Legacy of Third World Liberation Front continues today

Davíd Rodriguez/File

Related Posts

While the Third World Liberation Front’s goal of creating an independent Third World College on campus was not realized during the height of this activist movement in 1969, the movement had resounding impact on future movements and impacted the legacy of ethnic studies on campus.

In January 1969, students of color from groups including the Afro-American Student Union organized into the Third World Liberation Front, or TWLF, and initiated a strike against UC Berkeley. They demanded the establishment of a Third World College with four departments: Black studies, Asian studies, Chicano studies and Native American studies.

During the movement’s 50th anniversary last year, TWLF activists came back to campus and reflected on their work. According to Harvey Dong, lecturer of Asian American and Asian diaspora studies and member of the TWLF, negotiations for the movement have stalled because of lack of student pressure.

The group in 1969 also demanded that members of historically underrepresented communities lead the Third World College, according to a journal article written by African American and African diaspora studies department chair and professor Ula Taylor. The article adds that members asked for increased enrollment of and financial aid for Third World students at UC Berkeley.

“The department was supposed to evolve into a college, but that didn’t happen because of a loss of momentum,” Dong said. “Over time, the original goals and purposes got kind of brushed aside and negotiations have stopped in terms of the college idea.”

According to Dong, the TWLF was a product of the turbulent racial tensions of the 1960s. Taylor’s article said during this time, the Afro-American Student Union proposed a Black studies program, and while the proposal was enacted, there were talks about whether it should be a department. According to the article, the TWLF movement started soon after.

The idea of a Black studies program can be traced back to the Black Panther Party, or BPP, according to Dong. In the BPP’s Ten-Point Program, the organization demanded that education teach the “true history” and the Black community’s role in society.

Student activists from San Francisco State University also inspired the TWLF, according to Dong. He added that while TWLF is an “incomplete” movement, after the protests ended, UC Berkeley established the ethnic studies department, after San Francisco State established the nation’s first college of ethnic studies in 1969.

“As students, we all worked together, built solidarity together,” Dong said. “All that changes over time because students have either moved on or they become discouraged.”

Dong added that the TWLF inspired other movements throughout the campus’s history, including the 1987 anti-apartheid movement, the 1999 hunger strike to save ethnic studies and the addition of the American Cultures requirement. 

Later, the African American studies program left the ethnic studies program and became an independent department. According to Taylor’s article, the African American studies department on campus established itself at the forefront of the development of African diaspora studies.

The TWLF movement lasted more than two months, beginning with more than 1,000 students marching on the first day of the strike and ending with the establishment of an ethnic studies department on campus, according to Taylor’s article. Dong added that protesters were met with opposition and violence from the National Guard, called by former California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

According to an archive found in the campus American studies undergraduate seminar collective project “The Berkeley Revolution,” the student protests were met with “escalating police tactics,” including the use of tear gas and “unprovoked beatings” of students and journalists.

“The TWLF was a starting point, and succeeding generations continue it,” Dong said. “I wanted to continue bringing an understanding of what students in my time began and the significance to generations today.”

Contact Nina Narahari at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ninanarahari_dc.