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Another Side of the Sixties: Black Panthers at UCLA (Photos)

Posted: 05/25/10 05:41 PM ET

On January 17, 1969, two UCLA students named Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John J. Huggins, Jr. were shot and killed on campus.

UCLA has seen many battles between the students and the administration that have played out over the years, including fee increases, affirmative action and free speech, but never has a struggle been kept so quiet and never has a struggle resulted in death as it did on the UCLA campus over forty years ago. Knowing just this - that college students literally bled and died on campus in a malicious and horrifying act of violence - one would assume that there would be some sort of historical marker commemorating the event.

Both of us are students in an undergraduate research seminar at UCLA titled "Another Side of Sixties: Dissent and Counterculture." As one may expect the Black Panthers were a topic of study in our class. Many of us saw a documentary by Gregory Everett called 41st and Central: The Untold Story of L.A.'s Black Panthers, a film about the Panthers' role in Southern California as a whole, but a huge portion of the film was dedicated to the stories of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins, Jr., and to explaining the UCLA murders themselves. Coincidentally, a group of our classmates vividly re-created a Black Panther meeting as part of an assignment. Someone said that she'd stopped by Campbell 1201 to check out the scene of the crime. Not only was it eerie to know that this was where students, just like us, had been killed, but it felt wrong that there was nothing there to recognize it. We discussed ways to commemorate the students and the event, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What began as a research seminar quickly transformed into a forum for planning an installation of a plaque, and just weeks later, we've overcome the notoriously, well, bureaucratic bureaucracy and have the administration's approval to install a plaque on the inside, and hopefully we'll have permission to install it on the outside of the building. We renamed ourselves The Memory Project, and the original curriculum has fallen by the wayside; we've been wholly consumed by this and it's been an experience unlike we've ever known.

Today, Campbell Hall Room 1201 is packed with cubicles and tables where students of the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) receive free tutoring. It's always buzzing with activity and really, it's the ultimate manifestation of what a college education should be; students actively participate in the learning process, engage with their peers, and take advantage of the tools that higher education loves to tout.

Alprentice 'Bunchy' Carter, John Huggins Jr. and other young students were recruited by the university in response to a lack of campus diversity and were admitted to UCLA through the High Potential Program, the predecessor to UCLA's current AAP. This program, along with the ethnic studies center, was created in the late 1960's as a response to the students' demands for greater inclusion and representation of minorities at UCLA. In the last years of the 1960's, when cultural and ethnic diversity was just a dream on college campuses across the country, UCLA was attempting to make diversity a reality. The High Potential Program, which incorporated an Afro-American Studies Program, was only the second such program in the country, following San Francisco State. Equal education and equal opportunity has always been problematic in this country and UCLA should be credited for recruiting bright African-American students to promote diversity and combat inequality.

Carter and Huggins were influential members of the Black Panther Party's Southern California Chapter - Carter was, in fact, the founder of this branch. As deeply committed Black Panthers, Carter and Huggins applied the party's demands for self-determination to the terms of their education.

Unfortunately, on a terrible day in mid January of 1969, after a meeting to determine the leadership of UCLA's newly created Afro-American Program, Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins Jr., two UCLA students, were murdered on the UCLA campus, in Campbell Hall room 1201, by a rival black nationalist group, the United Slaves (US) Organization.

Even after forty years, when one enters the checkered black and white flooring of Campbell Hall, the absence could not be more striking. Nothing, nothing in Campbell hall is there to memorialize the history of this horrible event and the individuals who died there. It should be noted that this is not because no one cared. Since their deaths in 1969, attempts have been made to rectify this lack of a historical record. Each year, the Afrikan Student Union holds a memorial in late January and other students and groups have attempted to follow suit. Many have attempted to rename the hall after the slain students, but all of these endeavors to concretely memorialize the event have been met with failure. This hidden history of UCLA deserves honor and recognition.

As students, we need to contextualize our experiences at the university. We need to know our collective history. Where is our connective link to the past? Symbolically, the blood of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins Jr. will forever stain the black and white checkered floors of Campbell Hall. This university has a rich and complex history and we need to know all of it. To ignore this past is completely counterproductive to the history of UCLA, and the university's genuine attempts to promote diversity. The point of the High Potential Program and the AAP was to promote diversity; more specifically to incorporate and educate more black students. Currently black students make up less than 5% of the student population and many of these students are recruited as athletes. One would argue that an acknowledgment of this piece of UCLA's history would be meaningful to young black scholars considering enrolling in the university.

In fact, the official UCLA tour doesn't mention the murders as they lead prospective students by the building. And this needs to be changed. Yes, the murder of two students on campus isn't a good selling point for prospective white students from the O.C., and yes it was sad, and yes, the fact that they were Black Panthers is controversial. But just because something is tragic and controversial doesn't mean it should be ignored; in fact, the opposite is true.

One can certainly understand the administrations feeling that an acknowledgment of this event would somehow tarnish the university's public image. After all, it is only now, 40 years later, that the murders at Kent State have been recognized by the administration of Kent State. Nevertheless, what the UCLA administration fails to see is that this historical event needs to be incorporated into the collective story. The failure of the administration to fund a memorial for these fallen students is a heartbreaking omission. What will be left of UCLA's legacy and what will the future hold, if we are allowed to ignore the past?

As our professor Mary Corey put it, historians needn't be limited to the "traditional" realms of teaching and research, but we can be, and should be, activists committed to the accuracy of our collective histories.

James Thurber believed that there are only two kinds of light in this world: the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures. The historical needs a voice. On May 25, the voices of a group of students at UCLA have gained enough strength to be heard at last. Finally, over 40 years later, a memorial to the slain UCLA students will occur -- and only through the convergence of activism and the commitment to a cause. For too long the tragic deaths of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins Jr. have been obscured because of fear. Hopefully, a recognition of this tragic event that illuminates a commitment to the past at UCLA will shine a light on their lives and their deaths.