What Was Behind the CCNY Takeover?

From the Five Demands To the University of Harlem

(The author, a student at the Harvard Summer School, served last year as editor-in-chief of the Tech News, the student newspaper at the City College of New York. He will be a senior at CCNY next year and is a premedical student majoring in biology.)

It began with an emotion verbalized--"Goddamn I'm tired of this lily white school with its Romance Languages and English Literature. We got to it together. Man we need some Black studies and awhole lot of other changes." It continued with a plan crystalized--"On strike for the '5 Demands'--shut it down". And then the Administration responded--"Get those Blacks off our land. We don't have to pay attention to them. "We'll negotiate with them to keep them quiet; then, we'll reject it all and tell them we tried." And the brothers responded "Come on down here and get us off. You got to bring some ass to get some ass." Then the man called The Man "You have one hour to make up your minds. Either abandon this property or go to jail." Radically, the plan was revised--"We'll be back". The school was opened--"Pigs pigs everywhere and all the streets did stink". But not quite opened--"Hey you, Hey Boy, where is your ID card. Your can't go in there without a card. Dump everything you have out on the ground. Shut up and move." Finally, the Presidential address delivered (at Commencement)--"We will have law and order (Standing Ovation) We will not let the minority upset our institution (S.O.) They must conform (S.O.) We will have law and order" And then summer happened. What will the fall bring--"who knows. I guess whatever is necessary."

That was the City College of New York during the spring of 1969--three months of action that culminated in the takeover of the entire South Campus of the institution. But where did it begin?

It began on February 6--the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community (BPRSC) called for a general meeting to discuss their grievances and make the Five Demands developed in committee known to the body.

The Five Demands are:

1. A separate degree-granting school of Third World Studies (NB-Third World implies all the oppressed and exploited people of the world)

2. A separate freshman orientation program for Black and Puerto Rican Students

3. A voice for SEEK students in the setting of all guidelines for the SEEK program including the hiring and firing of all personnel (SEEK is the program which admits Black and Puerto Rican students to CCNY who would ordinarily not be accepted)

4. That the racial composition of all freshman classes reflect the Black and Puerto Rican population of New York City high schools

5. That Black and Puerto Rican history and the Spanish language be a requirement for all education majors.

On that same day, the several months of research was delivered to President Buell G. Gallagher's office with the declared intention to return in one week for his answer. One week later the Black and Puerto Rican students gathered at the foot of the Administration building to hear Dr. Gallagher's response to the Five Demands. There, Dr. Gallagher made a serious mistake--he tried to be evasive. He tried to deal with the BPRSC like he dealt with the white radicals (SDS, DuBois, Progressive Labor Party etc). President Gallagher wasn't prepared to respond to a substantive program. As the crowd became more and more dissatisfied with his answers, Gallagher realized that his presence was a threat to his own safety--and he left.

The Black and Puerto Rican students, in a totally unplanned action, then took over the Administration building of the College. And exhibiting their well-known discretion, the administrators of the College left quickly. At 5 p.m. the building was vacated by the BPRSC. The daily routine of the College had been successfully disrupted and people were now addressing themselves to the Five Demands. Friday, the following day, was quiet and tense. The uneasy calm over the student body was obvious in some classes, where the demands were discussed rather than syllabus material. But it was quiet. Everyone was waiting for something to happen.

Then Monday happened. The College was rocked by what Dr. Gallagher called a "rather well synchronized" attack. Eight buildings were simultaneously hit with sulfur bombs, spray paint, small explosives, and tear gas. Reports were being filed all throughout the day. Some reports said that the acts were perpetrated by whites "who looked like members of SDS or the Commune," while other reports accused Black students of the vandalism. There were no arrests, however, and no student could be identified for disciplinary action. Bathrooms were flooded in the Student Center, sulfur bombs were released into the ventilation system and the halls of the engineering building and an acrid, burning smell pervaded the first three floors of Cohen Library. Classes were cancelled in late afternoon--all went home.

There was no recurrence of Monday's activities. There were no public statements from the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community. There was nothing from the Administration on the Five Demands. Throughout March, there was nothing from Dr. Gallagher. It was as though they thought the whole thing would go away if they ignored it. But April found the word 'STRIKE' written on walls and posted on bulletin boards all over the school. No explanation; just STRIKE!

This shook Gallagher and the rest of the Administration. In an obvious attempt to thwart the strike, Dr. Gallagher called for a meeting with the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community to restore the broken lines of communication. Gallagher said that he supported the whole thrust of the demands. Addressing himself to the Five Demands, Dr. Gallagher began by saving that he expected Professor Wilfred Cartney's report on the establishment of a Black and Puerto Rican Studies Program in a few weeks. Dr. Cartney, a Black professor of African Literature from Columbia, was hired to assist the students in the development of such a program. As of several weeks ago, the proposed school would exist as a separate department within the School of Liberal Arts and would not be able to confer a degree upon its graduates.