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Smith Libraries Exhibits

Mwangi Cultural Center

Dr. Florence N'gendo Mwangi, Class of 1961, left, and a student from the Black Students Alliance, right, at the dedication of the Ngendo Mwangi Cultural Center, 1973.


Between 1969 and 1974 members of the Black Students Alliance flexed their political muscles. Working with other students in the Five Colleges who demanded more representation in the curriculum and on campus, in late 1969 the BSA demanded that the Smith College administration fund an exchange program to historically black colleges, create an Afro-American studies major, hire more African American faculty members to teach African American content-based courses, and hire African Americans into key Admissions and Housing positions.The demands were given to President Mendenhall, who then distributed them to the faculty for discussion in a series of Special Faculty Meetings.

While the wheels of change were moving slowly, protests by African American students on college campuses increased: sit-ins were reported at Radcliffe, Harvard, and Berkeley. Eighteen students of the Five Colleges occupied the administration building at Amherst College in order to make their point. In April 1970 the Smith College faculty voted to create the Afro American Studies program and to start seeking African American faculty to lead the program.

With this victory in hand, in 1972 the BSA led protests over the control of their budget (which was funneled through the Student Government Association (SGA) and created the Black Student Government to run parallel with the SGA. The BSA demanded funding for their own vehicle to provide transportation to various programs in Holyoke, Springfield, and New Haven, CT (Soul Weekend).

Because of the growing number of programs, conferences, and events that were sponsored by the BSA, students demanded appropriate space to accommodate their needs. The rooms in Davis were too small for the growing organization. In 1973 the Mwangi Cultural Center was created in the basement of Lilly Hall, now the School for Social Work. It was named by the Class of 1973 in honor of Florence Mwangi, Class of 1961, who they felt was a "positive role model and ... someone whose ideals they could aspire to." Mwangi herself was present at the naming ceremony, and it was noted that "Sister Mwangi's life and actions demonstrate our need as black people to be aware of the ongoing responsibility to put our skills and knowledge to work in our respective communities and in the larger black community."

Mwangi Cultural Center