Black History Reflection on the Howard University Student Protest of 1989

As February approaches its end, there are a few more ways to celebrate historical moments in Black America’s history.

One event that many people may not know about is a student-led act of civil unrest that used Hip-Hop as a launching pad and sheer outrage as its fuel. This action was captured in the 2019 book, We Are Worth Fighting For: A History of the Howard University Student Protest of 1989. 

The Shadow League’s Nikki Duncan-Smith sat down with author, Howard University Professor Dr. Joshua Myers, and April Silver to talk about the book and why the protest is bigger than the school.

Lil Nikki Duncan: Welcome to the Shadow League. We are so excited to hear a little bit about your new book. So Joshua, do you want to talk about your book and also give a little history about yourself. And April chime in on your participation in a project?

Josh Myers: So my name is Josh Myers. I teach at Howard University. And I’m also a graduate of Howard University. And when I was in graduate school, I met many other people who shared that background. And one of those persons is named Dr. Washington. And she introduced me to a part of our history that we had heard about, but I didn’t really know. 

And that introduction, sort of stayed with me as I finished graduate school and returned to Howard. 

I returned to Howard a few years later, as a professor in 2014. And it was 25 years since the protest, that history that she had introduced me to the Protests of 1989. And so I helped her put on a program, commemorating 25 years after her protest. And that sort of morphed into writing—writing that became this book project that I did in collaboration with her April Silver and many other members of a group named Black Nia Force, that was at the center of this process.

April Silver: Thank you to the Shadow League for this opportunity. 

But to jump right into the Protests of 1989 is monumental: what it stood for, what it represented and what it was an extension of. And the book that Dr. Myers did, “We Are Worth Fighting For,” is a chronicle of not just that. We make it a big deal to tell people that this is not only a book about the Howard University protests. Even though that is in the title and is a critical part, it really is a deep exploration as to the why, Why the students at Howard, that I’m honored to call my friends my comrades, did it in the first place? What was the motivation? Who protested before us and why? Why are Black students at the Black college taking over the campus for three days? And it really is a testament to radical activism. 

To put it even more poetically, my mentor, our mentor, Sister Sonia Sanchez, was the one that said to me, and I carried it with me, “When people ask you, ‘Why would you want to get up in the face of figuratively speaking, how are University why are you fighting back?’ Y’all are privileged students, you’re on the college campus, why are you fighting?’ Then you tell them you’re fighting. And you’re standing up and trying to hold Howard University accountable because you love the institution.”

To cut to the chase, even more, one of the key things that we were fighting for and against was the decision that the Board of Trustees at Howard University made to appoint Lee Attwater, the head of the Republican National Committee at the time, to the Board of Trustees, the highest decision making entity, at the institution.

[Attwater was] a proven racist and we just were appalled (to put it diplomatically) that leaders at Howard University would think that it’s okay to have this man amongst the people who would make decisions for Black students. 

Additionally, we stood up against the way that we were treated. We also called for an African American Studies program that would allow one at Howard University to get a doctorate. So if you chip away the particulars, and you peel away and get to the root of it, we really wanted a Black institution.

See the full interview hosted by The Shadow League’s Nikki Duncan-Smith

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Also, join Dr. Joshua Myers, April Silver, asha bandele and Mayor Ras Baraka for a book, We Are Worth Fighting For: A History of the Howard University Student Protest of 1989, discussion with Dr. Brenda Greene. The event partners are the CUNY Association of Black Faculty & Staff and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, and AKILA WORKSONGS is the event sponsor on Friday, February 19 at 5 pm, EST.

To register please click here:

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