graduate’s homes in order to discuss the benefits of a collegiate, and specifically Kalamazoo College, education.

The BSO experienced several confrontations with the College over the organization’s demands and funding requests between 1968 and 1969. The Kalamazoo College President at the time, Weimer K. Hicks, responded to the BSO’s demands in the following letter, titled “Details on the Black Student Demands” from the K College Archives.

“All of this now means a change in the modus operandi of ‘our colleges. For years we have brought Negroes to the campus and saturated them with a white culture. Basically, we have tried to make them over. We have actually befriended them without making them our equals. Kalamazoo College has truly been a microcosm of the sociological phenomena.”

Despite the student protests, the BSO and the college’s administration were able to begin increasing the admission of students of color. The Kalamazoo College Class of 1969 had seven black students, which amounted to a mere 3.3% of the total student body, according to the Kalamazoo College archives. By 1972 this number had increased to 19 black students, partially due to the efforts of the BSO.

President Hicks supported these institutional changes, writing in the same letter on black student demands that “First, we should understand that the Black Students have given us their first demands, not their last. We must recognize that we must add to our faculty a representative number of Black professors. We must alter our curriculum to include Black history and culture, for the benefit of our white youth as well as our Black.”

On August 1st, 1969 Mr. Phillip M. Jackson, the first Black faculty member at K, began his duties as the Calder Chair of Urban Sociology. The college was also actively searching for additional African American candidates for positions at the college.

While there have been institutional changes since the confrontations of 1968 and 1969, many of the demands first made by the BSO are still being pursued today on K’s campus.

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Impact at Kalamazoo College