Harvard Alumni Plan Reunion To Mark Shutting Down University in 1969
Mar. 15, 1989
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ Student radicals who paralyzed Harvard University in April 1969 by occupying a campus building and staging a two-week strike are coming back to commemorate the event and its impact far beyond Harvard Yard.
Before comparing graying hair and mellowed politics, they're planning to kick off the event with a rally, just like the old days.
''It's important to reaffirm in some public fashion and some social context the values and beliefs of 20 years ago,'' said reunion spokesman Michael Macy, now 40 and a sociology professor at Brandeis University.
Invitations to the April 7-8 event are being relayed by word of mouth among those who forged enduring friendships while attending Harvard from 1968 to 1971 and participating in the protests.
In addition to the noon rally, speeches by Harvard alumni and faculty, guerrilla theater, a teach-in, formal debates and a reunion party are on the agenda. Buses will be provided for alumni who want to leave after the reunion party Saturday to attend an equal rights and pro-choice demonstration in Washington on Sunday.
The campus upheavals of the 1960s kicked off with the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964. Across the country students began marching and protesting against America's presence in Vietnam and other establishment policies.
When the ferment hit the country's oldest and most prestigious university, attention was riveted on the breeding ground for the nation's elite.
As Rihard Rowe, then an assistant dean of the Graduate School of Education, observed at the time: ''The radicals seemed to feel that Harvard must excel - in riots as well as in intellect.''
Shortly after noon on April 9, 1969, some 300 students seized Harvard's main administration building, threw out nine deans and chained the doors. They ignored administration orders to leave University Hall.
Among other demands, the protesters wanted to get rid of the campus units of the U.S. military's Reserve Officer Training Corps units and expand the Afro-American studies program.
When dawn broke the following day, more than 400 state and local police charged the building with a battering ram, pulling students out by the hair, beating them with nightsticks and kicking them. About 45 people were injured, some after jumping from first-floor windows. Police carted off 197 people to the Middlesex County Jail.
One of those arrested was ABC News correspondent Chris Wallace, then a reporter for the Harvard student radio station.
''We were all allowed to make that famous one telephone call,'' Wallace said in an interview Wednesday. ''Some people called their girlfriends. I called the radio station. At the end of my report, I signed off: ''This is Chris Wallace, in custody.''
Wallace said he didn't know about next month's reunion. ''I was no radical,'' he said, but added that he had protested against the Vietnam War.
The show of force by police and the willingness of the university to deploy them galvanized more morderate students. A three-day boycott of classes stretched into a 15-day strike in which students virtually shut down the school.
Rock music and the chants of protestors throbbed in Harvard Yard and outside administrative offices. Students hung banners saying STRIKE from dorm windows and wore T-shirts emblazoned with an upraised clenched fist. The Harvard student-designed symbol went on to become an international symbol of protest.
The few students who didn't boycott classes were taught out of doors. In a physics class someone wrote on the blackboard: ''No classes today - no ruling class tomorrow.'' The instructor told the five students who showed up that that was the day's lesson.
By the time the strike officially ended April 25, school administrators agreed to abolish ROTC on campus, to set up a department of African and Afro- American Studies and to build low-cost housing for people displaced by expansion projects.