1969 Student League for Black Identity Walk-Out

A summary of the 1969 SLBI walk-out.

The experience for Black students at Clemson can be best summarized as one of resistance. During these times, white students and African Americans fought with both fist and movements. In 1968 the Student League for Black Identity was founded “to promote black awareness through encouragement of black history courses, the study of black culture, and the black man’s relationship with his society” (The Tiger , 12/6/68).

Many things happened in the 1960s which led to the inevitable exodus of black students on Clemson’s Campus. In Clemson’s old yearbooks, TAPS, images can be seen of white students proudly hoisting Confederate flags, burning crosses, and wearing Ku Klux Klan attire. The 1969 edition of TAPS featured a poem with the line “Good Cross Burning” alongside an image of a KKK rally (TAPS- pg. 38). Immediately prior to the student walk-out, the SLBI protested a proposed racist Tigerama skit which stereotyped football athletic trainer Herman McGee by a student in blackface. Then, despite an agreement between Joseph Grant and University Pres. Robert C. Edwards, the Tiger Band played “Dixie” and the cheerleaders presented their 20-foot Confederate flag at the October 25th football game between Clemson and Alabama. This terrified Grant and other African American students.

In concurrence with other SLBI leaders and advisor William Steirer, Grant ultimately decided that African Americans were to leave campus for their own protection. One characteristic of the protests was different groups being formed to protest against each-other. While African Americans had the SLBI, white counter-protestors devised SPONGE (the Society for the Prevention of ******* Getting Everything). In the aftermath of the SLBI walk-out, the organization claimed many small victories, such as the cheerleaders running onto the field with the U.S. flag instead of the CSA flag, and the African American students even agreed to return after a long meeting between Joseph Grant and the President of Clemson at that time, R. C. Edwards. While the problem was not solved at the time of African American students’ return, it was making progress.