Special Collections & Archives Banner

You are here

Main Content

A Pardon for Bill Burwell, CSUN Student Activist and Faculty Member

William Burwell, Jr Portrait, University Archives Photograph Collection, UAC-099, Box 93 Folder 2Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a posthumous pardon for former CSUN student activist and faculty member Bill Burwell. Special Collections & Archives has several original and primary sources that document Burwell's work and contributions on campus in its University Archives & Campus History collecting area. While some have been shared in past Peek in the Stacks posts about particular events in campus history where Burwell was present, this week's post focuses on highlighting Burwell's contributions to our campus.

William Burwell, Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1942, and graduated from San Fernando Valley High School. In 1967 he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend San Fernando Valley State College, now CSUN, where he studied sociology. Then an ardent Black nationalist, he and other student activists on campus established CSUN's Black Student Union (BSU) in 1967.

While Bill was not on campus during the November 4th Incident, he joined other BSU members, students from United Mexican American Students (UMAS, now MEChA), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and other concerned students and faculty in waves of organized student demonstrations throughout late 1968 and early 1969 in defiance of administrative opposition to their goals.

On January 8, 1969 Burwell and other student leaders organized one of many demonstrations on campus. That day's event drew a large group of supportive students, faculty, community members, religious leaders, and others. With the support of Acting CSUN President Delmar Oviatt, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers came to campus and arrested 275 peaceful protesters that day, including Burwell. He was jailed, charged, and later convicted of failure to disperse and misdemeanor trespassing.

Between January 10 and January 14, 1969 campus administrators, student leaders, concerned faculty, and community members met to negotiate student demands delivered over the course of the demonstrations. The meetings were recorded, and Burwell's voice can be heard negotiating on behalf of students demanding amnesty for CSUN student protesters and the creation of the first ethnic studies programs on campus, then called Black Studies (now Africana Studies) and Mexican-American Studies (now Chicana/o Studies).

As co-founder of the Africana Studies Department, Burwell stayed at CSUN after graduating, serving as a professor and chair of the department for ten years. During that time he worked with colleagues to create and develop the department's curriculum, community empowerment programs, and more. He resigned his tenured position in 1981 to become a full-time seminarian. In 1990, CSUN professor John Broesamle interviewed Burwell about his time at CSUN as a student and faculty member, where he spoke at length about his experiences and actions on campus. Burwell passed away on August 25, 2022, but his legacy at CSUN continues.

BSU Officers, Matador (CSUN Yearbook), 1969, p. 98
Student demonstrators pictured in Matador (CSUN Yearbook), 1969, p. 107
African-American students hold protest signs in front of the Administration Building, ID: UA05548
Daily Sundial coverage of January 8 arrests on campus, January 10, 1969
Photograph of arson incident and statement about faculty support for student amnesty printed in the Matador (CSUN Yearbook), 1969, p. 107
Transcript of negotiation meeting on January 10, 1969 in which Bill Burwell (WB) with the support of SDS President Mike Lee (ML) asked Acting President Delmar Oviatt (DO) to grant amnesty to CSUN students who were arrested by LAPD officers on campus in late 1968 and early 1969, Campus Unrest Process Committee Recordings, Part 1

Read more Peek in the Stacks blog entries