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Harlem vs. Columbia University

Black Student Power in the Late 1960s

Stefan M. Bradley

Publication Year: 2009

In 1968-69, Columbia University became the site for a collision of American social movements. Black Power, student power, antiwar, New Left, and Civil Rights movements all clashed with local and state politics when an alliance of black students and residents of Harlem and Morningside Heights openly protested the school's ill-conceived plan to build a large, private gymnasium in the small green park that separates the elite university from Harlem. Railing against the university's expansion policy, protesters occupied administration buildings and met violent opposition from both fellow students and the police._x000B__x000B_In this dynamic book, Stefan M. Bradley describes the impact of Black Power ideology on the Students' Afro-American Society (SAS) at Columbia. While white students--led by Mark Rudd and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)--sought to radicalize the student body and restructure the university, black students focused on stopping the construction of the gym in Morningside Park. Through separate, militant action, black students and the black community stood up to the power of an Ivy League institution and stopped it from trampling over its relatively poor and powerless neighbors. Bradley also compares the events at Columbia with similar events at Harvard, Cornell, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-ix

Years ago, an archivist asked me what attracted me to a topic that was very much New York local history. She tactfully noted that I had not attended an Ivy League university and that I certainly was not from New York (I talked painfully slow for many of the New Yorkers I ran across). I explained...

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pp. 1-19

Race and power are two key elements in the narrative of American history, and they are even more important to the story of Columbia University’s student revolt that started in April 1968 and continued into the fall of 1969. The predominantly white Ivy League school, in the Morningside Heights...

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1. Why I Hate You: Community Resentment of Columbia

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pp. 20-38

The debate over what to do about the possibility of further institutional expansion highlights the competition that occurred between the city, the university, and the local Harlem and Morningside Heights communities for space. The role of city officials is also important to the background of the...

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2. Gym Crow: Recreational Segregation in Morningside Park

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pp. 39-62

Part of Columbia’s and the city’s plans for redevelopment (and expansion in Columbia’s case) included Morningside Park. To some people in the 1960s, the park meant “the only place you could go to get mugged,” but to others, who lived near and used the park, it represented a piece of...

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3. Up against the Wall: Columbia's Integrated Protest Effort

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pp. 63-73

“Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stick-up,” white SDS organizer Mark Rudd wrote on April 22, 1968, in a circulated letter to Columbia University President Kirk in hopes of inciting student protest. Rudd’s sentence comes from Leroi Jones’s (Amiri Baraka’s) poem...

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4. On Our Own: SAS's Self-Imposed Separation

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pp. 74-92

Upon entering Hamilton Hall, the student protesters changed the dynamics of the demonstration in general. Until that point, the protesters had given no real cause for worry about racial violence among themselves, but the situation soon changed. Once in the building, the students started...

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5. Supporting the Cause: SDS, Protest, and the "Bust"

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pp. 93-109

For the students in Low and the other three buildings the SDS followers subsequently took, the situation was different from that for the students who remained in Hamilton. After leaving Hamilton Hall and Low Memorial Library, approximately sixty students decided to take over Avery Hall, which...

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6. Black Student Power: The Struggle for Black Studies

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pp. 110-132

As a result of the spring 1968 protest, things changed drastically at Columbia. With the mass arrest that took place on campus, SDS observed the radicalization of many Columbia students. With a large number of students advocating change in the university, President Kirk and the administration...

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7. Striking Similarities: Columbia, the Ivy League, and Black People

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pp. 133-154

What happened at Columbia University in the 1960s was very much a local matter; however, it was not entirely a unique situation. As a white institution that existed in a city, Columbia’s problems matched those of similar institutions. For instance, Harvard, Yale, and the University of...

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8. Is It Over Yet? The Results of Student and Community Protest

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pp. 155-186

“The Columbia rebellion was one event in this long term growth in people’s consciousness,” suggested Mark Rudd almost two decades after the start of the 1968 student demonstrations at Columbia University. The same, presumably, could be said about the later demonstrations of...

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pp. 187-192

This work began as a simple project on a community rebellion in New York City, but it grew into a piece that deals with the innermost insecurities of the citizens and institutions of the United States in regard to the implications of race and power. It has attempted to answer several questions...

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Epilogue: Where Are They Now?

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pp. 193-198

Whenever one reads a history about the 1960s, one wonders what those activists and militants from yesteryear are doing now. One also wonders whether the agitators still feel the same way about the issues that they did in their younger years. Finally, one wonders if those demonstrators...


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pp. 199-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090585
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252034527

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • Columbia University -- Student strike, 1968.
  • African American student movements -- New York (State) -- New York -- History.
  • Black power -- New York (State) -- New York -- History.
  • Morningside Park (New York, N.Y.) -- History.
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