Strikers on the ledge of Mathematics Hall, one of five buildings at Columbia University that students took over in April 1968.
“The campus of Columbia University is dotted with monuments to illustrious alumni and high-minded ideals. But on a sunny afternoon earlier this week, about two dozen people gathered around the sundial in its central plaza to pay tribute to a momentous event that has gone uncommemorated in stone. … ‘Things” is an understatement for what began at Columbia around noon on April 23, 1968, when students, united by opposition to plans to build a university gym in a nearby public park and by Columbia’s involvement in weapons research, converged on that spot. A week later, nearly a thousand activists had occupied five buildings (including the president’s office), taken the dean hostage and shut down the campus, before being removed by the police in a violent melee that ended with one of the largest mass arrests in New York City history. Anniversaries of Columbia 1968 tend to arrive like a classic rock hit, replayed nostalgically by those who were there. But it’s a story, Professor Guridy told the group of current students and former strikers who had gathered for a walking tour of sites relating to the protests, that is only now, as the 50th anniversary approaches, being fully understood. … About a half-dozen former protesters were joined by students who have been researching the history of 1968 in Columbia’s archives, as part of two classes modeled on an earlier one dedicated to exploring the university’s connections with slavery. The slavery research was spearheaded by the university’s president, Lee Bollinger. But the 1968 commemoration is taking on a history that is more recent and perhaps more fraught, even at a school where a tradition of student protest is touted as part of the brand. Mr. Bollinger, in a telephone interview, said that ‘part of the identity of Columbia is reinforced by what happened here in 1968.’ But asked if he saw the legacy of the protests themselves as positive, Mr. Bollinger — whose own office was briefly occupied in 2016 by students demanding fossil fuel divestment — walked a careful line. The administration’s decision to call in the police in 1968 was ‘a serious breach of the ethos of the university.’ However much he agreed broadly with the protesters’ opposition to the Vietnam War and support for civil rights, he said, the occupation of buildings ‘was not necessarily the right way to manifest those viewpoints.’ …”
DemocracyNow!: How Black Students Helped Lead the 1968 Columbia U. Strike Against Militarism & Racism 50 Years Ago (Video)