William “Bill” Burwell (CSUN photo)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a posthumous pardon for William “Bill” Burwell, an influential student activist on the Cal State Northridge campus in the 1960s and a founding member of the Black Student Union and the Department of Afro-American (now Africana) Studies, CSUN officials said Saturday, March 30.

“With this posthumous pardon, we honor the legacy of Dr. Burwell and recognize the courageous change makers who led the charge for social justice and educational freedom in the face of efforts to censor history and silence free speech,” Newsom said.

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CSUN officials said Burwell helped lead a series of civil rights protests on the campus — then called San Fernando Valley State College — in 1968 and 1969. Supported by many faculty, staff and community members, they demanded equitable access to higher education.

According to the governor’s clemency statement, Burwell, a sociology student, was convicted of misdemeanor charges of trespassing and failure to disperse in relation to a demonstration on Jan. 8, 1969.

William “Bill” Burwell (CSUN photo)

Newsom and CSUN officials credit him and other student leaders with creating the school’s Afro-American Studies (now Africana Studies) Department.

“I believe, but most importantly our campus believes, that to achieve even greater heights in service to our students, we must honor the past and hold ourselves accountable to realizing a more equitable and just future,” CSUN President Erika Beck said.

“It is in this regard that I reached out to Governor Newsom’s office, to explore opportunities to recognize the courage witnessed all those years ago, to the benefit of CSUN, and frankly to the benefit of California and our nation. We are incredibly grateful to Governor Newsom for shining a light on this important moment in California’s history.”

Burwell died on Aug. 25, 2022.

His pardon was one of 37 pardons and 18 commutations announced by Newsom’s office on Friday.