Beauty, Black Power, and Black Student Activism in Memphis

By Shirletta Kinchen | Black Perspectives

“Everybody come in that’s going to jail with me,” yelled Ester Hurt at a group of African American students who sat outside of the office of Memphis State University (MSU) President Cecil C. Humphrey.1 Hurt, an older matriculating student, Memphis native and military veteran, was one of four Black male students who fit that profile and were leaders of the school’s Black Student Association (BSA). Hurt’s demand was as a culmination of sorts to a tense and at times volatile week-long standoff in April of 1969 between the BSA and MSU’s administration. The root of the protest and subsequent administration building takeover seemed innocuous to Humphrey, other administrators, and the white students who comprised the student body. A week earlier, Humphrey spurned the students’ request for funding to bring in U.S. Congressman and Black Power proponent Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as the guest speaker for the organization’s Black Extravaganza program.2 Yet, the students’ protest was anything but innocent or haphazard. The fact that the breaking point centered on the administration’s refusal to honor the students’ cultural programming spoke to the root of dissension between the two factions.

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