HL 185 – On the Pavement Thinkin About the Siege of Hamilton Hall Redux

May 6, 2024

Home | Blog | HL 185 – On the Pavement Thinkin About the Siege of Hamilton Hall Redux

Like the observation in HL 179 (1/17/2024) that “no American roughly my age [just] north of 75 has not had a close relationship with the atomic bomb their entire life” we ancients have another longstanding relationship that we are thinking about – the student activism of the late 1960s that we all engaged in, witnessed, or opposed.

The former here, enthusiastically at a small New England college, at Howard U. and most pertinently at Columbia beginning in September 1969, during the messy and unpleasant aftermath of the 1968 Columbia student uprisings.[1]

Thinking about this from the pavement on the west side of Broadway at 116 my first thought and firm conviction is that Broadway to Morningside Avenue from 114 to 120 back then and still is the best place on the planet to turn a campus topsy turvy and worst for a college administration to keep a school merely functioning, let alone well.  Columbia’s topography and geography – small, confined and located in the world’s media, financial and cultural capital, with Harlem north and east – account for that.  Expansion of the campus other than by building up and underground was all but abandoned during and as part of the ’68 student uprisings, after Columbia capitulated to the “non-negotiable” demands of its northern and eastern neighbors.[2]  And with the mighty Hudson to the west and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to the south – a church that can’t complete its own construction after 132 years – expansion in those directions was also impossible.

My thoughts contrast the look, feel and smell of the demonstrations I took part in back then from what is happening now.  Then we were as certain and arrogant as student demonstrators today, but not as nasty nor willing to be credulously fed our screaming points from outsiders!

Jack Sawyer

The term then was “outside agitators” now again adopted by people like NYC Mayor Eric Adams.  In ’66-’69 at that small New England college we marched in protest of U.S. Vietnam commander General William Westmoreland, Lady Byrd Johnson and other administration officials who came to the large campus of small but very well-connected Williams College with a Communist containment and domino theory message about the war in Vietnam.  Their speeches were not disrupted just matched by a thousand student voices to the contrary, including mine.

In ’69 when my black brothers occupied the then boy’s college’s administration building – evicting then college president Jack Sawyer – a Williams grad and “Harvard Fellow” – he called off classes for 3 days in favor of impromptu seminars and discussion groups about the occupation and its widely accepted justifications.  The only time during that late ‘60s period it felt unsafe was at Howard during the disastrous 1968 Spring semester when Dr. King was assassinated and I along with roughly 30 other white students were directed by the university administration to leave the Howard campus.  And it still felt a bit unsafe 2 months later on the Williams campus as I sat next to William Shirer[3] and behind Norman Rockwell during the June 9, 1968 Williams’ commencement, occurring 3 days after RFK’s assassination.  He had just been murdered by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian who testified that he murdered Kennedy – the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President that year – “with 20 years malice aforethought”.[4]

William Shirer

Inevitable thoughts today are two: though the murder took place in a room full of people and was virtually televised, Sirhan’s recollection of what he did and why seems to have changed.  And one person knows why – that being RFK, Jr. who believes it was the CIA not Sirhan who killed his father.

My impressions about the increased nastiness, credulity and susceptibility to influence from “outside the walls” does not merely come from a possibly inapposite comparison of Williams and Howard late 60s to Columbia today – but comparison of Alexander Hamilton’s and Barack Obama’s alma mater then and now.  I was in Hamilton Hall and Lowe Library then – researching student demonstrations at Columbia in the ‘67-’68 and ’68-’69 winter study terms, later while a Columbia law student and still later in the graduate program in political science.  The two ’68 student occupations left Hamilton Hall pretty much intact.  Not this year, where the students and the outsiders they welcomed trashed the place in an occupation that was “short, nasty and brutish.”  And after hearing Columbia faculty constantly deny, downplay, and simply lie about the prevalence of outside influence, it is now being documented with name, rank, and serial numbers, that roughly half or more of the Hamilton Hall occupiers were from outside.

Some of that was televised in real time when “demonstrators” ousted by cops from Columbia’s campus marched 21 blocks north to CUNY’s 137th Street campus to demand that New York – county, city and state sever all ties with Israel.

Also being documented are the $Billions that have been invested over the last few decades by Qatar and other oil rigs to groom students on American campuses for the moment on October 7, 2023 when they would celebrate the murder, immolation, kidnap and rape of 1500 girls, boys, men, women, infants and unborn.

I’m still on that pavement thinking on this and welcome your thoughts dear readers.

[1]   That unpleasantness was typified at the law school I attended, which psychically walled itself off from the main campus across Amsterdam Avenue to the west.  One day I ventured across Amsterdam for a gay rights event held by “Gay People at Columbia University” headed by an undergrad named Morty Manford.  At the rally he called for an alliance among gay, lesbian, disabled, Hispanic, and African American students to combat discrimination – decades before the term “intersectionality” was used.  A leader of the campus “Afro-American” society responded that the men in his group fighting for freedom and equality didn’t want to join forces with people who couldn’t decide whether they were men or women.  That type of nastiness typified life on the Columbia campus for years after the ’68 uprisings.  One thought now, more a question, is how long the nastiness and rancor that engulf Columbia now will last – making it much harder for students to learn and pursue happiness.

[2]   To the east of Columbia’s campus is Morningside Park, where in ’68 Columbia had plans to build a new gym that also would house facilities for the neighboring East Harlem community.  The horribly conceived and awkwardly publicized plan was attacked as “colonialism” with a dollop of segregation in the separate community facilities.  After it was abandoned, the park continued to be a very dangerous place for all but the armed and savvy.  Soon after law school graduation I and many others at the school attended the funeral of internationally famed International Law Professor Wolfgang Friedman, stabbed to death on the periphery of the park on September 20, 1972.

[3]   Shirer was author of “Berlin Diary” and the then widely read and wildly popular tome “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”.

[4]   With Kennedy gone, Vice-President and Vietnam war apologist Hubert Humphrey was nominated by default, resulting in Richard Nixon’s victory that November.  It is now known that Nixon conspired to prevent progress in peace negotiations to end the war in order to keep the issue live as a weapon against Democrats during the campaign. Similar to Trump’s command to House Republicans that they block legislation to address our porous southern border.

Bernie Sanders has warned that Biden’s support of Israel may prove to be analogous to Humphrey’s support of the war in Vietnam.  Perhaps, but in ’68 the war was the number one issue on voters’ minds.  Israel’s war with Hamas ranks 15-17 as most important in recent polls and a majority of Americans and members of Congress back Israel.


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