Principle of non-violence

August 16, 2012

Martha Biondi claims that the Harvard University student strike in April 1969 had as one of its demands the creation of black studies ("Let academic freedom ring", 9 August). No, it didn't. I was there.

The strike was about the university's treatment of the protest group Students for a Democratic Society. The SDS' chief demand was the expulsion of Harvard's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC, pronounced "Rotzy"). It made other demands, too, but not support for black studies.

On 9 April 1969, more than 100 SDS members took over University Hall, an administrative building. Harvard's president, Nathan Pusey, called the police: I remember hearing at the time that the Massachusetts National Guard attended, but I think that was probably wrong. In the middle of the night, the police forcibly ejected the protesters, causing some avoidable injuries, although none life-threatening.

It was the forcible evictions that brought the student body out on strike. People who had no great interest in SDS nevertheless felt that the university's use of violence against it was wrong. One consequence was that support grew for ROTC's expulsion - a demand that was soon met.

Harvard was at the time discussing the creation of a black studies programme - following the Rosovsky report that Biondi mentions - but that campaign did not attach itself to the coat-tails of the student strike.

David Hartley, Walsall

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