April 18, 2007

This Week In History

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On April 19, 1969, a group of roughly 100 black students took over the Straight in what a Sun thirty-year commemoration article described as, “The culmination of a series of efforts to assert their presence at Cornell.” About 50 members of Students for a Democratic Society formed and held a picket line is support of the AAS takeover.

According to the Sun, the group obtained guns during the demonstration for means of self-defense, as a result of a physical confrontation with white fraternity students who tried to force their way into the building the morning of the takeover. The confrontation was the only incident of violence during the occupation.

The demonstration lasted 33 hours until Afro-American Society members who had occupied the Straight evacuated the building, after representatives of the University acceded to several of the group’s demands. Vice Provost W. Keith Kennedy and Steven Muller, vice president for public affairs, signed a seven-part agreement with officials from the AAS.

After the agreement was signed, a student read a statement explaining the rationale for the AAS take-over. The statement contained threats for confrontation if the University failed to follow through on the agreement.

The agreement stated its demands as the following: nullification by the full faculty of judicial proceedings against five students involved with harassment institutes the December and January previous, “during agitation for a stronger Afro-American Studies program”; legal assistance against any action resulting from the occupation of the Straight by AAS members; no civil or criminal charges or punishment, including expulsion, taken by the University against the students, and the assumption of any damages to the building; 24 hour protection to the Women’s Co-op and the headquarters of the Afro-American Society; through investigation of police action regarding a “burning of the cross incident” at the Women’s Co-op and the attack on Willard Straight by unknown individuals, with a report publicly detailing the identity of those involved.

The agreement also stated the AAS’s promises to discontinue occupation of the Straight, and cooperate in devising a new system to “promote justice on Cornell’s campus for all members of the student body.”