Last weekend, the University of Minnesota hosted a conference to celebrate the achievements of several returning alumni. High officials gathered to thank and applaud the visitors. There was a campus tour, a banquet and a panel discussion.
Events at the U of M’s Morrill Hall nearly four decades ago were the focus of all this hoopla.
What happened that day? Did the honorees announce an exciting scientific breakthrough? No, they led a group that trashed university offices, stuffed student records in toilets and injured a fellow student. Yellowed press clips from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune tell the story:
At noon on Jan. 14, 1969, student leaders of the Afro-American Action Committee went to Morrill Hall, the U’s administration building, to demand an Afro-American studies department, black community control of a scholarship fund and money for a black student conference. About 70 others joined them.
Dissatisfied with the administration’s response, the students moved to the bursar’s and admissions offices. They wired the doors shut and barricaded the entrance to the building with piled desks. About 40 more students, including members of Students for a Democratic Society, joined them to act as a “buffer” against a growing crowd of students that gathered outside. When an unsympathetic student tried to enter the building, he was pushed down and lay shivering until he was taken away by an ambulance. Fortunately, his injuries were minor. Inside the building, the occupiers scattered student financial and academic records about the offices. Sodden records, including student fee statements, were later found in waste baskets and toilets.
Last weekend, the U honored the leaders of the 1969 assault on Morrill Hall as heroes. A romantic folklore now surrounds their actions. “We are thankful for you,” Sue Hancock of the university’s Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs told them. “You put your lives on the line so that the . . . people who followed you would have a different experience.”