Remembering the Allen Building Takeover of 1969

Exhibit explores critical moment in civil rights movement at Duke

The main hallway of the Allen Building hosts an exhibition about the events of Feb. 13, 1969, when black students barricaded themselves in the building to draw attention to demands for changes to Duke's racial climate. Photo by Marsha A. Green.

"It's just before 5 p.m. on February 13, 1969, and you are standing on the Quad in front of the Allen Building. If you look between the Allen Building and the Social Sciences Building, you can see police assembling in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens - they are putting on their gas masks and checking that their riot guns, pistols, clubs and three "tear gas guns" are in place."

This is the text on the first panel of the "The Long Road to Integration: The 1969 Allen Building Takeover," an exhibit on display in the building where 60 black students barricaded themselves to draw attention to demands for changes to Duke's racial climate. 

The project, created by Duke alumna Caitlin M. Johnson, uses photographs, text, newspaper clippings and audio and video to chronicle the occupation of the Allen Building by members of the Afro-American Society on Feb. 13, 1969. 

The 30 panels describe the planning and preparation that went into the occupation as well as the chain of events that followed, including tear gas to clear a crowd of 2,000 students who gathered on the Quad outside the building.  

"It is striking to see images of the takeover displayed in the Allen Building where it actually took place," said Scott Lindroth, vice provost for the arts. "Caitlin did a masterful job of coordinating images with recollections by participants and other journalistic coverage of the event."

At 3:30 p.m. Sept 12, Duke will host a reception and opening ceremony at the Allen Building for the exhibit, which is part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the integration of black undergraduate students at Duke in 1963. 

Johnson, the creator of the exhibit, researched the event as part of Duke's Certificate in Documentary Studies capstone project. 

"In my eyes, this was the seminal turning point in the University's history on where Duke would stand - politically, academically, socially and economically - on the questions of race relations, racial understanding and empathy, and fair opportunity in the universe of enlightened people," she said.

The exhibit is accompanied by a display of contemporary questions about social justice from faculty and staff. The questions were collected by Benjamin D. Reese, vice president for Duke's Office for Institutional Equity, which is co-sponsoring the exhibit, along with the Center for Documentary Studies.

"We want the exhibit to provoke reflection, to capture some of that reflection, and to help people think about the next 50 years," Reese said. 

The exhibit will be on display in the Allen Building through Oct. 22 and will include a book for visitors to document their questions and reflections. 

Contact Sharon.caple@duke.edu to RSVP for the Sept. 12 reception.