On a cold day in mid-January in 1969, Anna Stanley and a handful of other black students got the attention of University of Minnesota President Malcolm Moos and other administrators. They took over the bursar's office in Morrill Hall, locked themselves in overnight and demanded that the U become more racially inclusive and establish an African-American and African Studies Department.
Stanley, who advocated for civil rights through a long career, died in Minneapolis on June 9. She was 71.
Retired humanities professor Mischa Penn remembers teaching Stanley in a course about racial thought, and said that she and her cohorts were determined, smart and politically sophisticated.
"They were able to extract something from the U, which is quite remarkable," Penn said. "They were offered a program, but programs come and go. They got a department, and that's a different story."
Bill Tilton, a member of student government at the time, said he and a few dozen other sympathetic white students showed up at Morrill Hall that day and demonstrated their support for the locked-in black activists.
"She was one of the most powerful orators the University of Minnesota has ever seen," Tilton said. "She was a very strong voice for civil rights and for women's liberation, and later for gay liberation."
Stanley was born in Philadelphia, where she was raised mostly by her grandmother. She traveled to the South in the mid-1960s as a volunteer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and worked on voter registration drives and protests against segregation.
Stanley moved to the Twin Cities in 1968 to attend Metropolitan State Junior College and transferred to the U in 1969.
There she met other black students who were active on the Afro-American Action Committee (AAAC) on campus, including Steve Winfield. At the time, about 40,000 students were enrolled at the university, and fewer than 100 of them were black.
"She was brilliant," Winfield said. "She could be marching in a protest during the morning, give a fiery speech in the afternoon and write a 15-page paper at night that would get an 'A' grade on the first draft."
One of the other leaders was John Wright, who drafted seven student demands that included stronger efforts to recruit and admit students of color; scholarship, advising and counseling programs; and curriculum reforms, including a department of African-American and African Studies.
Wright, who went on to become a University of Minnesota professor and chairman of that department, said the demands were formulated shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, but were mostly ignored for months, leading to the decision to take over Morrill Hall.
Wright said Stanley was a major voice in the debates of the time, but her strong personality, intense intellect and passion sometimes obscured another side of her that embraced the arts and spirituality.
After leaving the U, Stanley worked as an assistant affirmative action officer for Ramsey County, spent a decade with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis and taught children in a number of settings and alternative schools.
Stanley was drawn to Buddhism and professed it in later years, said Annette Kavanaugh, a close friend. "She had a very wide-ranging and passionate interest in the world."
Stanley has no immediate survivors, Kavanaugh said, and was preceded in death by friend and partner Rafala Green.
Memorial services are pending.