April 21, 2004

Remembering the Straight Takeover

Print More

After marching from the current Africana Center to the Wari House, then to the site of the original Africana Center, which was burned to the ground in 1970, approximately 150 students marched to the Straight yesterday and convened for a picture before continuing participation in this week’s activities of the 35th anniversary of the Straight Takeover.

The takeover — which began on April 19, 1969 — was an organized infiltration of the Straight by about 100 members of the Afro-American Society following a myriad of grievances and growing tensions between African American students and University officials.

The march, called “Retracing the Steps,” was an effort to both physically retrace the path of the black students involved in the takeover, as well as to remind students on campus of some of the benefits that emerged from the events, according to event organizer Amesika Bediako ’04, former co-chair of the Multicultural Greek Letter Council.

These include “greater appreciation for minority students on campus, need blind admissions, and the [creation of] the student assembly,” Bediako said.

Bediako also said that the retracing was, in part, organized as an attempt to correct many of the common misconceptions concerning the takeover.

“A lot of people think that the takeover should not be commemorated because they think it was an armed takeover,” Bediako said. In fact, “that is not true … it was very methodical in the way it happened.”

A Sun article written by former Managing Editor C. Barton Reppert ’70, said that “the day-long occupation and picketing w[as] marked by no violence except for a morning fight between white counter-protesters — who stormed into the Straight — and the black students, along with some Students for a Democratic Society members.”

To reinforce the historical aspects of the takeover, key speakers, including Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, and Prof. Emeritus Don Barr, policy analysis and managment, who experienced the event, addressed the crowd at each stop during the retracing and during a panel held yesterday. Bediako stressed the importance of the event saying, “we want to encourage students to seek out the truth, not just read what was written … but also talk to people that were involved … to open your mouth and ask questions.” Some students involved in the retracing were happy to see the event involve Turner.

“I am glad we were able to do this for him,” said Kevin A. Edwards ’05. “He reminded us of what it is to be responsible.”

Edwards then explained that he feels personally thankful to the students involved in the takeover for taking actions that benefited countless Cornell students afterwards.

“It is so easy to say, oh I am only here for four years, but 35 years ago, they were there for me,” Edwards said.

“The march was real interesting, especially since Dr. Turner was speaking,” said Greg Mars ’05, president of the African Latino Asian Native American Programing Board. “It gave you a certain sense of pride.”

Following the event, many of the students involved in the retracing convened at the Straight to participate in a public gathering called a “speak out.”

Facilitated by Prof. Gerald Jackson, Africana studies, the “youth-elder speak out” focused on the theme “this is how things were in my time and this is how they are now,” said Bediako.

Jackson spoke largely about his views of discrimination and introduced questions such as “what does it mean to be black?” and “how is our name tied to our identity?”

One audience member said that some people that appear ethnically black do not classify themselves as black, while others that do not appear ethnically black do consider themselves black. “Like the Aborigines,” the audience member said, “we and they have a different background … some of them consider themselves black and some don’t.”

Jackson replied by urging people to “rather than look at this in the binary black-white way … you should ask yourself if you are what you say you are of what you really are … that is what we struggle with.”

Archived article by David Andrade
Sun Staff Writer