Many may remember the infamous, and violent, Columbia riots of 1968 — but few know about the strike two generations previous that overtook the Morningside campus in 1932.  This is that story — told in authentic, historic, photographs and captions — that I was able to purchase and share with you today.

Protesting the expulsion of Reed Harris, crusading editor of the “Columbia Spectator”, undergraduate daily, a one day strike was called on April 4th, by more than a thousand students at a mass meeting in New York. The students applauded speakers attacking Dean Herbert E. Hawkes, who expelled Harris, and President Nicholas Murray Butler, Harris first gained recognition when he attacked the conduct of Athletics at Columbia University as “semi-professional”. The photo shows a general view of the thousands at the mass meeting. 4/4/32

Here, the anti-athletic strikers congregate on the steps of Low Library:

The battle-torn campus of Columbia University, New York, was swept close to riot again on April 8th., as two rival mass meetings took place within two hundred yards of each other, with several patrols of policemen in between. The Athletic, or pro-university students, gathered in front of Hamilton Hall, while the strikers and supporters of Reed Harris, expelled student, held their meeting on the steps of the library. The photo is a view of the striker’s meeting. 4/8/32

This photo begins identically as the previous one — taken on the same day — but this shot shows the pro-athletics group near Hamilton Hall:

…or supporters of Reed Harris, ousted student, gathered on the library steps and were the recipients of several aged in the wood eggs. 4/8/32

Finally, on April 12, 1932, we get some heavy action on the Odessa — I mean, “Columbia” — steps:

Members of one faction chasing opponents up the building steps during one of the student fights.

How did it all end? The Columbia Wiki responds:

Reed Harris CC ’32 was the editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator from 1931 to 1932. His tenure was perhaps the most controversial editorship in the daily’s history. Harris launched an aggressive campaign again the Columbia administration. Most notably, he went after excess profit in Columbia’s dining halls and attacked college athletics for corrupting academics. Harris, who had been tapped to join the Senior Society of Nacoms, also resigned from the organization and published a scathing editorial exposing its inner workings in Spec. Following his assault on the dining halls, he was called in by Dean Herbert Hawkes, brought before an administrative committee, and summarily expelled.

Harris’s expulsion prompted mass student revolt. The Spectator altered their design to boldly protest the crooked move and, more notably, the there was a giant student strike. His case was taken up by the ACLU and ultimately he was permitted to return. Harris, however, opted to sever his ties with the university and turn his work against collegiate athletics into the book King Football.

Harris ended up becoming something of a cold war technocrat, holding a post involved with disseminating pro-US propaganda. He was later called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities for his troubles.

Columbia University has never been an athletic powerhouse — if you were a student athlete looking for an Ivy League education, your first choice was to not enroll at Morningside Heights.

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