The African–American Student Union (AASU) at HBS emerged from the turbulence of the late 1960s, years marked by large–scale urban riots across the country, protests against the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In 1968, AASU was launched as the Afro–American Student Union. Its founders were committed to addressing challenges they experienced as a racial minority in the classroom as well as broader socio–economic issues faced by African Americans nationwide. In a letter to faculty members, they stated: "(1) the seriousness of the racial situation and the socioeconomic condition of Black people demand a major and positive response from all institutions which form part of our society; and (2) Harvard Business School, as one of the major educational institutions in the nation, must accept its share of the challenges and risks associated with the upgrading of educational opportunities of Blacks and other minority groups."5

In 1968, mounting protests against racial injustice and the war in Vietnam were raging across the country and across the river from HBS, on the Harvard campus. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. A photograph of students walking past the flag flying at half-mast appeared in the HBS 1968 yearbook, referencing King and Chaffee Earl Hall Jr., administrative director of the MBA program, who had died the month before.

Clifford E. Darden, MBA 1969, DBA 1982

Clifford E. Darden developed the organizational strategy of AASU and became its first chair. "We couldn't just sit on the banks of the Charles River," he wrote, "and do nothing at a time when racial oppression and discrimination were still a reality in many parts of the country."6 Darden later recounted, "After Dr. King was assassinated, that really had a major impact on me, so much so that I contemplated dropping out of the MBA Program.... [B]ut I had resolved, 'No, I am not going to drop out. I am going to stay here and try to make a difference, and I am going to start with pulling this organization together.'" He explained that he counted on members of the class of 1970 "to staff the new organization and make it fully functional and credible as the collective voice of black students at HBS. We were the first student group at HBS formed on some basis other than professional aspirations."7
Darden is Professor in Organizational Theory and Management, Emeritus at Pepperdine University's School of Business. He is author of 34 cases and several book chapters on management. Darden served on the Harvard University Board of Overseers Visiting Committee for HBS from 1995 through 2000.
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A. Leroy Willis, MBA 1969

"[W]hen Dr. King was assassinated, I think our commitment went up a few notches . . . that was when we decided that we would put our MBAs on the line, to really put in the energy and to exhibit the courage that was needed," A. Leroy Willis, a co–founder of AASU, remembered.8 Upon the discovery that he was the only Black student in his section, Willis went to see Dean George P. Baker. Willis recalled, "He listened to me and said, 'You're right. We should try to do better than what we're doing.' So over time I got to know him—he was really a great guy–and shortly thereafter I met Clifford Darden.... Clif and I met with Charles Brown, the head of the Afro American Student Association at UC Berkeley, where we got to understand what a black student union was. It became the model for us setting up our student union."9
Willis was the first African American graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia in 1962. He became the first African American head of HBS's Business Assistance Program in Roxbury. He has been a key activist leader in the community development efforts of major U.S. cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles and runs a real estate consultancy firm in Los Angeles.
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Lillian Lincoln Lambert, MBA 1969

The first African American woman student at HBS, Lillian Lincoln Lambert recalled, "[W]e went to Dean Baker one day, and just asked, why are there so few black students? And he said that they really couldn't find them. So we said, we'll help you. We'll go back to our alma maters and do some recruiting if you will provide the funds to do it, and he agreed to do that."10 Lambert said, "[I]t was also about just seeing some faculty and staff who looked like you. When you walked down the hall at the time, there were no black and no women faculty members, so the women students I'm sure felt some of that. We dealt with both race and gender issues."11 Overall, Lambert is pleased that AASU "has been effective and that the School recognizes and appreciates the hard work that we've put into making the organization what it is today. At the time I was doing it, I had absolutely no idea it would have that impact."12
An author and public speaker, Lambert founded and led Centennial One, a building services contracting company that grew to 1,200 employees in six states and over $20 million in revenue. She ran the enterprise for 25 years. Lambert received the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor conferred by HBS, in 2003.
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E. Theodore Lewis Jr., MBA 1969

When E. Theodore Lewis Jr. arrived at HBS he "was really disappointed in Harvard. Its reputation was that it was the best of the country's educational institutions and would be leading in a number of social justice issues . . . . We started sharing our points of view about what was going on at the School. There was a range of feelings about the fact that out of a class of 700 students there were only six African Americans."13 He remembered that in the HBS curriculum at the time, "a lot of the things that were being discussed in cases clearly had none of the appreciation of what we now call diversity . . . certainly African American issues were just a small part of the agenda, if any part of the agenda."14 Of that era, Lewis said, "We felt particularly emboldened—that we had nothing to lose."15
Lewis worked in a number of executive search firms and consulting companies. He has provided senior–level strategic management advice and recruitment leadership as a member of McKinsey & Co., Russell Reynolds, and Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) senior management. He also serves on the boards of A Better Chance (ABC) and Early Steps.
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George R. Price, MBA 1970

George R. Price worked closely with Lillian Lincoln Lambert to recruit Black students and thereby significantly increase the number of African Americans attending HBS. In 1967, AASU's founders represented five of only six Black students in the incoming class. In the summer of 1968 Price worked in Kansas City, Missouri where he oversaw an experimental summer project for Gordon T. Beaham III (HBS '58). The project, Black Light, Inc., produced comic strips for a television cartoon series marketed for Black children.16 Price returned to HBS the following year where he continued to be involved in the efforts of AASU.
After graduation Price worked in international marketing for Levi Strauss in the company's headquarters in San Francisco and also in Oslo, Norway and Brussels, Belgium. He led efforts advising the company not to manufacture products in South Africa during apartheid. He also served as a strategic consultant to several African American companies. Price, who died in 2012, founded Price & Associates, a venture development firm, based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Letter to faculty member from members of the AASU, April 25, 1969. AASU Records, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.
Clifford E. Darden in “African-American Student Union Marks 25 Years at HBS,” 37.
Clifford E. Darden in Jennifer Gillespie, ed., “We Were Just Doing What Needed to Be Done,” Harvard Business School Bulletin, March 2018, 60.
Interview with A. Leroy Willis. “The African-American Student Union of HBS: A Salute to the Past, A Challenge to the Future” (014871962_VT_0006), 1994. Baker Library, Harvard Business School.
A. Leroy Willis in Gillespie, ed., “We Were Just Doing What Needed to Be Done,” 59—60.
Interview with Lillian Lincoln Lambert, “The African-American Student Union of HBS: A Salute to the Past, A Challenge to the Future” (014871962_VT_0006), 1994. Baker Library, Harvard Business School.
Lillian Lincoln Lambert in Gillespie, ed., “We Were Just Doing What Needed to Be Done,” 61.
Ibid., 62.
E. Theodore Lewis Jr. in Gillespie, ed., “We Were Just Doing What Needed to Be Done,” 59.
Interview with E. Theodore Lewis, “The African-American Student Union of HBS: A Salute to the Past, A Challenge to the Future.”
Lewis in Gillespie, ed., “We Were Just Doing What Needed to Be Done,” 60.
Luci Horton, “A Slice of Life Drawn from the Ghetto,” Ebony, February 1974, 82.