Student protesters shut down the Columbia University from New York (April 23, 1968) - History Key

Student protesters shut down the Columbia University from New York (April 23, 1968)

The year of 1968 is also known as the “Year of the Protests”. Protests and revolutions have taken place all worldwide. The students from Columbia University were among the many protesters that stood up against violence and racism. They began protesting on campus because Columbia University was involved in the support of Vietnam War and it was promoted the racism against black students. Some students have occupied buildings from the campus and New York Police responded with violence, resulting hundreds of people being injured.

The new gym with a “back door”

Student life was distinctive at Columbia University in 1968. Officers from training corps were in campus drilling, CIA and military officers were looking for new recruiters. According to Columbia University’s history, there was a classified military research in their labs. Meanwhile, there was a massive movement in the US, known as The Civil Rights movement. One of the triggers that amplified the movements was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Despite all this, the University was building a new gym, right between Columbia and Harlem with a “back door” on the Harlem side. Students were offended by this, and in one day from April, they tore down the fences and attempted to break into the construction site. They were restrained and some of them were arrested during that day. To ensure their movement, other students joined and wandered into Hamilton Hall and stayed the night. They reasons of protests was against Columbia’s complicity at the Vietnam War, against racism and for a better relations with the communities.

Columbia University Potests 1968
Columbia University Potests 1968 © Image Source:

From peace, to violence

The next morning, students were separated from Hamilton Hall by racial lines. The white students went into the President’s office, while the black students stayed in Hamilton. Over the next days, some of the white students reached out into other buildings. By the end of the week, five building were occupied for seven days.

After the initial day, the protest has become more and more extensive. Regular meeting occurred between the students and the authorities during that time. But aside from the meetings, a specific effort was made by some of the protesters. They started looking after files and documents that turned up to contain disturbing information. Columbia University was involved in the Vietnam War, had partnerships with large corporations that planned to divide the “rewards” from Vietnam. All of these documents were given to press. After a few days, the peaceful atmosphere was ended by NYC Tactical Police Force (TPF). The panic was settled and protesters started to respond as well. A small group of students took Dean Henry Coleman as a hostage, until their demands were met. Unfortunately, TPF responded violently, harming hundreds of people, several dozen needed to be hospitalized. Protesters were not scared by the violence of the police, so they called for a general strike, which included the participation of more university members. All the university activities were shut down because of the large number of protesters that joined.

Columbia University Potests
Columbia University Potests © Image Source:

Students didn’t forgot

The students who remained in Hamilton Hall and promoted against racism, won the battle and the gym was never built. However, several students continued to protest until the strike was over. Even after the protests, some students were still in resistance against the university where the 1968 graduating class walked out of the ceremony. The student protest at Columbia University is one of the most radical actions in the US which showed the power of an organized and informed resistance.

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