Frederick E. Douglass Association
Founded in October 1967, The Frederick E. Douglass Association was first formed to petition for the creation of an Afro American History course at Penn State. The group would later press for increased Black enrollment and awareness. Frederick B. Phillips, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, served as the group’s first President. A course called “The Negro and the American Experience” was established in the spring of 1968 as a direct result of The Douglass Association petition. On May 13, 1968 (about 5 weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated), 100 members of The Douglass Association, led by newly elected President Wilbert Manley and Vice-President Vincent Benson, confronted the University Vice-President for Student Affairs, Charles L. Lewis, at his Old Main office with a list of 12 demands for changes in the University’s policies regarding Black students. The meeting lasted almost 3 hours, and it was reported that Lewis was “visibly shaken” when he left.
The demands focused on the need for more Black undergraduate and graduate students, Black faculty and athletic coaches, and the creation of an African cultural study program. The Douglass Association held several more demonstrations to continue to press for status on their demands.
On April 5, 1968, the Douglass Association, along with a racially mixed group of students, forcefully lowered the United States and Pennsylvania flags in front of Old Main building to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King had been assassinated the previous day. The students used a crowbar to break the lock mechanism. As the flags were being lowered, a skirmish and arguing developed between the students, bystanders, and campus police, until the administration announced that U.S. President Johnson proclaimed that all flags should be flown at half-mast that day.
On January 13, 1969, five representatives from the Douglass Association gave University President Walker a list of thirteen demands aimed at making a stronger black presence felt on the campus. On the list were demands that a thousand Blacks be admitted within a year, a special recruiter for Black students be appointed, courses in Black history and culture be added to the curriculum, and more black faculty members be hired. The Douglass Association also wanted a special collection in Black literature to be established in the library and a new building to be named after Martin Luther King, Jr.
In February 1969, the Douglass Association, now led by William “Rick” Collins, lobbied the then Pennsylvania State House Majority Leader, K. Leroy Irvis for support. As a result, Irvis convinced University President Eric Walker to include an extra $1 million in his budget strictly for the purpose of Black recruiting.
In April of 1969 the Douglass Association transitioned into the Black Student Union, but the mission remained basically the same. Two years later, the then inactive Black Student Union was replaced by the Black Caucus.