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.
On the second demand, that one dealing with the separate freshman orientation program, Gallagher said "Yes, you can develop any type of freshman orientation program you wish. If upper classmen are willing to staff such a project, it can be implemented in the fall."
Regarding the third demand, "Dean Young is ready to work with any SEEK students who want to revise the present decision-making structure.
On the fourth demand, dealing with the freshman class being representative of the high school population, President Gallagher pointed to the budget cut in Albany. He explained during the question and answer period that although the 100 Scholars program is being implemented this fall (a program to admit the top 100 students from every high school of N.Y.C. into the City University system), his major concern was quality, "I want more than a quantity program," he said.
On the fifth demand, Dr. Gallagher said "I turned this matter over to the School of Education. Recently, they have decided to make Spanish mandatory for all entering education majors. The Spanish requirement will be in effect this fall. The Black and Peurto Rican History and Culture will probably not be implemented this fall."
Oh the Questions
During the question and answer period, Dr. Gallagher was asked about the weeks of silence and on the failure to implement the fourth and fifth demands. Words became heated. Then Dr. Gallaher stated that he had to leave. A dozen students moved to block the door, but he was too quick for them. In a flash, he was gone!
But the Black and Puerto Rican Faculty was there throughout the meeting. Several days later, they issued a statement which questioned some of Gallagher's responses: The following are the questions, demand by demand, that were still unanswered:
1. Is Prof. Cartney committed to a separate school? Are "programs" in Black and Puerto Rican studies the same thing as a separate school? If not, have the students agreed to accept Prof. Cartey's recommendation?;
2. Is the existing orientation program simply the product of spontaneous activity or are members of the Student Personnel Dept. hired to do the job? The current City College bulletin suggests the latter: "Members of the Department conduct a series of orientation classes for all entering students and provide individual orientation interviews" (page 175). Isn't it up to Dr. Gallagher to appoint a Black and Puerto Rican administrative superstructure with which student volunteers can work?
3. Haven't the students already taken the initiative in making this demand? Mustn't we assume from this that there exists a leadership from which representation can be drawn until conditions make an election possible? And must we not assume that initiative to recognize interim leadership must come from Dean Young?
4. Is the solution to the budget cut that President Gallagher proposes--cutting both the "regular freshman" and SEEK classes in half--a valid solution or should need and ability to go elsewhere for an education be considered in admitting students?
5. If "programs" in Black and Puer-to Rican history be scheduled for the same time?
Thus, there were many contradictions in Dr. Gallagher's attampt to restore the broken lines of communication. But these were seen by many members of the BPRSC and faculty. And on the following Monday, the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community appeared again in force.
Marching around the campus, the BPRSC turned out practically every Black and Puerto Rican student in the session. Lead by the black, red, and green flag of the Third World over 1500 students marched to the Administration building where they burned an effigy to Dr. Gallagher. Marching up to the Administration building, the protestors sang, "We love our hearts," and "On strike, shut it down." As the dummy with the word "Racism" painted on its chest was burned the brothers and sisters sang "Time to pick up the gun; the revolution has come," and "off the pig".
After the effigy, the Black and Puerto Rican students dispersed and all was quiet once again. Tuesday morning, however, a white student ran into the organic chemistry lab and welled "The niggers have taken over South Campus."
The University of Harlem
The take-over itself took about 45 seconds. It occurred at 6:30 in the morning and was a tactical success. The eight buildings were held for two weeks, during which time classes were held within the new University of Harlem, as it was renamed. It was reported that one undercover policeman was discovered by the Security Division of the University of Harlem and was dealt with accordingly (poor fellow).
Whites were generally quite upset. Some yelled "Black bastards, go back to Africa," but the answers they received were similar to "Charlie, your momma swings to "Charlie, your momma swings through trees and she's as Black as me," and "Why don't you come into the gate and get your trashy sister off South Campus." Obviously tempers snapped. As the poor whites rushed towards the gates, they were dismissed summarily by both the Black students' security force and the College Security, which was powerless to remove the BPRSC but which did prevent some white students from getting hurt.
Injunctions acquired by Mario Procaccino and Co. forced the brothers and sisters to leave the University of Harlem. It should be noted that during the occupation, several thousand dollars was collected from Harlem residents and other Black and Puerto Rican people and now has been placed in a bank for use in the School of Third World Studies, once it is formed.
The following days found classes on strike and the entire campus occupied by over 1000 cops. Some professors in the Psysics and Biology Depts. asked Black and Puerto Rican students to come and address their almost all-white classes about the nature of the strike and its implications. Other instructors just gave passing grades to all their students and cancelled classes. A fire was started in one building and totally distroyed a music auditorium. A spokesman for the BPRSC stated emphatically that no Black or Puerto Rican student was responsible for destroying part of "the University of Harlem", suggesting that their white radical students or white conservatives started the fire. Directly after the fire, President Gallagher resigned. He explained that he had done all that he could and now it was time for him to go. He gave the Board of Higher Education three days notice--having already sent a resignation letter to the Board because of the Albany budged cuts, but failed to put an effective date on the letter. The Board appointed Biology Professor Copeland to the position of Acting President.
There was little indication of Copeland's political position until the Commencement address where he aroused the entire audience with his Law and Order speech. Dr. Gallagher was present and looked quite sad.
I will stop here. This is by no means the end, because the CCNY struggle is not ever