Special Educational Opportunities Program (Project 500) was the first extensive effort by the University of Illinois to offer equal educational opportunities for all of the residents of Illinois. Spurred by the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, students and community residents urged the university to enroll students traditionally underrepresented on campus. In 1967, only 372 of 30,400 students were black. In 1968, 565 newly admitted African American and Latino students entered the student body. The details of the project were poorly carried out, and miscommunication between students and the university bureaucracy led to a protest at the Illini Union on September 10, 1968 which resulted in the arrest of 240 black students.
This collection consists of audio recorded by David Eisenman, assistant dean of students, during the years of Project 500, recordings of oral interviews with students and administrators involved in the program conducted by Joy Ann Williamson during research for her book Black Power on Campus: The University of Illinois, 1965-75, and oral history interviews conducted in the fall of 2018 commemorating Project 500’s 50th Anniversary. For additional information from the University of Illinois Archives see Project 500 Exhibits.
Audio recorded by David Eisenman, Assistant Dean of Students from 1968 to 1970, during the years of project 500. It includes his assessments of the implementation of Project 500 as well as the resulting conflicts, and touches on his first-hand accounts of the protests by African American students against their placement in sub-standard housing in the first weeks of the program.