1968 Revolution at Columbia University

The Columbia Revolution in 1968


As soon as I wake up, regardless of the pain, for a moment I smile:  I am 19 again at Columbia’s 1968 demonstrations against the War in Vietnam.

See: Crippling on-going pain: Help me ‘get back on my feet’ (so to speak) http://www.joelsolkoff.com/crippling-on-going-pain-help-me-get-back-on-my-feet-so-to-speak/

ColumbiaGreysonMy girlfriend and I were arrested together at Columbia’s Mathematics Hall. [This photograph shows Low Library where President Grayson Kirk had his office. Vicki and I started out by occupying the office of Columbia’s president. However, the faculty had a critical vote and I decided to lobby Professor John Mundy, head of Columbia’s History Department. I camped out on his doorstep and when it was late enough in the morning, I knocked on his door and he let me in wearing a bathrobe.

[Professor Mundy handed me a cup of wonderfully hot coffee. While I drank and he dressed, I urged him to vote in favor of amnesty–the key provision we demonstrators insisted upon if we were to leave the buildings. Upon returning, a line around Low Library blocked me from climbing in through the window. Vicki wanted to be with me. I could not secure entrance, but I negotiated for her release. We then went to Mathematics Hall, which had recently been occupied and that is where we were arrested.]


So many Columbia University students were arrested  that April  that at 2 A.M. there was no room for us in New York’s central prison/jail/courthouse “The Tombs.”


 Vicki and I held hands in the hallway of the Harlem police station for most of the night. Then the police took us to the Tombs, [we had already been formally booked, fingerprinted;  no handcuffs]

At the Tombs the judge asked us Guilty or Not-guilty. We said innocent and were immediately released without bail.

We won the demonstration. Columbia’s president, who had  been a principal in secret government research to kill the Vietnamese, retired from office in disgrace. His appointed successor Dean Truman was not appointed President.  An interim president served Columbia in time to sign my diploma.

Despite everything I still have a Columbia B.A. in Medieval European history. In fact, Columbia gave into the most controversial demand amnesty.

Columbia lawyers appeared in court to drop the criminal charges of the students it had ordered to be arrested and expunged  arrest records.

When the judge released me from criminal trespass misdemeanor charges, he said, “If this is what a college education is good for, who needs it.”

Years later, when I was appointed Special Assistant to the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor, I received a full security clearance. As a consequence, I was able to read secret CIA documents. When I wrote a speech to be delivered before Latin American secretaries of labor in Peru, the CIA documents were helpful. Profiles of  Latin American secretaries of labor showed they received their positions because they were especially effective at breaking strikes.

The U.S. secretary of labor, his deputy (my boss) and the assistant secretaries of labor, and I all received our jobs because of the U.S. labor movement. Specifically, President of the AFL-CIO George Meany made sure all U.S. Presidential appointments were acceptable to unions. Note well: Without George Meany’s help, Jimmy Carter would not have been elected president.

N.B. also: Despite my arrest at Columbia, the U.S. senate confirmed my appointment. Here is a link to one of the speeches I wrote for Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/speechwriting-basics-how-to-apologize-without-saying-you-are-sorry/


The Columbia Revolution today

A judge, who was arrested at Columbia, and other classmates and jail mates reflect on 40 years ago. They agree that the demonstrations had a lasting and positive effect on our lives. The demonstrations resulted in a significant change for the better in our society. The tendency to be grandiose about the significance of college days is strong.

None the less, books were written and songs sung about what we did and its significance. For example, New York Times reporter Mark Kurlansky published 1968 The Year that Rocked the World.

In reviewing the book for Amazon, Denis Benchimol Minev wrote:

“Movements n the US, especially at Berkeley and Columbia, have strong effects on the American psyche, as the war in Vietnam went on and civil rights movements were heating up and taking a turn towards violence (away from Martin Luther King and into the Black Panthers). ”


The About section of You Tube describes the above video:

“Forty Years After Historic Columbia Strike, Four Leaders of 1968 Student Uprising Reflect

“Forty years ago this week, hundreds of students at Columbia University started a revolt on campus. Students went on strike.

“They occupied five buildings, including the president’s office in Low Library, and barricaded themselves inside for days.

“The students were protesting Columbia’s ties to military research and plans to build a university gymnasium in a public park in Harlem.

“The 1968 Columbia uprising inspired student protests across the country. We spend the hour with four of the strike leaders: Gustin Reichbach is now a New York State Supreme Court Justice; William Sales is now a professor at Seton Hall University; Tom Hayden is a former California state senator; and Juan Gonzalez, our own Democracy Now! co-host.” Democracy Now! produced the video. http://www.democracynow.org


This post copyright © 2015 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


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