Student Made Pamphlet for SF State Student Strike.
Student-made pamphlet for SF State Student Strike.

Friday, December 14th, 2012, marks the 44th anniversary of classes being suspended at San Francisco State University, amidst a strike led by the Black Student Union and Third World Liberation Front, demanding the establishment of various Ethnic Studies departments and an end to the Vietnam War.  In 2008, San Francisco State University celebrated the 40th anniversary of the strike – the longest campus strike in U.S. history – by looking back on how the event “defined the University’s core values of equity and social justice, laid the groundwork for establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies, and inspired the establishment of ethnic studies classes and programs at other universities throughout the country.”

Now, thanks to the efforts of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, much of the audiovisual record that documents the strike is available online, in the SF State Strike Collection.

I spoke to Alex Cherian, SFSU’s resident film archivist, who had this to say about the significance of the collection:

From the point of view of San Francisco State University, it’s one thing to be told about the riots, but it’s another thing entirely to see the campus – the same trees and buildings and students who are the same age as students now – being attacked by police.  The incident is referred to as a ‘riot,’ but what it was, really, was students being beat up by police for what they believed in.  They were there as part of the struggle to establish ethnic studies, and still today, [SFSU] has a very vibrant and active College of Ethnic Studies.  It’s something very special to see and hear how the College [of Ethnic Studies] was born, and to feel that history.

On Strike at SFSU
Police and Students Clashing in a screenshot from On Strike! (At SF State)

In addition to raw footage of newscasts from the time, the archive includes On Strike! (At SF State), a 1969 documentary by Saul Rouda and David Dobkin on the strikes. (You can purchase the DVD from California Newsreel here.)

The collection also highlights how the strike extended beyond the student body.  In one clip (here), Dr. Carlton Goodlett (a man, who, among other things, opened a family medical practice in San Francisco, published the weekly Sun Reporter newspaper which agitated for civil rights, and “became the first black American since Reconstruction to mount a serious candidacy for the governorship of California”) holds a press conference “to explain how local community and labor forces are mobilizing in unison to support student protests at SF State College, in anticipation of a protracted struggle to restructure California’s Higher Education system.”

Dr. Carlton Goodlett speaks to the press in a screen shot from the CBS affiliate in San Francisco.
Dr. Carlton Goodlett speaks to the press.

Even amidst the global upheaval of 1968 – from Paris and Prague to Chicago and Los Angeles – the student strike at San Francisco State University looms large.  Its significance–both in establishing Ethnic Studies as a respected academic discipline and in mounting a multi-racial, multi-ethnic response to institutional racism–cannot be overstated, and underscores the necessity of preserving the audiovisual record of the strike.

The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive got its start in 1982, when local news stations were switching film formats, and looking to offload their stored materials.  The materials found their way into the SFSU library, where the film was processed and catalogued thematically.  In 2010, the archive began to digitize and publish the collections online.

“There are thousands of hours of newsreel in the collection,” said Cherian, “and we’re still turning up interesting pieces.”  In addition to the SF State Strike collection, the archive maintains several collections of related interest, including the César Chávez Collection, the Black Panthers Collection, the Japanese American Collection, and the Occupation of Alcatraz Collection, among others.

~ Jonathan Jenner

3 thoughts on “To See & Hear History: The SF State Strike Collection at the SF Bay Area Television Archive

  1. I attended SF State during this period and was present at most of the riots. The history presented here and elsewhere is a history written by the strikers themselves and is not an accurate portrayal of what happened. The Black Students Union had at best a very minor role in all these events, mainly limited to bodily assault on the editor of the student paper, which occurred before the strike began. “Third World Liberation Front” – never heard of them. The actual strikers/rioters never numbered more than 50 (if that), surrounded by 1,000 or so student spectators. The protestors, most of whom were what today we would call anarchists, would stand at the back of the crowd and throw rocks at the police. The “battle cry” I remember hearing was “chicks in front,” meaning that they wanted to get the girls between them and the police. The big joke then was that you couldn’t have a riot in Berkeley and at SF State on the same day, because the same group of people were involved in both.

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