Harlem vs. Columbia University

Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s

Stefan M. Bradley
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcghk
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  • Book Info
    Harlem vs. Columbia University
    Book Description:

    In 1968-69, Columbia University became the site for a collision of American social movements. Black Power, student power, antiwar, New Left, and Civil Rights movements all clashed with local and state politics when an alliance of black students and residents of Harlem and Morningside Heights openly protested the school's ill-conceived plan to build a large, private gymnasium in the small green park that separates the elite university from Harlem. Railing against the university's expansion policy, protesters occupied administration buildings and met violent opposition from both fellow students and the police._x000B__x000B_In this dynamic book, Stefan M. Bradley describes the impact of Black Power ideology on the Students' Afro-American Society (SAS) at Columbia. While white students--led by Mark Rudd and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)--sought to radicalize the student body and restructure the university, black students focused on stopping the construction of the gym in Morningside Park. Through separate, militant action, black students and the black community stood up to the power of an Ivy League institution and stopped it from trampling over its relatively poor and powerless neighbors._x000B__x000B_Comparing the events at Columbia with similar events at Harvard, Cornell, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania, Bradley locates this dramatic story within the context of the Black Power movement and the heightened youth activism of the 1960s. Harnessing the Civil Rights movement's spirit of civil disobedience and the Black Power movement's rhetoric and methodology, African American students were able to establish an identity for themselves on campus while representing the surrounding black community of Harlem. In doing so, Columbia's black students influenced their white peers on campus, re-energized the community's protest efforts, and eventually forced the university to share its power.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09058-5
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. vii-xii)

    Years ago, an archivist asked me what attracted me to a topic that was very much New York local history. She tactfully noted that I had not attended an Ivy League university and that I certainly was not from New York (I talked painfully slow for many of the New Yorkers I ran across). I explained to her that what happened in New York City, which many considered the capital of the world, had an impact on the rest of the nation and the world. What was to New Yorkers a local controversy over a park became a national news...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Race and power are two key elements in the narrative of American history, and they are even more important to the story of Columbia University’s student revolt that started in April 1968 and continued into the fall of 1969. The predominantly white Ivy League school, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York, functioned, as did many white institutions in the 1960s, as one that would impose its will on the seemingly defenseless black communities of Morningside Heights and neighboring Harlem by building a ten-story gymnasium in the precious recreational space of Morningside Park.

    In the 1950s, university officials planned...

  5. 1 Why I Hate You: Community Resentment of Columbia
    (pp. 20-38)

    The debate over what to do about the possibility of further institutional expansion highlights the competition that occurred between the city, the university, and the local Harlem and Morningside Heights communities for space. The role of city officials is also important to the background of the drama concerning Columbia’s plans for expansion because the community’s issues with the power structure became much more than just complaints—they became political debates with municipal consequences. This chapter offers a short history of black residents in New York City, Harlem, and Morningside Heights and points out the grievances of the different characters who...

  6. 2 Gym Crow: Recreational Segregation in Morningside Park
    (pp. 39-62)

    Part of Columbia’s and the city’s plans for redevelopment (and expansion in Columbia’s case) included Morningside Park. To some people in the 1960s, the park meant “the only place you could go to get mugged,” but to others, who lived near and used the park, it represented a piece of land that not even a rich and powerful, predominantly white institution like Columbia University could take from them.¹ Indeed, to the people of the adjacent Morningside Heights neighborhood and the mostly black Harlem community that sat below the prestigious Ivy League school, the small, green park between Harlem and the...

  7. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. 3 Up against the Wall: Columbia’s Integrated Protest Effort
    (pp. 63-73)

    “Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stick-up,” white SDS organizer Mark Rudd wrote on April 22, 1968, in a circulated letter to Columbia University President Kirk in hopes of inciting student protest.¹ Rudd’s sentence comes from Leroi Jones’s (Amiri Baraka’s) poem “Black People!” that appeared in theNew York Timesin 1968. The word “motherfucker” allegedly originated in the ghetto. Rudd claimed to have “co-opted the word . . . from the ghetto much as we [the members of SDS] adopted the struggle of blacks and the other oppressed as our own.”² This chapter details the efforts of...

  9. 4 On Our Own: SAS’s Self-Imposed Separation
    (pp. 74-92)

    Upon entering Hamilton Hall, the student protesters changed the dynamics of the demonstration in general. Until that point, the protesters had given no real cause for worry about racial violence among themselves, but the situation soon changed. Once in the building, the students started to recognize differences—some racial and some tactical—in the way that they wanted to conduct the demonstration. This chapter covers some of those differences and the decision of SAS to break from the larger group of student protesters. It also deals with the alliance that SAS made with the community in Harlem.

    Sometime after 7...

  10. 5 Supporting the Cause: SDS, Protest, and the “Bust”
    (pp. 93-109)

    For the students in Low and the other three buildings the SDS followers subsequently took, the situation was different from that for the students who remained in Hamilton. After leaving Hamilton Hall and Low Memorial Library, approximately sixty students decided to take over Avery Hall, which housed the School of Architecture, on April 24. The next day, about fifty protesting radicals, under the leadership of an economics instructor, occupied Fayerweather Hall. Then, on April 26, a group from Low and Fayerweather combined to take Mathematics Hall, where Tom Hayden, founder of SDS, became leader. This chapter will explore the role...

  11. 6 Black Student Power: The Struggle for Black Studies
    (pp. 110-132)

    As a result of the spring 1968 protest, things changed drastically at Columbia. With the mass arrest that took place on campus, SDS observed the radicalization of many Columbia students. With a large number of students advocating change in the university, President Kirk and the administration had to accede to some of the protesters’ demands. That summer, Columbia University students made history at their school with the creation of the Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs, which consisted of students as well as faculty and administrators. Subsequently, the group oversaw disciplinary cases. SDS also achieved its goal of having the school...

  12. 7 Striking Similarities: Columbia, the Ivy League, and Black People
    (pp. 133-154)

    What happened at Columbia University in the 1960s was very much a local matter; however, it was not entirely a unique situation. As a white institution that existed in a city, Columbia’s problems matched those of similar institutions. For instance, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania all faced space conflicts in their urban settings. And although schools like Cornell were located in rural areas, they, like Columbia, had strained relationships with black people as well.

    It is not hard to understand why black people resented institutions like Ivy League universities. Many of these universities rested very near to urban...

  13. 8 Is It Over Yet? The Results of Student and Community Protest
    (pp. 155-186)

    “The Columbia rebellion was one event in this long term growth in people’s consciousness,” suggested Mark Rudd almost two decades after the start of the 1968 student demonstrations at Columbia University.¹ The same, presumably, could be said about the later demonstrations of 1969. When Rudd referred to consciousness, he understood it to mean the people’s (particularly the young people of the 1960s) awakening and reaction to the problems that had been eating away at a functional American society. Most of America had not, until the late 1960s, been aware that it was in a state of unconsciousness. That was when...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 187-192)

    This work began as a simple project on a community rebellion in New York City, but it grew into a piece that deals with the innermost insecurities of the citizens and institutions of the United States in regard to the implications of race and power. It has attempted to answer several questions: How could a white institution make such a bold attempt to take land and property that belonged to the city and that was used mostly by black people? How did the confrontation methods that worked in the Civil Rights movement play out in the Columbia controversies? Why did...

  15. Epilogue: Where Are They Now?
    (pp. 193-198)

    Whenever one reads a history about the 1960s, one wonders what those activists and militants from yesteryear are doing now. One also wonders whether the agitators still feel the same way about the issues that they did in their younger years. Finally, one wonders if those demonstrators from the 1960s are still active in their struggles against racism, war, and poverty. The answer in the case of the Columbia rebels is overwhelmingly affirmative. The following is an attempt to locate some of the demonstrators in the four decades after the rebellions of the late 1960s.

    In April 2008 nearly two...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 199-226)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-238)
  18. Index
    (pp. 239-249)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 250-250)