The 50th Anniversary of the Willard Straight Hall Occupation continues this week with a keynote conversation between two alumni involved in the protest and a remembrance walk from the Africana Center to Willard Straight Hall.
Harry Edwards Ph.D. ’73 and Frank Dawson ’72 will delve into their experience with the occupation of Willard Straight Hall and reflect on the changes in the social justice movement over the last 50 years at Bailey Hall on Thursday.
Edwards is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and has studied black athletes and sociology throughout his career. He has authored many books including The Struggle That Must Be: An Autobiography, Sociology of Sport, Black Students and The Revolt of the Black Athlete.
“Dr. Edwards is the architect of so much important activism over the years,” said Prof. Riché Richardson, Africana studies. “He was a part of the iconic moment at the 1968 Olympics where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the podium.”
Dawson is the co-director of Agents of Change, which screened at Cinemapolis on Tuesday night as part of the anniversary remembrance. The film focuses on the black student movements at San Francisco State University and at Cornell in the 1960s.
“I hope their conversation will bridge the gap between the past and the present,” Richardson said.
“The black student movement made a profound impact historically,” Richardson continued. “It made an impact at the national level as well as here at Cornell, but there are manifestations that are continuing even now that have intensified measurably over the past decade, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Richardson hopes attendees will leave with a better understanding of black athletes’ profound impact on social justice movements, which is an “intersection that is often overlooked and underappreciated.”
The anniversary commemoration will continue on Friday with several events at the Africana Center and will end with a remembrance walk across campus.
According to Richardson, these events are “designed to be a day of reflection on the actual day of the Willard Straight Occupation,” primarily with current students in mind.
The office of President Martha E. Pollack coordinated the keynote event and commemorative walk Richardson said.
The Africana Center will be hosting a forum on Friday. Last weekend the Africana Center hosted a symposium honoring their founding director Prof. Emeritus James Turner and black student activism.
The forum will feature Prof. Russell Rickford, history, and Prof. Stefan Bradley, African American Studies, of Loyola Marymount University, moderated by Prof. Noliwe Rooks, Africana studies and feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Bradley recently published a book on the history of black student movements in the Ivy League.
The remembrance walk will begin after the forum, starting at the Africana Center. “The Africana center is a part of the occupation’s history,” explained Richardson.
The march then continues on to Wari House, the black women cooperative that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Then it goes to the original site of the Africana Center, and concludes at Willard Straight Hall.
“I think the march this year will draw more people than usual given the alumni who are coming back for this important commemoration,” Richardson said.
“We’ve definitely come a long way since the occupation,” she added. “But this is the kind of event that challenges us to live up to the Cornell motto of ‘Any Person, Any Study’ and to truly achieve one Cornell.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the titles of Harry Edwards books as one book and stated Wari House celebrated their 50th Anniversary last week. In fact, Edwards has written multiple books on different subjects and Wari celebrated their 50th Anniversary last year.