NEVER EXPLAIN WHAT YOU ARE DOING. This wastes a good deal of time and rarely gets through. Show them through your action, if they don’t understand it, fuck ’em, maybe you’ll hook them with the next action.
—ABBIE HOFFMAN, Revolution for the Hell of It, 1968
I SENSED IN MARK an embryo of fanaticism that made me feel slightly irrelevant in his presence.” That is what Tom Hayden wrote about meeting Mark Rudd when he was twenty-nine years old and Rudd a twenty-year-old Columbia student.
In 1968 there was an expression, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” It was a cliché ironically offered as advice by Charlton Heston to young, rebellious chimpanzees in the 1968 Hollywood hit Planet of the Apes. In another 1968 movie, Wild in the Streets, a dictatorship by young people rounds up everyone over thirty-five and imprisons them in concentration camps, where they are kept helplessly high on LSD. The film was made by the over-thirty crowd, the same ones who insisted that youth trust no one over thirty. Twenty-year-olds never expressed such a ridiculous sentiment. In 1968, Abbie Hoffman turned thirty-two, as did Black Panther Bobby Seale. Hoffman’s colleague Jerry Rubin turned thirty that year, and Eldridge Cleaver turned thirty-three.
But the college students of the late sixties were different from those of earlier in the decade. They were even more rebellious and perhaps less skilled at expressing that rebellion. Tom Hayden described Rudd as “a nice, somewhat inarticulate, suburban New Jersey kid with blue eyes, sandy hair, and an easy-going manner, non-descript in appearance, apparently having no time for changing clothes or engaging in sterile debate.”
Rudd’s style and manner were certainly different from those of Tom Hayden or Mario Savio, who were conservative dressers, notably articulate, and frequently engaged in long hours of debate with their movements. Hayden, who expressed himself with a brilliant clarity, may have found Rudd inarticulate by contrast, but the true difference was that Rudd, a tough, avid, and thoughtful reader, did not attach the importance that Hayden did to words. The younger rebels did not believe in civility. While Savio, perhaps the best student speaker of the sixties, was famous for the genteel removal of his shoes to avoid marking up a police car, one of Rudd’s famous moments was sitting in the Columbia University vice president’s apartment and pulling off his shoes.
Being a student in the late sixties was a different experience from being one in the early sixties. For one thing, there was the draft. Neither Abbie Hoffman nor Tom Hayden nor Mario Savio had been subjected to a draft—a draft that threatened to pull students into a war in which Americans were killing and dying by the thousands. Perhaps more important, the war itself, with its cruel and pointless violence, was seen on television every night, and no matter how much they reviled it, these students were powerless to stop it. They could not even vote if they were under twenty-one, though they could be drafted at eighteen.
Despite all these differences, one thing, unfortunately, had not changed—the university itself. If the American university has in recent years been thought of as a sanctuary for leftist thought and activism, that is a legacy of the late sixties graduates. In 1968, universities were still very conservative institutions. Academia had enthusiastically supported World War II, moved seamlessly to firm support of the cold war, and, though starting to squirm a bit, tended to support the war in Vietnam. This was why the universities imagined their campuses to be suitable and desirable places for such activities as recruitment of executives by Dow Chemical, not to mention recruitment of officers by the military. And while universities were famous for their intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse or C. Wright Mills, a more typical product was Harvard’s Henry Kissinger. The Ivy League in particular was known as a bastion of conservative northeast elitism. Columbia University had Dwight Eisenhower as an emeritus member of its board of directors. Active members included CBS founder William S. Paley; Arthur H. Sulzberger, the septuagenarian publisher of The New York Times; his son Arthur O. Sulzberger, who would take over after his father’s death later in the year; Manhattan district attorney Frank S. Hogan; William A. M. Burden, director of Lockheed, a major Vietnam War weapons contractor; Walter Thayer of the Whitney Corporation, a Republican fund-raiser who worked for Nixon in 1968; and Lawrence A. Wein, film producer, adviser to Lyndon Johnson, and trustee of Consolidated Edison. Later in the year students would produce a paper alleging connections between Columbia trustees and the CIA. Columbia and other Ivy League schools produced leaders in industry, publishing, finance—the people behind politics, the people behind war, the very people C. Wright Mills had identified in his book as “the power elite.”
At Columbia the dean offered “sherry hours,” in which students dressed in blazers and gray wool pants sipped pale sherry from cut-glass goblets while discussing campus issues. It was this vanishing world that the administration was struggling to preserve in 1968.
The disappointments felt by the new crop of students were not so different from those felt by the earlier group. Tom Hayden too had been disappointed in the University of Michigan, which he found to be in league with a corporate world. The new students may have just felt the same thing more intensely. Mark Rudd said of Columbia, “I entered the university expecting the Ivy Tower on the Hill—a place where committed scholars would search for truth in a world that desperately needed help. Instead, I found a huge corporation that made money from real estate, government research contracts, and student fees; teachers who cared only for advancement in their narrow areas of study; worst of all, an institution hopelessly mired in the society’s racism and militarism.” The prestigious schools, the ones that attempted to use their status to skim off the brightest, most promising of the generation, were the worst.
New York, albeit many blocks downtown in the East Village, had become the center of a hip counterculture. Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders—who had a group called the Fugs that was named after a word used by Norman Mailer in his novel The Naked and the Deadbecause he could not use his F-word of choice—were all in the East Village. Hoffman frequently appeared at East Village events with his special honey laced with a distillate of hashish. The East Village, a dilapidated section of the Lower East Side, had only recently acquired its name because the once beat Greenwich Village, now the West Village, had become too expensive. The enormously successful Bob Dylan still lived in the West Village. The same thing had happened in San Francisco, where Ferlinghetti remained in the North Beach section that the beats had made too fashionable, while the hippies moved out to the poorer, less central Fillmore and Haight-Ashbury sections.
The East Village became so famous for its “hippie” lifestyle that tour buses would stop by the busy shops of St. Mark’s Place—or St. Marx Place, as Abbie Hoffman liked to call it—for tourists to view the hippies. In September 1968, East Village denizens rebelled, organizing their own bus tour to a staid section of Queens, where they questioned people mowing lawns and took photos of people taking photos of them.
San Francisco and New York were the bipolar epicenters of America’s 1968 hip. This was reflected in rock concert producer Bill Graham’s two halls, the Fillmore West in the Fillmore section of San Francisco and the Fillmore East, which he opened in 1968 on Second Avenue and Sixth Street in the East Village. The new rock concerts began in the neighborhood at what had been the Anderson Yiddish Theater. John Morris, who managed the Fillmore East, had been there years before to see the Anderson’s closing show, The Bride Got Farblundjet, starring Menasha Skulnik and Molly Picon. Reopened by Morris, the theater featured such groups as the Fugs and Country Joe and the Fish, who were stars from their grizzly anti–Vietnam War satire, “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag.” They then persuaded Graham to open an East Village Fillmore across the street.
Graham was not only a dominant force in 1968 rock music, he frequently gave benefit concerts for political causes, including one for the Columbia students when they went on strike in April. Rock music and college campuses had become closely connected. “The college market today accounts for more than 70 percent of the professional concert activities in the United States,” said Fanny Taylor, executive secretary of the Association of College and University Concert Managers in 1968.
College students also represented a large share of record sales. In 1967, record sales in America had reached an all-time high of $1 billion, having doubled in ten years, and for the first time in history, record albums were outselling singles. These trends continued in 1968.
The late sixties are often remembered for heavily amplified music full of electronic vibrato, slow fades, and other gimmicks pleasing to drug users, much of it pioneered by the Beatles. Feedback and twelve-track tapes produced a complex and often loud sound from only a few musicians. Researchers at the University of Tennessee exposed guinea pigs to rock music over a period of three months at intervals designed to resemble what “the average discotheque goer” heard and found evidence of cell destruction in the cochlea, the part of the ear that transmits sound waves into nerve impulses. But college students, the important part of the market, were not blowing their ears out in 1968. They could barely forgive Bob Dylan for turning to rock in 1966 and cheered when, starting with “John Wesley Harding,” Dylan returned to acoustic guitar and folk ballad—though never again to the pure folk sound of 1963.
In 1968 Life called the new rock music “the first music born in the age of instant communication.” In June 1967 the Beatles had performed the first live international concert broadcast by satellite.
Life called the rock music of 1968 “an eclectic cornucopia.” The year 1968 was a time of ballads with carefully crafted lyrics and a clear melody line. Peace activist and performer Joan Baez, at twenty-seven, was still playing to huge crowds, singing ballad versions of Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the poetic Leonard Cohen, and fellow folk protester Phil Ochs. The Cubans imitated her ballad style, and from there the soft and lyrical protest ballad spread through the entire Spanish-speaking world. Even the Basques began singing Baez-type ballads in their outlawed ancient language. Simon & Garfunkel, who had struggled in the early sixties because their style had more to do with Renaissance madrigals than rock and roll, reached new heights of popularity with their April 1968 album, Bookends. With songs such as “America” about the search for the country’s soul, the album is considered by some fans to be their best. Crosby, Stills, & Nash and Neil Young sang ballads with a country sound, as did Creedence Clear-water Revival, though their instrumentals were highly amplified with electric instruments. Joni Mitchell, a twenty-four-year-old Canadian with long blond hair and a crystalline voice, became a star in the United States in 1968 with her ballads. Jerry Jeff Walker sang the sad story of Bojangles, a street performer. Pete Townshend, guitarist and songwriter for the Who, complained that music was getting too serious. Since popular music was being targeted more than ever before to youth, it might have been expected to be more playful. “There’s no bloody youth in music today,” said Townshend.
There was a surprising mobility among music genres. After sixteen years with a jazz quartet, Dave Brubeck broke up his group and began composing classical music. Three British musicians—Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker—strayed from blues and jazz into rock music, calling themselves Cream. The group was greatly admired by the New York Philharmonic’s conductor Leonard Bernstein, who at age fifty gave up full-time conducting at the end of the 1968 season. He was particularly taken with Ginger Baker, saying, “I mean, they’ve got a drummer who can really keep time.”
The new record albums came with increasingly elaborate covers, many double flapped, their curiously costumed and staged photos set in swirling, throbbing graphics. The album covers were in fact designed for young people smoking marijuana or “dropping acid” to seemingly spend hours examining. Under the influence of drugs, everything appeared to be a double entendre with deep hidden meanings. A fairly straightforward film such as 1967’s The Graduate, about a young man uncertain of his future in a world of shallow values, seemed laden with far deeper messages. Beatles songs were examined like Tennyson’s poems. Who was Eleanor Rigby? The Man with the Balloons, Marco Ferreri’s Italian film starring Marcello Mastroianni, tells the story of a disillusioned man with a bunch of balloons. He decides to find the breaking point of the balloons and discovers that each balloon is different. End of movie. Do you get it? The meaning of it all? It was this insistence that everything had a hidden deeper meaning that led to the unexpected success of the low-budget 1968 thriller, Night of the Living Dead, which was seen not as a zombie horror film, a type of cheap thriller that had been done repeatedly since the 1930s, but as a cogent satire on American society.
Singer Janis Joplin, who in 1968 was screeching out her voice with a California group called Big Brother and the Holding Company, said that she was not a hippie, because hippies believed in trying to make the world better. Instead she said she was a beatnik: “Beatniks believe things aren’t going to get better and say, ‘The hell with it,’ stay stoned, and have a good time.”
But while trying to make the world better, the hippie spent a great deal of time stoned and having a good time. Smoking marijuana was probably more commonplace among American college students in 1968 than smoking tobacco is today. It was commonly believed, and still is by many, that the government’s drug enforcement apparatus was an instrument of repression and that a truly democratic society would legalize drugs.
It seemed America was divided into two kinds of people: those who lived the new way and those who were desperate to understand it. The secret of the surprise theatrical success Hair, “the American tribal love-rock musical,” was that although virtually nothing happens in the course of it, it claimed to offer the audience a glimpse of hippie life, furthering the stereotype that hippies do absolutely nothing and do it with an inexplicable—surely drug-induced—enthusiasm. Newspapers and magazines often ran exposés on campus life. Why was Abbie Hoffman’s wed-in covered in Time magazine? Because the news media and the rest of society’s establishment were trying to understand “the younger generation.” It was one of the “big stories of the year,” along with the war they were refusing to fight. Magazines and newspapers regularly ran articles on “the new generation.” Most of these articles had an undertone of frustration because the reporters could not understand whose side these people were on. To the establishment, they seemed to be against everything. An April 27, 1968, editorial in Paris Match said, “They condemn Soviet society just like bourgeois society: industrial organization, social discipline, the aspiration for material wealth, bathrooms, and, in the extreme, work. In other words, they reject Western society.”
In 1968, a book was published in the United States called The Gap, by an uncle and his longhaired, pot-smoking nephew trying to understand each other. The nephew introduces the uncle to marijuana, which the uncle queerly refers to as “a stick of tea.” But after he smoked it he said, “It expanded my consciousness. No kidding! Now I know what Richie means. I listened to music and heard it as never before.”
Ronald Reagan defined a hippie as someone who “dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.” The lack of intellectual depth in Ronald Reagan’s analysis surprised no one, but most of these analyses had little more to them. Society had not progressed beyond the 1950s, when the entire so-called beat generation, a phrase invented by novelist Jack Kerouac, was reduced on television to a character named Maynard G. Krebs, who seldom washed and would croak, “Work!?” in a horrified tone any time gainful employment was suggested. Norman Podhoretz had written an article in the Partisan Review on the beat generation titled “The Know-Nothing Bohemians.” A rejection of materialism and a distaste for corporate culture were dismissed as not wanting to work. A persistent claim of a lack of hygiene was used to dismiss a different way of dressing, whereas neither beatniks nor hippies were particularly dirty. True, the occasional Mark Rudd was known for slovenliness, but many others were neat, even fastidious—obsessed with hair products for their new flowing locks and preening in embroidered bell-bottoms.
The public had a fixation on the subject of hair length, which gave the 1968 Broadway show its title. In 1968 there was actually a poster placed on two thousand billboards across the country that had a picture of a bushy-headed eighteen-year-old and said, “Beautify America, Get a Haircut.” Joe Namath, the New York Jets quarterback, with medium-length hair and sometimes a mustache—whose courage and toughness did much to elevate football to a leading national sport in the late 1960s—was frequently greeted in stadiums by fans with signs saying, “Joe, Get a Haircut!” In March 1968, when Robert Kennedy was wrestling with a decision about running for president, he received letters saying that if he wanted to be president, he should get a haircut. There was an oddly hostile tone to these letters. “Nobody wants a hippie for President,” one said. And, in fact, when he declared his candidacy, he did get a haircut.
Playboy, March 1968
(Reproduced by special permission of Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1968 by Playboy)
By 1968, a wide range of commercial interests realized that “the generation gap” was a concept that could be marketed for profit. ABC Television launched a new series called The Mod Squad, seemingly unaware that “mod” was an already dated British word. The series was about three young cops—one looking like a young version of Mary from the folk-singing group Peter, Paul, & Mary, another like a cleaned-up young Bob Dylan, and the third like a sweet-faced Black Panther—all the provocative, violent, and churning counterculture suddenly rendered absolutely harmless. ABC’s advertisements said, as though people actually talked like this, “The police don’t understand the now generation—and the now generation doesn’t dig the fuzz. The solution—find some swinging young people who live the beat, get them to work for the cops.” The ABC ad went on to explain, “Today in television the name of the game is think young. . . . And with a whole breed of young adult viewers, ABC wins hands down.”
In 1968 everyone held opinions on the generation gap, Columbia president Grayson Kirk’s phrase from an April 12 speech at the University of Virginia that instantly became banal. André Malraux, who in his youth was known as a fiery rebel but in 1968 was part of de Gaulle’s right-wing government, denied that there was a gap between generations and insisted the problem was the normal struggle of youth to grow up. “It would be foolish to believe in such a conflict,” he said. “The basic problem is that our civilization, which is a civilization of machines, can teach a man everything except how to be a man.” Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren said in 1968 that “one of the most urgent necessities of our time” was to resolve the tensions between what he called “the daring of youth” and “the mellow practicality” of the more mature.
Then there were those who explained that the youth of the day were simply in transition to a postindustrial society. Added to the widely held belief that the new youth, the hippies, were unwilling to work was the belief that they would not have to. One study by the Southern California Research Council claimed that by the year 1985 most Americans would have to work only half the year to maintain their current standard of living and warned that recreational facilities were woefully underdeveloped for all the leisure time facing the new generation. These conclusions were based on the rising individual share of the gross national product. If the total value of goods and services was divided by the total population, including nonearners, the resulting figure was projected to double between 1968 and 1985. It was a widespread belief in the 1960s that American technology would create more leisure time, Herbert Marcuse being one of the few to argue that technology was failing to create leisure time.
John Kifner, a young New York Times reporter respected by student radicals at Columbia, wrote a January 1968 article from Amherst on marijuana and students, which contained the shocking news that the town was selling a great deal of Zig-Zag cigarette paper and no pouches of tobacco. The article introduced readers to the concept of recreational drugs. These students were doing drugs not to forget their troubles, but to have fun. “Interviews with students indicated that, while many drug takers appeared to be troubled, many did not.” The article suggested that the drug lifestyle had been encouraged by media coverage. A high school principal in affluent suburban Westchester was quoted as saying, “There’s no doubt this thing has increased since the summer. There were articles on the East Village in Esquire, Look, and Life and this provides the image for the kids.”
Such articles described “college marijuana parties,” although a more typical get-together would be students lying around smoking joints and reading such an article while uncontrollable giggling led to gasping, wheezing laughter. A popular way to pass a rainy day in the East Village was to get stoned and go to the St. Marks Cinema, where sometimes included in the triple feature for a dollar would be the old documentary on the dangers of marijuana, Reefer Madness.
Marijuana was a twentieth-century drug in the United States. It had never even been banned by law until 1937. LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide, or acid, was invented by accident in a Swiss laboratory in the 1930s by a doctor, Albert Hofmann, when a small amount of the compound on his fingertips resulted in “an altered state of awareness of the world.” After the war, Hofmann’s laboratory sold small amounts in the United States, where saxophonist John Coltrane, celebrated for his introspective brilliance, jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and pianist Thelonious Monk experimented with the new drug, though not nearly as much as did the CIA. The substance was hard to detect because it had neither odor, taste, nor color. An enemy surreptitiously exposed to LSD might reveal secrets or become confused and surrender. This was the origin of the idea of slipping acid into the water cooler. Plans under consideration included slipping acid to Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Cuba’s Fidel Castro so that they would babble foolishly and lose their followings. But Castro’s popularity among the young would probably have been enormously magnified once Allen Ginsberg and others learned that Fidel, too, was an acid head.
Agents experimented on themselves, causing one to run outside to discover that cars were “bloodthirsty monsters.” They also, in conjunction with the army, experimented on unknowing victims, including prisoners and prostitutes. The tests resulted in a number of suicides and psychotic patients and left the CIA convinced that it was almost impossible to usefully interrogate someone while under the influence of LSD. Acid experiments were encouraged by Richard Helms, who later, between 1967 and 1973, served as CIA director.
Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, Harvard junior professors, studied LSD by taking it or giving it to others. Their work in the early sixties was well respected—until parents started complaining that their promising young Harvard student was boasting of having “found God and discovered the secret of the Universe.” The pair left Harvard in 1963 but continued experiments in Milbrook, New York. In 1966 LSD became an illegal substance by an act of Congress and Leary’s fame spread through arrests. Alpert became a Hindu and changed his name to Baba Ram Dass. In 1967, Allen Ginsberg urged everyone over the age of fourteen to try LSD at least once. Tom Wolfe’s bestselling book that extolled and popularized LSD, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was published in 1968.
It was an unpredictable drug. Some people had a pleasant experience and others nightmarish cycles of mania and depression or paranoia known as “a bad trip.” Students who took pride in being responsible drug abusers insisted that tripping be done under the supervision of a friend who did not take the drug but had experienced it before. To many, including Abbie Hoffman, there was a kind of unspoken fraternity of those who had taken acid, and those who had not were on the outside.
Disturbing stories began to appear in the press. In January 1968 several newspapers reported that six young college men suffered total and permanent blindness as a result of staring at the sun while under the influence of LSD. Norman M. Yoder, commissioner of the Office of the Blind in the Pennsylvania State Welfare Department, said the retinal area of the youths’ eyes had been destroyed. This was the first case of total blindness, but in a case the previous May at the University of California at Santa Barbara, four students reportedly lost reading vision by staring at the sun after taking LSD. But many stories of LSD damage proved bogus. Army Chemical Corps testing failed to support the ubiquitous stories of LSD causing chromosome damage.
Acid was having a profound effect on popular music. The Beatles’ 1967 Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album reflected in music, lyrics, and cover design the drug experiments of the group. Some of the songs were descriptive of fantasies experienced while under the influence of LSD. This was also true of the earlier song “Yellow Submarine,” which was the basis of a 1968 movie. John Lennon’s first imaginary voyage in a submarine was reported to be the result of an acid-doused sugar cube. To the audience, Sergeant Pepper was about drugs, one of the first of the acid albums—the coming of age of psychedelic music and psychedelic album design. Perhaps because of the drug use that went with listening to this music, Sergeant Pepper was said to have profound implications. Years later Abbie Hoffman said the album expressed “our view of the world.” He called it “Beethoven coming to the supermarket.” But at the time, the ultra- conservative John Birch Society claimed that the album showed a fluency in the techniques of brainwashing that proved the Beatles’ involvement in an international communist conspiracy. The BBC barred the airing of “A Day in the Life” because of the words “I’d love to turn you on” and Maryland governor Spiro Agnew campaigned to ban “With a Little Help from My Friends” because the fab four sang that that was how they “get high.”
The Beatles did not invent acid rock, the fusion of LSD and rock music, but because of their status, they opened the floodgates. San Francisco groups had been producing acid rock for several years but by 1968 a few of these groups such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead became famous internationally while many others such as Daily Flash and Celestial Hysteria remained San Francisco acts.
The newly campus-focused music was not only about politics and drugs, it was also about sex. Rock concerts, like political demonstrations, were often the foreplay of a sexual encounter. Some singers were more open than others about this. Jim Morrison, the velvet-voiced rocker of the Doors, in tight leather pants, called himself “an erotic politician.” In a 1969 Miami concert, he urged the audience to take off their clothes and then announced, “You want to see my cock, don’t you? That’s what you came for, isn’t it.” Janis Joplin, the scratchy-voiced balladeer, said, “My music isn’t supposed to make you riot, it’s supposed to make you fuck.”
Most articles about the new lifestyle alluded with varying degrees of candor to the impression that these young people were having a lot of sex. Sex was now called “free love,” because, with the pill, sex seemed free of consequences. It was not entirely free, as Mark Rudd learned his sophomore year at Columbia when he went on penicillin for the case of gonorrhea passed to him by a Barnard student who had gotten it from a married philosophy instructor. In fact, penicillin, discovered in the 1940s, had been the first pill to sexual freedom. The second, the oral contraceptive, was developed in 1957 and licensed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. As college physicians found, it rapidly overtook all other birth control methods and by 1968 had became commonplace on college campuses.
The popular slogan “Make Love Not War” made it clear that the two were interconnected—students could demonstrate against making war, and then, in the exhilaration of having stood with the thousands, survived the clubs and the tear gas, they would not uncommonly go off and make love. It was not only SNCC that was having fun. It was the SDS and other student organizations that had constant meetings about the next thing to do and then, when the next thing came and they didn’t know what to do, just acted spontaneously. But in between all these meetings there was a fair amount of sex. As a Detroit student told Life magazine, “We are not just eating and sleeping together, we’re protesting the war together!”
Ed Sanders, whose Fugs sang much about fugging, called the mid-sixties “the Golden Age of fucking,” which was as close as his plotless 1970 “novel of the Yippies,” Shards of God, set in 1968, came to a theme. Many couples were made and unmade in the course of the movement. Tom Hayden’s marriage to Casey Hayden, Mario Savio’s to fellow Free Speech Movement activist Suzanne Goldberg, and Mary King’s marriage to a fellow SNCC worker are just a few of the many marriages formed in the movements that did not last.
The attitude toward sex created an even deeper gap between generations. It was as though two completely different societies were cohabiting the same era. While Sanders was having his golden age in the East Village and Rudd was up at Columbia being saved by penicillin, City Councilman John J. Santucci, a Democrat, successfully pressured the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968 to remove from subway cars posters for the film The Graduate, because they showed Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in bed together.
The change in sexual mores was not just American. Young women in the Mexican student movement of 1968 shocked Mexican society by carrying signs saying “Virginity Causes Cancer.” The 1968 demonstrations in Paris began with a demand for coeducational dormitories. According to French myth, when President de Gaulle was told that the students at Nanterre wanted coeducational housing, the General, looking confused, turned to his aide and asked, “Why don’t they just meet in the cafés?”
In the United States, only a few progressive schools such as Oberlin had mixed dormitories. Many universities allowed more freedom for men than women. The Ivy League had separate universities for women with completely different rules. Columbia men certainly had far more privileges than Barnard women, who were not allowed to live anywhere other than the women’s dormitories for their first two years. It is strange to think of a nationwide controversy over an unknown coed’s living arrangements, but that is what unfolded for several weeks in 1968 when a New York Times journalist decided to report on the life of college women—just one of hundreds of articles on “the new lifestyle.” One sophomore bragged to the reporter, on condition that she not be identified by name, of how she had lied to the Barnard administration in order to be able to live off campus with her boyfriend.
Though the reporter respected her anonymity, Barnard, determined to weed out this public disgrace, followed the details and was able to identify the offender as a student named Linda LeClair and called for her expulsion. Students protested this treatment, many protesting that this could be happening only to a woman. But, strangely, the struggle of Linda LeClair—to cohabit or not cohabit—was not only covered on the front page of The New York Times for weeks, but it was also covered by Time, Newsweek, Life, and other national publications. Day after day the drama unfolded in the Times—how the Barnard School Council granted her a hearing, how hundreds went, how she argued for the rights of individuals, and finally how she was “wearing a bright orange shift and beaming brightly as she read the final verdict: no expulsion but banned from the school cafeteria.”
In the Times coverage, it was also mentioned that many of the students questioned “shook their heads in amusement.” To the outside press, this seemed an important story about a radically changing society. To the 1968 student, as to most of us today, it seemed hard to believe that such a petty affair would even make the newspapers.
Two days later, the Times was back with an article on LeClair’s parents headlined FATHER DESPAIRS OF BARNARD DAUGHTER. In Hudson, New Hampshire, Paul LeClair said, “We just don’t see eye to eye and just don’t know what can be done about it . . . what an individual does is one thing, but when she starts influencing hundreds of people, it’s wrong.”
The president of Barnard, Martha Peterson, was not content with the minor rebuke of the council and moved to expel LeClair despite the decision. Students staged a sit-in, blocking Peterson’s office. A petition, signed by 850 of Barnard’s 1,800 students, protested the expulsion. The office was awash in letters supporting or attacking the college sophomore, declaring that she had become the symbol of everything from civil liberties to the decline of the American family.
Martha Peterson said, “We learned also to our regret that public interest in sex on the college campus is insatiable.” But it was more than simply prying. The press was reflecting the common view that the “new generation” had a “new morality” and that for better or worse, the things youth were doing represented nothing less than a complete alteration in the values and mores of society with the far-reaching ramifications. Ed Sanders confidently wrote, “Forty years from now the Yippies and those who took part in the Peace-swarm of 1967–68 will be recognized for what they are, the most important cultural political force in the last 150 years of American civilization.” It was believed, at times with panic, at times with joy, that the fundamental nature of human society was changing. Life magazine wrote, “A sexual anthropologist of some future century analyzing the pill, the drive-in, the works of Harold Robbins, the Tween-Bra and all the other artifacts of the American Sexual Revolution, may consider the case of Linda LeClair and her boyfriend, Peter Behr, as a moment in which the morality of an era changed.” So with Hue under siege, marines dug in at Khe Sanh, the Biafran war growing harsher, the Middle East more volatile, the Senate investigating if the Gulf of Tonkin incident that was the pretext in August 1964 for the Vietnam War was a fraud, Rudi Dutschke and the German SDS on the streets of Berlin, Czechs and Poles defying Moscow—a Barnard student’s decision to live across the street in her boyfriend’s dorm room was front-page news.
Linda LeClair’s boyfriend, Peter Behr, seems to have almost never been consulted in the controversy. She dropped out of school and the two joined a commune. Behr, who did get his Columbia degree, went on to be a massage therapist. Barnard relaxed the rules, saying only parental permission was needed to live off campus. But in the fall of 1968, Barnard women rebelled against even this.
There was one thing Mark Rudd, growing up in an affluent New Jersey suburb on the edge of impoverished Newark, always wished his parents could make him understand. Why had they not done more to stop the Nazis when they first came to power? Surely there must have been something they could have tried to do. Despite this nagging notion, he had not been a politically active high school student. He lived in well-to-do Maplewood, where his parents had moved late in life when his father started to succeed in the real estate market. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the army reserves who had anglicized his Jewish-sounding last name to avoid anti-Semitism in the military.
Like many of his age, Mark Rudd had as his introduction to radical politics Sing Out! magazine, a journal of folk singing and protest songs that led him to the music of Ledbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. He loved to study, and many of the books he read came from his politically savvy girlfriend, the school intellectual. She even knew Herbert Marcuse’s stepson, Michael Neumann, who later became Rudd’s college roommate. Neumann’s older brother, Tommy, was a member of the affinity group the East Village Motherfuckers.
Rudd never played sports. Years later he liked to say that sex was his exercise—reading and sex with his girlfriend, who then went away to Sarah Lawrence. Rudd wanted to go to the University of Chicago, a school that had distinguished itself by canceling its sports program. In the end he chose Columbia so that he could be close to his girlfriend. But as often happens, once in college, both formed other attachments.
Aside from its Ivy League conservatism, Columbia was a reasonable choice for Rudd. In this institution that had originated the phrase generation gap, Rudd was not a good match with the administration, but he was with the students. Like Rudd, most Columbia students were not athletes. Rudd was told that Columbia had managed to run up a record twenty-year streak without winning a football game. The half-time band performed distinctive numbers, including one titled “Ode to the Diaphragm.” Fraternities barely existed. In the summer of 1968, Rudd and his friends rented a fraternity house on 114th Street for the summer, renaming it Sigma Delta Sigma—SDS.
In 1965, when Rudd first went to college, SDS was beginning to give up on its unsuccessful efforts to organize in the inner cities and recognize that college campuses offered the most fertile ground for recruitment. One night early in Rudd’s freshman year, a man named David Gilbert knocked on Rudd’s door and said, “We are having a meeting discussing things. Maybe you would like to come.”
That was all it took. “It was a social thing,” Rudd recalled. “People hang out. And the subculture is fun. There were drugs and girls. It was what was happening. Nobody thought about going to Wall Street in those days.”
Rudd’s life at Columbia was reshaped. He became an SDS campus radical, going to meetings and discussions, knocking on doors himself, and planning protests. There were many hours of meetings for every protest. “I liked talking about revolution—changing the world—make it a better place. Meetings were discussing important things, and it led to action. I must have gone to one thousand meetings in this five-year period. It was vastly different from my classes. The SDS people knew a lot. They knew a lot about Vietnam, about anticolonial revolutions, and nationalist movements.”
But what was always important to Rudd was that the talk translated into action. “I’ve always valued people who could read, think, discuss, and act. That is my idea of an intellectual,” Rudd recently said. He became known among radicals for his impatient taste for action—“the action faction,” was what the SDS started calling the Rudd contingent at Columbia. Rudd had returned from Cuba with a quote from José Martí that had been used by Che: “Now is the time of the furnaces, and only light should be seen.”
He came back from Cuba in March, in his own words, “fired up with revolutionary fervor.” Square inch by square inch, his walls became covered with posters and pictures of Che—Che smoking, Che smiling, Che smoking and smiling, Che reflecting. In early spring Rudd had to go to a dentist, and confronted with the prospect of pain, he asked himself, What would Che do?
The business of the action faction at Columbia was deadly serious, though at times their pranks seemed more Yippie! than SDS. Or perhaps the activists, like most twenty-year-olds, were part adult and part teenager. Against the wishes of Rudd, the SDS voted in a meeting to confront the head of the Selective Service for New York City, an officer with the improbable name of Colonel Akst, who was to deliver a speech on campus. Rudd hated the idea of dignifying the Selective Service with probing questions. “What wimps,” he complained, resolving to find another course of action.
At that time the SDS had recently acquired a new chapter that fit well with Rudd’s action faction. The East Village Motherfuckers had joined the fast-growing SDS organization. The other necessary component for Rudd’s plan was someone who could approach the colonel without being recognized, since by early spring 1968 Rudd and his comrades had already become too well known. By blind luck, a self-proclaimed Berkeley radical fell into Rudd’s lap. He remembered hearing a friend complain of an irritating houseguest who talked a great deal about the revolution and violence and the importance of Berkeley as the revolutionary center of all that was happening. Rudd enlisted his help.
The colonel was to deliver his speech in Earl Hall, the religious center of the Columbia campus. “Red face shining beneath his proud cap,” was Rudd’s description of the colonel. Suddenly, from the back of the hall, the snare drums and fifes of “Yankee Doodle” were heard. While the audience turned to see the East Village Motherfuckers dressed as a hairy fife and drum corps, having given themselves the name “the Knickerboppers,” the unknown Berkeley revolutionary ran to the stage and perfectly planted a coconut cream pie on Colonel Akst’s red face. Rudd escaped down Broadway with the pie thrower, who, to Rudd’s dismay, had gotten carried away with the theatricality of the moment and pulled a bandanna over his face as a disguise. Rudd, for lack of a better idea, hid him in the closet of his girlfriend’s apartment.
Grayson Kirk, born in 1903, the president of Columbia, lived in a stately Ivy League home in Morningside Heights, the high ground in the north of Manhattan on which the campus is perched. He was a patrician who saw himself as the guardian of a tradition. Rudd termed him “a ruling-class liberal, a man who wanted to be progressive but whose instincts always held him to the power elite. He denounced the Vietnam War, not as immoral or wrongheaded, but simply as unwinnable.” Kirk’s only discernible fear, as he sat in his Morningside Heights mansion in the first week of April, was of seething and simmering Harlem below. He did want to placate “the Negroes,” as he and many others still called them.
Looking out his window, Kirk could see chaos and the glow of fires. Martin Luther King had been killed, and Harlem was burning. As head of a university on the hill over Harlem, this was exactly what he dreaded.
Mark Rudd could see the same flames but had a very different reaction. Now the nonviolence movement—or, as Stokely Carmichael had put it, “this nonviolence bullshit”—was over, and Rudd, as he stood on Morningside Drive smelling smoke, was looking forward to a new age of Black Power. He was with his friend JJ, who believed in a world revolution in which the impoverished nations would overthrow the empires in a great global movement that would include the unseating of white power in America. Come the revolution and its overthrow of the power centers, everyone, black and white, would taste a new freedom never known before. JJ and Rudd, each with his thick mop of long, blondish hair, spent the night wandering through Harlem, watching burning and looting, police attacks, and barricades quickly constructed to block fire trucks. There is a strange ghostlike way an observer can walk unseen through the middle of a race riot simply by not being involved. “I saw the rage black people carry inside them,” Rudd said later. He and JJ were convinced they were witnessing the beginning of the revolution.
Five days after the King assassination, Columbia was to hold a memorial service. Spied on, abused, smeared, and belittled in his short life, in death Dr. King had become a saint to be eulogized by many of the same people who had obstructed his cause. Here was Columbia University, thoughtlessly expanding into Harlem, taking over parks and low-cost housing to build more facilities for its wealthy campus. In 1968 a study of Harlem showed that in the past seven years Columbia University had forced 7,500 Harlem residents out of their homes and was planning on pushing out another 10,000. The university’s connection to city government was demonstrated in 1959 when over the objections of a few Harlem leaders, a lease was negotiated for more than two acres of Morningside Park on which to build a gymnasium. Leasing public land to a private concern was unprecedented in city policy, and the rent charged was only $3,000 per year. After ground was broken in February 1968, six students and six residents of Harlem staged a sit-in to block the first bulldozers. A new gym to be built by tearing down housing—a gym to which the people of Harlem were to be denied access—was particularly controversial. Student protest eventually succeeded in creating a small door down on the Harlem side for local use. But that was a student issue. The people of Harlem didn’t want the gym at all. They wanted housing. The university was also trying to prevent a union from organizing their black and Puerto Rican workers. Now Martin Luther King, killed in Memphis, where he had gone to support the very kind of union Columbia was trying to keep out, was to be eulogized there.
SDS students called a meeting. Something had to be done with this Kafkaesque moment. Some argued that this was the turning point—the time to break in and announce the death of nonviolence and the age of Black Power, the beginning of the real revolution. But others argued that to do this would be to cede the figure of Martin Luther King to the white establishment. “Don’t do that,” some students argued. “He was one of us.”
What did happen, as Tom Hayden described it, was that “Mark Rudd, a young SDS leader, simply walked on stage, took the microphone, and denounced the university elders for the hypocrisy of honoring King while disrespecting Harlem.” Rudd does not remember himself as the nonchalant figure Hayden and others described. In truth, his legs were shaking in his boots as he managed to step in front of Vice President David Truman. He said into the microphone, “Dr. Truman and President Kirk are committing a moral outrage against the memory of Dr. King.” The microphone went dead. But Rudd continued, lecturing on how the university “steals land from the people of Harlem,” praises King’s nonviolent civil disobedience, but crushes such demonstration on its own campus.
It was the beginning of Columbia University’s most memorable spring.
It is remarkable how many of the movements of 1968 took on importance only because governments or university administrations adopted repressive measures to stop them. Had they instead ignored them—had the Polish government not closed the play and had they not attacked the protesters, had the Germans ignored the demonstrators who were largely protesting U.S., not German, policy—many would have been forgotten today. As in the civil rights movement, by 1968 it was easy to find a bad sheriff to keep a protest alive.
The SDS could count on Grayson Kirk and the Columbia administration. In April the university for unclear reasons banned indoor demonstrations, which was Rudd’s cue to lead 150 students into the Low Library with a petition against IDA, the Institute for Defense Analyses. The students had demanded to know if Columbia was part of this organization that researched military strategy. The university had refused to confirm or deny participation, and the SDS now claimed that not only did the university belong, but Grayson Kirk and another Columbia trustee were on the board of the organization. The university fell into step, singling out six students, including Rudd, for disciplinary action. Instead of focusing just on the gym, the April 23 demonstration was now also about what had come to be called “the IDA Six.” Then, as though to fuel the protesters even more, the day before the demonstration the university placed the six on probation. Now it was a demonstration not only against the gym and the IDA, but to “free the IDA Six.”
That also happened to be the day Rudd issued his open letter in response to Kirk’s speech about the “nihilism” of “growing numbers” of youth and the generation gap, in which he had called the Vietnam War “a well-meant but essentially fruitless effort.” This was particularly offensive to an antiwar movement that saw the U.S. effort as an immoral attempt to bully a poor nation into submission.
Rudd’s reply, in keeping with the tone of the rest of the letter, was titled “Reply to Uncle Grayson.” It began “Dear Grayson.” In it, he redefined what Kirk had called the generation gap. “I see it as a real conflict between those who run things now—you, Grayson Kirk—and those who feel oppressed by and disgusted with the society you rule—we the young people. . . . We can point, in short, to our meaningless studies, our identity crisis, and our repulsion with being cogs in your corporate machines as a product of and reaction to a basically sick society. . . .
“We will take control of your world, your corporation, your university, and attempt to mold a world in which we and other people can live as human beings.”
He promised to fight Kirk over his support of the war, over the IDA, over his treatment of Harlem. But it was the ending for which Rudd’s letter was most remembered:
There is only one thing left to say. It may sound nihilistic to you, since it is the opening shot in a war of liberation. I’ll use the words of LeRoi Jones, whom I’m sure you don’t like a whole lot: “Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stick-up.”
Yours for freedom,
The SDS’s Todd Gitlin remarked, “It is interesting to note the civility preserved in Rudd’s polemic, however: the correct grammatical ‘whom.’ ” But to Rudd, a normally pleasant and not particularly rude person, who in an earlier speech had referred to Kirk as “that asshole,” this manner of speech was a deliberate attack on the polite decorum of the Ivy League social order. He was acutely aware that this was not the way things were done at Columbia, and that was why he did them this way.
On April 23, a cool and gray day, the protesters were to meet at a sundial in the center of the gated Columbia campus. Rudd had been up the entire night before, preparing a speech by studying Mario Savio’s “odious machine” speech. Looking on at the demonstrators from the nearby Low Library were about 150 right-wing students, the short-haired students the rest of Columbia referred to as “the jocks.” One sign said, “Send Rudd Back to Cuba.” Another, more disturbing one, said, “Order Is Peace.” Only about three hundred protesters turned out at the sundial. But as speeches were made by various student leaders, the crowd grew. By the time it was Rudd’s turn to speak, an event that was to be a prelude to marching on the library—thereby again violating the rule on indoor demonstrating—two things had happened. Vice President Truman had proposed a meeting, and the Low Library had been locked.
Suddenly the Savio-like speech seemed irrelevant. This was not the moment for grand oratory, Rudd reasoned. It was a moment in which to act. But SDS leaders never acted. Their job was to organize the debate out of which came a decision. So Rudd asked the demonstrators what to do. He told them about Truman’s offer and that Low had been locked. Suddenly a demonstrator stood on the sundial and shouted, “Did we come here to talk or did we come here to go to Low?”
“To Low! To Low!” the crowd chanted as they began marching. Rudd, because he was a leader, desperately ran to catch up and take his place at the head of the march, linking arms with other leaders as the pulsating crowd pushed them toward the library.
“Here I was,” said Rudd, “at the head of a demonstration about to burst into a locked building or else run headlong into a mob of right-wingers, and I had only the vaguest idea about what we were doing.” The one idea he did have was that disruption would provoke the police and school administration into actions that in turn would build their own support. He had noted that this approach worked well at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin. But what specifically they were going to do in a few minutes when they climbed to the top of the library steps, he did not know. When they got there, the doors were indeed locked.
Rudd looked around for something on which to stand and found a trash can. He climbed on top, from which commanding heights he would present the options for what to do next. But by the time he had mounted, the crowd was running away. A demonstrator had yelled, “Let’s go to the gym site!” Rudd was standing on a trash can watching the entire demonstration deserting him in a dash toward Morningside Park, which was two blocks off campus. He shouted after them in an effort to remain relevant, “Tear down the fucking fence!” and then he jumped down and ran to regain the head of the group.
By the time Rudd reached the fence, the demonstrators had already tried to tear it down, to no avail. One SDSer was in handcuffs, and police were moving in. For lack of a better idea and because more and more police were arriving at the park, the demonstrators retreated to the campus. A group from the campus met them. It seemed to Rudd that everyone was tugging on him and offering opinions on what to do. He had surely failed as a leader. “Mark, you should act more aggressively,” he was told, but also, “Mark, you should stop the anger in the crowd.” He saw himself drowning in a deluge of competing advice. He stood on the sundial and weighed the options, along with a black student leader who did the same. Clearly neither of them was sure what to do, although at the moment, in Rudd’s estimate, they had about five hundred students ready to do anything.
Other students made speeches about revolution. Back to Rudd. He talked about IDA. He talked about the gym. But what to do? Finally he said, “We’ll start by holding a hostage!”
And they were off. Rudd’s idea of a hostage was not a person. He wanted to hold a building—a sit-in. Sit-ins were, as he later put it, “a time-honored tactic of the labor and civil rights movement.” He heard a voice scream, “Seize Hamilton Hall!” Yes, he thought. That’s the idea. He shouted, “Hamilton Hall is right over there. Let’s go!” And a mob chanting, “IDA must go!” moved toward the hall.
In Hamilton Hall, the dean, Henry Coleman, with his crew cut, approached Rudd, who was now starting to think about a real hostage. Rudd called out to the protesters that they should hold the building and not let the dean leave until their demands were met. They could decide later what the demands were. At last they had a course of action. “Hell, no, we won’t go!”—which usually referred to refusing the draft—was being chanted by the crowd. They were holding a building and a dean.
From that moment on, events rode the leaders. Up went posters of Che, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and, somewhat anachronistically, Lenin, in the occupied building. Increasing numbers of blacks from Harlem, some rumored to be armed with guns, moved into the building. Later, Rudd admitted feeling scared as they all stretched out to sleep that night on the floors. “We were still really middle-class kids, and suddenly we were in a different league from the student protest we had begun that morning.”
Immediately a racial divide was felt. White students wanted to keep Hamilton Hall open for classes because they did not want to alienate their base, the student body. But the black students, who felt their base was the Harlem community, wanted to seal up the building. After arguing points of view, they met separately. The whites had an SDS-style meeting, which included discussions of class struggle and imperialism in Vietnam and the fine points of the Bolshevik revolution. In the meantime, the blacks met among themselves and decided to close down the building and ask the whites to leave. “It would be better if you left and took your own building.”
Sleepily and sadly, the white students gathered up blankets and pillows that had been brought by late-arriving sympathizers and headed out the front door of Hamilton Hall. Rudd said he had tears in his eyes as he looked back at his black comrades closing off the building with crudely constructed barricades. It was the SNCC experience again. 1968 was not a year for “black and white together.”
Someone broke into the locked library, and like sleepy children the protesters silently climbed in. They wandered the building, drifting in and out of Grayson Kirk’s office with its Ming dynasty vases and Rembrandt. A few took cigars; others looked through files for secret documents and later claimed to have come across information on real estate deals and Defense Department agreements. In the early morning Rudd found a telephone and called his parents in New Jersey.
“We took a building,” Rudd said to his father, who had been learning of his activities on radio and television.
“Well, give it back,” his father answered.
The front-page article in The New York Times the next morning, raising the student movement to at least the level of the Linda LeClair case, accurately reported the wild events of the day, differing from Rudd’s own version only in that it credited him with knowing what he was doing. It read as though Mark Rudd, identified as the Columbia SDS president, had planned to lead the march from the sundial, to the park, and back to the sundial and then, at just the right moment, to call for the taking of a hostage. The reading public did not know that the SDS trained its “leaders” to discuss, not to make decisions. It also appeared to the Times that by bringing in some activists from Harlem, Rudd had involved CORE and SNCC and so Columbia was now part of a national protest campaign.
Tom Hayden came in from Newark. The Newark inner-city operation was being closed down, and he was about to move to Chicago, where SDS national headquarters was being established. After trying to live on a dollar a day with rice and beans and failing to recruit the support he had hoped for, he was astounded by what had occurred at Columbia.
I had never seen anything quite like this. Students, at last, had taken power in their own hands, but they were still very much students. Polite, neatly attired, holding their notebooks and texts, gathering in intense knots of discussion, here and there doubting their morality; then recommitting themselves to remain, wondering if their academic and personal careers might be ruined, ashamed of the thought of holding an administrator in his office but wanting a productive dialogue with him, they expressed in every way the torment of their campus generation.
He felt that “he couldn’t walk away.” He offered his support, but in the SDS way made it clear that he was to have no leading role. The protesters seemed pleased to have him, even in a silent capacity. He speculated, “What could be more fitting, perhaps they thought, than to involve Tom Hayden, the (twenty-nine-year-old) old man of the student movement, in this turning point of history?”
The longer they held the buildings, the more students joined them. As they ran out of space, they moved to other buildings. By this point Rudd had resigned from the SDS because the group refused to join the students and occupy more buildings. By the end of the week, Friday, April 27, students held five buildings. The New York Times continued to give front-page space to the student strike and to describe it as an SDS plan.
Hayden was in a building. Abbie Hoffman had arrived. But no one was leading. Everyone was discussing. Each building arranged “strike committees.” The blacks in Hamilton Hall, who had released their hostages shortly after the whites left, insisted on their autonomy from the other four buildings. Each building was having its own debates. Students were literally cranking out press materials around the clock on old-fashioned mimeograph machines. Banners went up on occupied buildings declaring them “liberated zones.” Some borrowed the slogan from César Chávez’s United Farm Workers, “Viva la Huelga” and others the old labor sit-in slogan “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
The campus was divided. Some wore red armbands, for revolution. Others wore green armbands, meaning they supported the uprising but insisted on nonviolence. The jocks, the short-haired male students who wore Columbia blazers and ties, seemed to the student radicals to be comic and irrelevant leftovers from the past. Even when the jocks attempted to blockade supplies to the occupied buildings, the radicals laughed and taunted, “Columbia lines never hold”—a reference to the fact that they always lost at football.
By Friday, April 26, when Columbia announced the suspension of work on the gym and closed the university, it was not the only university that had been closed. Throughout the United States and the world, students cut Friday classes to protest the war in Vietnam. There was a noticeably large participation by American high school students who, starting in April, became increasingly organized, establishing by the end of the year their own chapters of the SDS and a network of almost five hundred underground high school newspapers. The Universities of Paris, Prague, and Tokyo were among those that participated. The Italian university system was barely functioning. That day alone there had been sit-ins, boycotts, or clashes in universities in Venice, Turin, Bologna, Rome, and Bari. The absolute power of senior professors remained the central issue, and the students continued, to the great frustration of the political establishment, to refuse an alliance with communists or other political parties. In Paris three hundred students stormed an American dormitory at Cité University in the southern part of the city over the issue of banning mixed-sex dormitories. It was noted with concern that this represented a successful attempt by student radicals from the suburban University of Nanterre to spread into other Paris universities. On the other hand, the University of Madrid announced that it would reopen for classes on May 6, thirty-eight days after being closed by student demonstrations.
In New York, it was an especially violent day. One girl was hospitalized from riots between pro- and antiwar students at the Bronx High School of Science, an elite public school. Three were hospitalized from Hunter College. But the campus that had captured world attention because of extensive press coverage was Columbia, where the police were now guarding the campus gates and occupying all buildings other than those occupied by students. Just off campus on 116th Street, the police troops waited in long green vans. Even though Kifner now wrote in the Times that the movement was leaderless, that Rudd was only an occasional spokesman, and that each building debated its next step with its own steering committee, the occupation was still widely reported as organized by the SDS and led by Rudd.
The Columbia Board of Trustees denounced what they called “a minority” that had caused the Columbia campus to close. Since there were estimated to be about 1,000 striking students and Columbia had 4,400 full-time undergraduate students in 1968, the claim that it was a minority was mathematically correct, though it was a very large minority. The New York Times, with its two seats on the Columbia board perhaps evident, wrote an editorial that said, “The riot, the sit in, and the demonstration are the avant-garde fashion in the world’s campuses this year. To prove one’s alienation from society is to be ‘in’ at universities as far apart as Tokyo, Rome, Cairo and Rio de Janeiro.” This kind of thing is fine for Poland and Spain, where there is a “lack of avenues for peaceful, democratic change,” the Times declared, “but in the United States, Britain and other democratic countries there is no such justification.”
Even the Times credited WKCR, the Columbia University radio station, with being the hot media outlet of the week. With almost nonstop live coverage, WKCR was in the best position to clearly follow the chaotic events. On Friday morning the university ordered the station to discontinue broadcasting but relented in the face of a huge outburst of student protest. Rudd and other leaders, though they spoke with such reporters as the Times’s Kifner, kept in closest contact with the university paper, the Daily Spectator, and WKCR. Rudd often forewarned the campus radio station’s anchor Robert Siegel of events. He had told him to cover the speech of Colonel Akst.
About ninety thousand antiwar demonstrators filled the Sheep Meadow in Central Park on Saturday. Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s young widow, spoke in the place that had been scheduled for him, reading King’s “Ten Commandments on Vietnam,” which denounced the White House version of the war. To the last commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” she received a thunderous round of applause. The police arrested 160 demonstrators, including 35 who attempted to march from the park to Columbia to show support for the students.
A rival demonstration led by the archbishop of New York, Terence Cooke, who had been installed only three weeks earlier in the presence of President Johnson, promised to rally sixty thousand in support of the war but managed to attract only three thousand war-supporting demonstrators.
In Chicago organizers said that twelve thousand antiwar protesters marched peacefully from downtown Grant Park, but the Chicago police, who attacked with Mace and clubs, said there were only about three thousand marchers. In San Francisco about ten thousand demonstrators marched against the war, including, according to organizers, several dozen servicemen in civilian clothing and several hundred veterans wearing paper hats that said “Veterans for Peace.” In Syracuse, New York, an outstanding high school student, Ronald W. Brazee, age sixteen, who on March 19 had ignited his gasoline-soaked clothing near a cathedral as protest against the war, died. He had left a note that said, “If giving my life will shorten the war by even one day, it will not have been in vain.”
In the meantime, the United States began a massive assault by Airmobile Division helicopters into South Vietnam’s Ashau valley. Ten aircraft were lost in a single day of fighting. At almost the same time as the assault began, the siege of Khe Sanh ended. Six thousand U.S. Marines who had been dug in and cut off on a plateau since January were relieved by a thirty-thousand-man force of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops led by the helicopters of the 1st Air Cavalry in what was called Operation Pegasus. Correspondents with the relief force described the hills around Khe Sanh as “a moonscape.” The earth had been churned into craters by the most intensive aerial bombing in the history of warfare—110,000 tons of U.S. bombs. It was not known if the two North Vietnamese divisions holding the marines in Khe Sanh had been driven off by the bombing or if the North Vietnamese army had never intended a costly final assault. In either case they were thought to have retreated to the Ashau valley, where they could strike Da Nang or Hue. In addition to the assault on the Ashau valley, an attempt to clear enemy troops from the Saigon area was mounted with the optimistic label Operation Complete Victory. Khe Sanh, where two hundred U.S. Marines died during an eleven-week siege and another seventy-one Americans were killed during the relief operation, was to be abandoned by the end of April.
That brief moment of optimism at the beginning of April when Johnson announced he would not run had already vanished by the end of the month. What had happened to the peace talks and the bombing halt? North Vietnam quickly announced that it would appoint representatives to begin talks. The United States then announced that W. Averell Harriman, seventy-six, a onetime Roosevelt liberal and cold war diplomatic veteran, would head up a U.S. team in Geneva or Paris. The United States also let it be known that New Delhi, Rangoon, or Vientiane would be agreeable sites for negotiating. The United States did not want the talks taking place in a communist capital, where the South Vietnamese and South Koreans had no diplomatic mission. On April 8 North Vietnam proposed the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. On April 10 the United States rejected this even for preliminary talks, because there was no U.S. embassy there. Then, on April 11, North Vietnam proposed to have the talks in Warsaw and the United States promptly turned down the offer. By chance this was the same day that Johnson finally signed the Civil Rights Act in the hopes of calming black America; it was also the day 24,500 reserves were called up, bringing U.S. troop strength in Vietnam to a record 549,500—a day in which the United States claimed to kill 120 enemy and lose 14 American soldiers in fighting near Saigon. The next week the United States proposed ten sites, including Geneva, Ceylon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, and India. But Hanoi rejected the ten and once again proposed Warsaw.
Diplomacy was not working any better up at Morningside Heights. On Monday, April 29, almost a week after the protest began, Columbia remained closed and the buildings remained occupied. There was, in fact, little diplomatic activity, since both the trustees and a majority of the faculty had come out against the insurrection. The school did try to negotiate with protesters in Hamilton Hall, since it was being held by black students with ties to Harlem and Columbia did not want to enrage Harlem. But the black students, holding to their promise to Rudd and the white students, refused to negotiate separately from the other students. Vice President David Truman invited Mark Rudd and several other student leaders to his comfortable professorial apartment on elegant Riverside Drive. The student rebels were seated at a polished mahogany table and served tea from a silver service set, all in the best Columbia tradition. Unfortunately, it was at this moment that Rudd decided to take off his boots. His only explanation was that his feet hurt. But the affront was reported in the Times, where Truman also described Rudd as a “capable, ruthless, cold-blooded . . . combination of a revolutionary and an adolescent having a temper tantrum.”
The talks never found any common ground. Rudd told Truman that the students had taken over the university and demanded access to the bursar’s office and the school’s financing. Each “liberated” building evolved into its own commune. Young people living together on the floor, living the revolution, waiting for the siege, made for an emotional, romantic existence. One couple decided that they wanted to be married then and there in their occupied building. WKCR broadcast that a chaplain was needed at Fayerweather Hall, and William Starr, a university Protestant chaplain, answered the call. It was the kind of wedding Life magazine would have loved. The couple borrowed their wedding clothes. The groom, Richard Eagan, wore a Nehru jacket with love beads around his neck. The bride, Andrea Boroff, wore a turtleneck and carried daisies. More than five hundred people occupied Fayerweather, including Tom Hayden. A candlelight procession led the couple through a circle of hundreds of strikers to William Starr, who pronounced them “children of a new age.” Even Hayden, who had already discovered the calamities of matrimony, found his eyes tearing. The couple called themselves Mr. and Mrs. Fayerweather.
Columbia, it seemed to these students, had become a revolutionary center. Students and student leaders from other universities and even high schools came to show their support. More and more people from Harlem, both organized groups and individuals, arrived on campus and staged large demonstrations. Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown went to Hamilton Hall, which was now renamed Malcolm X University. Young people from Harlem had come onto campus chanting, “Black Power!” It was Grayson Kirk’s nightmare.
In the dark early hours of Tuesday, April 30, hundreds of police began gathering around the university. At 1:30 A.M., WKCR advised students that an attack was imminent and they should stay in their dormitories. The police said that they had originally planned the assault for 1:30 but put it off several times for what they termed “tactical delays.” It later was clarified that these delays were caused by a desire not to move until Harlem was asleep. At 2:30, armed with helmets, flashlights, clubs, blackjacks, and, according to witnesses, brass knuckles, they moved onto the campus in a militarylike operation in which the force of one thousand police officers broke off into seven target sectors. “Up against the wall, motherfucker,” Rudd later recalled. “Some Columbia students were surprised to learn that cops really say that.”
The police beat those who resisted; they beat those who didn’t. Some officers arrested students according to procedure and led them to wagons. Others appeared to go berserk with clubs or blackjacks. Dragged into paddy wagons that completely blocked off two blocks of Amsterdam Avenue, 720 students were arrested. Students who occupied buildings were beaten as they tried to hold up the two-finger V sign. Students who tried to keep peace outside, clearly marked by their green armbands, were also beaten, as were some faculty members. In their report the police complained that they had not been told how many faculty supported the students or how many students were involved. Right-wing students, the jocks, who were cheering on the police, were also beaten. One hundred and forty-eight injuries were reported. It was one of those rare moments in American history when class warfare became open. The police, working-class people, resented these privileged youth who would not support the war that working-class children were fighting. The conflict was increasingly becoming a division of classes. College students were using “hard hat” as a term of derision, and the police attacked them with raw hatred. Marvin Harris, a Columbia anthropology professor who witnessed the raid, wrote:
Many students were dragged down stairways. Girls were pulled out by the hair; their arms were twisted; they were punched in the face. Faculty members were kicked in the groin, tossed through hedges, punched in the eye. A diabetic student fell into a coma. One faculty member suffered a nervous collapse. Many students bled profusely from head wounds opened by handcuffs, wielded as weapons. Dozens of moaning people lay about the grass unattended.
The 120 charges of police brutality brought against the department were the most from any single incident in the history of the New York police.
The public was shocked. Initially the administration had the public relations advantage, due chiefly to New York Times coverage. A photograph had caught students in Kirk’s office. Student David Shapiro, today a poet, was photographed at the president’s desk in sunglasses with a purloined cigar. The Times abandoned all objectivity when deputy managing editor A. M. Rosenthal wrote an editorial disguised as a front-page news story centered on a quote from Kirk: “My God, how could human beings do such a thing.” Vintage Kirk, the “such a thing” was not the brutal beating of hundreds of unarmed people, but acts of vandalism, which Rosenthal attributed to the students, but most witnesses—the Times didn’t mention—including faculty members who signed affidavits, attributed to the police. Despite the claims of the New Left that such coverage was adopted by the rest of the media, both the press and the public were appalled by what happened and did not entirely blame the students. Time magazine wrote, “Much of the blame falls on President Grayson Kirk, whose aloof, often bumbling administration has proved unresponsive to grievances that have long festered on campus.” The Columbia faculty formed a board that set up a commission of inquiry headed by Harvard professor Archibald Cox, who came to a similar conclusion.
Strangely, the entire cast—the students, the administration, the police—did it all over again. There were ongoing discussions about changes at the university. But the administration, which had provoked the original incident by singling out Rudd and five others, decided in late May to suspend Rudd and four others from Columbia. Such suspensions had particularly serious implications in 1968 because they meant the end of a student draft deferment and often a sentence to the Vietnam War. How did the students respond? By demonstrating. What did Rudd and the other four do with the demonstration? They took over Hamilton Hall. So then another one thousand police attacked, in a battle in which sixty-eight people, including seventeen policemen, were injured.
Rudd returned to campus, suspended from school and out on $2,500 bail and vowing to keep Columbia protests going through the spring and summer. Time magazine asked his parents in suburban Maplewood, New Jersey, where they had been receiving a flood of anti-Semitic letters with such phrases as “fucking Jew,” what they thought of all that had happened with their son. His father pointed out that he had spent his own youth struggling just for enough money. “We’re glad Mark has time to spend on activities like politics.” Or, as his mother kvelled, “My son, the revolutionary.”
In August, when Kirk, to the relief of almost everyone, offered to retire at the age of sixty-four, the trustees debated for four hours whether or not accepting the offer would appear to be giving in to student rebels. In the end they accepted the resignation even though it was clear that the president had been forced out by the students.
“The issue is not the issue,” Rudd had said. The point was not the treatment of Harlem or the fostering of the Vietnam War machine. The point was that the nature of American universities needed to be changed. Even the Cox Commission had denounced the authoritative nature of the Columbia administration, with some rules dating from the eighteenth century. Once students had a say, they could address the goal of breaking the tie between corporations and universities, getting the academy out of the business of weaponry, and getting America out of the business of war. Tom Hayden wrote in Ramparts, “The goal written on the university walls was ‘Create two, three, many Columbias’; it meant expand the strike so that the U.S. must either change or send its troops to occupy American campuses.” The goal seemed realistic.