Pitt alumni celebrate ‘sit-in’ anniversary that led to changes

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At this year’s University of Pittsburgh Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 22 to Oct. 25, the Pitt African American Alumni Council celebrated the 40th Anniversary of a “sit-in” that eventually led to the many strides towards diversity the university has taken over the years.

A weekend that boasted the largest reunion of African-American alumni in the university’s history, saw the return of many of Pitt’s former civil rights leaders. Among them was Anthony Fountain, who was the founding member and first chairperson of the Political Action Committee of the Black Action Society at the time of the “sit-in.”

Exhibit
EXHIBIT UNVEILING— Pitt alumni join family and friends at the Hillman Library for an unveiling of an exhibit chronicling 40 years of African-American accomplishments at the university.

Fountain was there on Jan. 15, 1969 when approximately 50 students took over the university’s computer center. They called for an increase in Black faculty, enrollment, and overall representation, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Department of Black Studies later that year.

 

“Having faced acts of racism throughout my upbringing in Pittsburgh, (for example being) denied entry to public pools and Kennywood Park’s pool, including a terrible injustice my father experienced while employed at the University of Pittsburgh, it was not a difficult decision for me to dedicate much of my life and energy to improving the lives of African-Americans and in particular the relationship the university has with African-Americans,” Fountain said.

Today, the university has 13,000 African-American alumni and at the opening of the homecoming celebration, the AAAC announced a $3 million financial aid campaign to support diversity students. However, Fountain said improvements still need to be made.

“A lot of progress has been made in the areas of student enrollment, student graduation, hiring of faculty and senior staff.  But much work remains,” he said. “The percentage of Black students and senior staff still do not reflect the broader demographics and tremendous positive impact Blacks have made to the university and the country as a whole.”

Fountain also said he is disappointed that the Department of Black Community Education Research and Development is now the Department of Africana Studies because he said the focus has been taken away from the community.

Still, Fountain said the actions of those students 40 years ago was the driving force behind the eventual creation of programs such as the University Community Education Project and the School of Engineering IMPACT Program, which helps Black students pursue opportunities in the sciences.

“On another positive note, the eventual formation of the Pitt African American Alumni Council was a major step forward.  We did not have any such support organization in 1969,” Fountain said. “I am sure the AAAC, which is among the largest and most active college Black alumni organizations in the country outside of some HBCU’s, will eventually prove to be the force of nature in sustaining an outstanding culture of diversity at Pitt and in narrowing the gulf between the haves and have nots with respect to educational and economic opportunities.”

The protest at Pitt not only opened doors for Blacks at Pitt, but at other schools throughout Pittsburgh such as Robert Morris, Duquesne, Carnegie Mellon and Carlow College.

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