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3 Things You’ll Learn from a Film About the Black Student Sit-In at Northwestern

The Takeover, a new documentary premiering this month, recounts the protest that took place 50 years ago.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

1 Until 1968, Northwestern had a reputation as “some kind of country club,” says Jeffrey Sterling, president of the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association and executive producer of The Takeover, a documentary directed by Brittany Applegate that premieres May 5 at Swissôtel Chicago. But a new group of progressive administrators admitted more black students, so there were nearly 80 on campus that academic year—more than three times the total number for the previous year.

Students inside
Photo: Joe Boyce/Chicago Tribune

2 Among the participants in the 38-hour student takeover of the bursar’s office was Eva Jefferson Paterson, Northwestern’s first black student body president. Now a civil rights attorney and cofounder of the Equal Justice Society, she’s litigated a number of groundbreaking affirmative action cases.

3 The university exceeded several of the protesters’ demands. Students requested classes in African American studies; the school created an entire department. They asked for the appointment of a faculty member to address their needs and got an office dedicated to African American student affairs. To this day, Sterling says, the sit-in “defines the experience of black students at Northwestern.”

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