Special Section

A half-century of race relations at Emerson

By Beacon Staff members David A. Bumpus, Ryan Catalani, Laura King, and Dina Kleiner
Special contributions by Willie Burnley and Taylor Carlington


The year was 1968. The civil rights movement was galvanizing the country. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests—EBONI—was founded. A year later, EBONI demanded changes to bring more black students to Emerson and improve the campus climate for them. Eight years later, a black professor was denied tenure and sued to gain it; he won. In the next few decades, three more black professors were denied tenure; they, too, sued and won.

Today, Emerson has reformed its tenure policies. A new generation of administrators, who have made it their life’s work to increase diversity and inclusion, have come to the college. But some students still say Emerson falls short. The spirit of EBONI’s proposals and the conditions that inspired them still echo in the halls. In 1969, EBONI wanted 30 black students to be admitted each year. In 2012, there were just 26.

Above: EBONI members in 1969. Courtesy of The Emersonian.


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