Louisville Magazine

APR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.19 63 Photo from U of L Archives Black Power rhetoric gave white America the jitters. It was separatist. It was aggressive. Some leaders urged African-Americans to arm themselves. e militant Black Panther Party never gained a significant presence in Louisville, but a C-J profile of the BSU from March 1969 noted that the group had a poster of Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver on a wall. e conversion of boxing champion Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and the black separatist Nation of Islam (and his refusal to fight in Vietnam) infuriated many whites. Even white allies in the civil rights movement struggled with the Black Power assertion, as exemplified in an April 1969 BSU editorial that read, in part: "All whites are either consciously or unconsciously racist." Many stepped back as black organizations focused on self-help and, as one BSU circular said, the need to "unlearn the white mind." e demonstrators at the president's office in Grawemeyer Hall refused to speak to mediators sent by the administration, and finally Strickler appeared. In an inter- view, Neal told me, "After we announced ourselves and he sits into his chair and we give him our demands, he sort of leaned back in his chair and we're saying, 'erefore, we're taking over this office.' He looked at us and said (jokingly), 'Don't you think you better lock the door?'" Soon afterward, the students left peacefully without a breakthrough, but with a prom- ise that they would face no punishment for the occupation. e next day's C-J depicted a world turned upside-down: BSU member Bobby Martin reclining in the president's chair, feet propped on the capacious desk. e evening of the occupation, Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, arrived in Lex- ington for the governors' conference and addressed the Louisville situation from the airport tarmac. Agnew predicted that "am- nesty" for confrontations such as the one in Strickler's office would only "encourage future explosions." e nation had been focused on campus disruption. Calls to dismantle ROTC of- fices, start black-studies programs and ex- pand opportunities for local black students were common refrains across campuses. at spring, Cornell University protesters had armed themselves with rifles. Har- vard students sustained serious injuries when hundreds were evacuated from the administration office. In mid-April, Co- lumbia University students took over two buildings and were met with heavy police action. Just the day before the U of L occupation, members of the U.S. Congress spoke from the floor about investigating student protesters and canceling finan- cial aid and federal research grants where protests were tolerated. On the morning of the U of L takeover, a New York Times story carried on the C-J front page quoted Nixon at a U. S. Chamber of Commerce gathering. He said America needed col- lege administrators with "backbone." e C-J reported that Gov. Nunn had called Louisville Mayor Kenneth Schmied, a Republican, and said, "We're not going to have people taking over that university." Under pressure, Strick- ler had changed course, and he told the press that any future "violent behavior" from students would result in immediate dismissal. All of the turmoil threatened delicate negotiations between U of L and Frankfort aimed at bringing the city-funded institution into Kentucky's higher-education system. White flight and suburban growth had thinned Lou- isville's tax base, and state support was the university's holy grail. Disregarding (and perhaps disbeliev- ing) Strickler's threat, the BSU returned to campus ursday. ey burned an effi- gy of the university in front of the build- ing that housed the office of the dean of arts and sciences, and an opposing white student urinated on the flames. Without warning, black students then stormed the building. According to the C-J, an "over- whelmingly hostile" crowd of perhaps 400 onlookers congregated outside. Continued on page 108

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