The 1968 riot and takeover on the Columbia University campus is still a rotting sore that ruins the day. The matter drowns in infamy and many wish it soon to be forgotten — much like the student strike of 1932 that took over the campus — but if we hope not to repeat the mistakes of the past, we must remember them, share the facts of the moment, and preserve the truth into the future.
It is interesting that, just as during the campus strike in 1932, the 1968 riot centered on athletics at Columbia university.
I was able to purchase the historic images you see in this article, and I’m sharing them all with you now to help set the definitive timeline of what happened in Morningside Heights in the Spring of 1968 — and why the riot happened, and how Columbia, still to this day, wrestles with the hard matters had at hand half a century later.
Some of the dates and captions may seem off — I offer them to you directly as they appear in situ — no editorializing or changing of the information has occurred.
Some ghosts never die — they remain, haunting you, forever; not from the shadows — but from the bright sunlight of College Walk.
New York: Statue of Alexander Hamilton looms above students outside Hamilton Hall during a protest rally at Columbia University April 24th. Hanging from the balcony are photos of Stokely Carmichael and a Viet Cong flag. Acting dean Harry S. Coleman and two other Columbia officials have been barricaded inside the building since April 23rd. One target of the student sit-ins is the university’s plan to construct a gymnasium in a Harlem park, which Negro students contend will deprive residents of a recreation area.
CAMPUS LIFE: THE INS AND OUTS
New York: Columbia University students and others climb in and out of windows at the office of Columbia President Grayson Kirk in the Low Library Building April 24th. Students have been blockading the offices of Kirk and other university officials since April 23rd, refusing to let anyone in or out — except by window. Among the targets of the sit-in protest are: more freedom of protest for students, halt of construction of a Columbia gymnasium in a Harlem park, and an end to the school’s involvement in research for the Defense Department.
New York: In what has become a not uncommon sight in the schools both in the United States and in many other parts of the world, policemen mount the steps at Columbia University April 25 to keep peace on the campus. Students protesting school policy disrupted classes for the third straight day.
BRINGING IN FOOD
New York: Food is brought in to sit-in students at Columbia University as student protests moved into its fourth day April 26. A militant minority of collegians, successful in forcing suspension of classes and construction of an $11,500,000 gymnasium, claimed April 26 they were strong enough to win amnesty for those participating in the seizure of five campus buildings.
WED-IN DURING A SIT-IN
New York: Columbia University students Richard Eagen and Andrea Boroff — who are taking part in a protest against university policy — are followed by well-wishers after being married April 25th in Fayerweather Hall, the insurrection began seven days ago. The couple, married by a university chaplain, left the building briefly and then returned to it to continue their protest.
New York: New York City police storm Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall, early April 30, to begin the eviction of some 500 rebellious students at the request of the university’s Board of Trustees. The school officials acted following a week of campus insurrection by dissident students protesting university policy.
New York: Columbia University President Grayson Kirk meets with newsmen April 30th after he called on police to clear the campus of students who had been sitting-in in five buildings for a week in protest over university policies. Kirk said he called for police to enable the majority of the students, “outraged by the actions of this minority.” to resume their studies.
New York: Columbia University students gather on the campus lawn 4/30 to protest the use of police force in removing striking students from university buildings early 4/30. Forty-six elected student leaders, many of whom had been against the original demonstration, signed a statement 4/30 calling for a continuation of the strike. They said the use of police force was “beyond human comprehension” and had triggered their support of the rebels.
New York: In an attempt to form a “human barricade” around Columbia University, rebel students and sympathizers sit along the perimeter of the campus in New York April 30th. Angered by a predawn police raid in which 628 rebels were arrested, student leaders called for a student-faculty strike and the resignation of the administration.
NEW YORK BUREAU . . . CONTINUED
New York: — Columbia University students gather outside the university-owned tenement they occupied with members of a community group. This demonstration demanded that the school turn the building over to the community and cooperate in a renewal plan to renovate the building before they would leave. A short time later police called by college authorities evicted those in the building, and arrested 121 persons at the scene. No disorders occurred.
QUIET AT COLUMBIA
New York: A workman sweeps the pavement outside Butler Library as police patrol passes behind him on campus of Columbia University May 1st. All was reported quiet on the campus where police forcibly ejected student demonstrators early April 30th after a seven-day siege. Meanwhile, leaders of the student revolt were trying to organize a rent strike May 1st among Harlem residents living in university-owned buildings.
BACK TO SCHOOL
New York: Law students picket in front of the Columbia University School of Law (left, rear) as fellow students head toward the building May 3. Classes resumed May 3 in the law school for the first time in almost two weeks.
New York: Students stand on a balcony as a resident looks from a window of the Columbia University-owned tenement they occupied May 17th. The sit-in followed an on-campus rally in front of Low Memorial Library, where student leaders urged the crowd to resist Columbia’s encroachment on the ghetto community.
New York: A demonstrator is hustled away by plainclothes detectives after police flushed 150 rebel students from a barricaded building at Columbia University early May 22 and then swept across the campus, forcibly clearing out 2,000 more students who milled about angrily denouncing the initial police action.
New York: Columbia University President Grayson Kirk (foreground) addresses a press conference here May 22nd as his vice-president David Truman looks on. Kirk declared war on rebel students in the name of peace May 22nd at the scarred school where police earlier arrested 178 students who took over one building and damaged six others. Kirk broke a week of silence to say that as many students as necessary would be suspended to “restore peace” to the campus.
New York: Columbia University seniors in cap and gown walk out on their graduation exercises at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine here June 4th to join some 1,500 student and parent demonstrators on the streets outside. The gesture of defiance by some 200 seniors to the university’s embattled administration was orderly.
New York: Mark Rudd, the 21-year-old leader of last spring’s campus revolt at Columbia University, uses a bullhorn to address incoming freshmen at Columbia 9/18. Rudd and 10 other students suspended for their parts in the rebellion will attempt to register 9/18 and he warned the freshmen who aren’t with them to stay away.
New York: Student rebels grab at the nightstick of a Columbia University guard 9/18 when the students, about 150 of them, attempted to register 10 of their number who had been suspended for taking part in the spring disturbances that left the campus a shambles. The guards managed to turn back the students who tried to force their way into the gymnasium where registration was being held.
New York: Mark Rudd (R. plaid shirt), leader of last spring’s campus revolt at Columbia University, tries to force his way into gymnasium 9/18 to register for the fall term. Rudd and 10 other students suspended for their part in the rebellion were stopped by nightstick-carrying guards as they made an unsuccessful attempt to register.
Columbia University has a sharp and wide and magnificent history of intellectualism and learning — as well as a darker, and perhaps, deeper side of human protest and revolt against authority. We must take in all angles to comprehend, and then form, a wider whole; and the entirety of Columbia University in history is one of both woeful disdain and ethereal pride — a perfect, reflexive, anomaly of higher education in these United States.