‘Revolution’ exhibit commemorates UB’s involvement in the civil rights movement

Presidential Scholars open exhibit in the Silverman Library


Students and professors came together to pull off what history professor Dalia Muller called “an impossible project” – a tribute to civil rights leaders, using limited resources.

Roughly a semester later, the finished product now stands as a 24-by-4 foot structure in the middle of Silverman Library, to commemorate UB’s involvement in the civil rights movement. 

The exhibit, titled “Revolution,” covers five prominent figures of the civil rights movement — Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Shirley Chisholm and Cesar Chavez — who visited UB from 1960-75. 

The opening for the exhibit took place on Monday in the Silverman Library and featured UB President Satish Tripathi, who commented on the legacy of UB’s active political past. Muller gave UB Presidential Scholars, the top-performing percent of freshman students, the project last semester. The students, who are mainly STEM or business majors, said they discovered a lot of difficulties in their research, but learned from the project and ultimately saw it as a good experience. 

The exhibit serves as a reminder of the UB community’s active participation in social justice and political issues during the 1960s and ‘70s, when the campus was quickly transforming into what many called the “Berkeley of the East.” 

The exhibit is not solely the result of the UB Presidential Scholars’ research, but rather a collaboration of the Office of Inclusive Excellence, UB Libraries and the Honors College. 

Despina Stratigakos, the vice provost for Inclusive Excellence, said the exhibit was a “germ of an idea” last spring when Scott Hollander, the associate university librarian for Technology, Communications and Outreach, came to her with a list of civil rights leaders who spoke at UB in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

Stratigakos said although she was aware of UB’s political past, reading the names on a list “hit [her] somehow differently.” 

She said she was especially impressed that students invited the speakers to campus.

“You realize, ‘Oh! The conversations that must have been happening.’ Then to find out it was mostly students who were inviting these people,” Stratigakos said. 

Stratigakos said the legacy of activism at UB inspired her to teach in UB’s architecture program, which she called “radical” and said was “engaged with social justice and community work.” 

Tripathi also said the exhibit marked a “pivotal era” - both nationally and for the university. Tripathi applauded the work of the Presidential Scholars, who he said did a “fantastic job,” despite not being history majors. 

Tripathi lauded the different types of activism UB students have been involved in over the years, including political activism, environmental work and social work in Buffalo. 

He specifically mentioned the work UB students have done with public schools in Buffalo and housing programs such as PUSH Buffalo. 

The exhibit was the Presidential Scholars’ first foray into historical research of this magnitude. The scholars looked at micro-films in libraries and went through library and Spectrum archives and searched for lost audio for speeches from almost 50 years ago. 

Yet some of their questions remain unanswered. 

This lack of answers left many feeling their project was “incomplete.” 

Presidential Scholars Samantha Nelson, a biochemistry major, and Clayton Markham, an environmental engineering major, struggled to find material on Malcolm X, who had ties to Buffalo dating back to the 1940s. 

Others faced similar difficulties. 

Barbara Curran, a business administration major, said she was disappointed when her team searched the archives for “specific” materials, only to find limited historical records offering few answers. 

Muller warned the students they would “never be satisfied with the outcome.” 

“A lot of us are not used to not being able to complete something,” Curran said. “So when we were told, ‘You’re set up to fail,’ that was really hard.”

But that was the point. 

Muller explained her motive behind the project, aside from sharing some of UB’s history, was to help “overachieving” students cope with failure while also teaching them to work as a team. 

“You’re not only going to fail, but you’re going to fail together,” Muller said. “These kids are maybe going to do great things and make great discoveries, but two things — one, they’re going to fail a lot before they get there and two, when they get there it’s going to be the result of a team,” Muller said. 

The students still found the project to be a good experience and said they found the failures they faced to be a turning point. 

“Even if you had a dead end for this research, you open up other paths and other really cool things you can explore,” Curran said. 

Tanveen Vohra is a Co-senior News Editor and can be reached at Tanveen.vohra@ubspectrum.com and @TanveenUBSpec.


Tanveen Vohra is a former senior news editor and covered international relations and graduate student protests.