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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh historians will unveil a multi-media exhibit featuring the first full account of the student demonstrations known as “Black Thursday,” which rocked northeastern Wisconsin 40 years ago. Nearly 100 former students, faculty and staff, law enforcement and community members were interviewed for the major public remembrance of Black Thursday at UW Oshkosh Nov. 20.

The exhibit documents the Nov. 21, 1968, Black Thursday protest at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. On Black Thursday, African-American students attending Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh engaged in dramatic demonstrations that resulted in mass arrests and the expulsion of 94 students. The multi-media exhibit features an audio walk-through, video clips of television coverage of the demonstration and photos and papers that documented the demonstrations and their aftermath.

A documentary-style presentation on the exhibit will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. Following the presentation, a panel featuring some of the students who participated in the demonstration, the UW Oshkosh alumnae who ran the student newspaper in 1968, and several faculty members will discuss and respond to questions from the audience.

UW Oshkosh professor Stephen Kercher describes Nov. 21, 1968, as the day the 1960s came to Oshkosh.

“Such demonstrations were happening all over the country, but Black Thursday was one of the first such to occur in Wisconsin,” said Kercher, who led the team that developed the exhibit. “Many people in the region felt they were immune to the struggles happening elsewhere, but Black Thursday proved that wasn’t so. This project unravels the events surrounding Black Thursday by capturing the memories and perspectives of those who lived through it. We examine racial politics of the time, and consider the unintended consequences of liberal social and educational policies of the period. Above all, we hope this project challenges people to consider the complex legacy of racial divisions in our region and throughout the state.”

Milwaukee senior Teffanie Price, the president of UW Oshkosh’s Black Student Union, was one of two students working on the project.

“Many African-American students don’t know what students before them had to go through to achieve what we have now,” Price said. Things have improved for students of color, but “we don’t always take advantage of the opportunities they have given us.”

Both the University administration and the UW Oshkosh Black Student Union (BSU) enthusiastically supported the project. Each year, the BSU commemorates Black Thursday.

“Our campus is committed to increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body,” Kercher said. “I think everyone believes we can learn something from a closer examination of this painful and difficult episode.”

Kercher, a historian of post-World War II America, was interviewed recently by media nationwide about his book, Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America. Since 2003, he has co-directed the Northeast Wisconsin Teachers Academy for the Study of American History, a project funded by more than $760,000 from the U.S. Department of Education.

The exhibit will open at 10 a.m. Nov. 21 in the Gail Steinhilber Art Gallery on the UW Oshkosh campus. The exhibit will be on display until February 2009.

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