Takeover team reunites

by Vadim Lavrusik

After years of planning, participants and those who led the Morrill Hall takeover reunite this weekend to revisit history.

People involved in the Morrill Hall takeover of 1969 are joining with students from the University today to celebrate the accomplishments of the takeover and discuss issues facing black students attending the University now.

People involved in the takeover have flown in from across the country to take part in today’s and Saturday’s events which will include panel discussions, a tour of historic sites related to the takeover and “old school” socials.

The reunion, which has been planned by the Morrill Hall Reunion Committee for years, will highlight the takeover.

The takeover

Professor John Wright knew his actions in the Morrill Hall takeover of 1969 would make history.

Wright was a young graduate student and a part of the African American Action Committee that led the takeover of Morrill Hall.

In the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the African American Action Committee presented the University administration with a list of seven demands in April 1968, Wright said.

Wright said the negotiation focused on curricular change and the creation of Afro-American studies, a program that would include scholarships, counseling and support systems.

“Those were times young people believed in the real power and possibility of changing the social order and the institutions – educational, political, economic and otherwise,” Wright said. “There was tremendous faith in the possibility of constructive social and institutional change.”

After nine months of negotiation, the demands the African American Action Committee proposed had not been met. The group then took over Morrill Hall, the University’s main administrative building.

Horace Huntley was vice president of the African American Action Committee at the time and one of the leaders of the takeover.

Huntley said he felt injustices were being committed daily against black people and they refused to further accept indignities.

“We were prepared to remain in Morrill Hall until our demands were met,” Huntley said, “and all three of the demands were met.”

Three leaders of the takeover, including Huntley, were indicted for their involvement, but the charges eventually were dropped.

Because the demands were met, black people on campus and in Minnesota gained a respect never before realized, Huntley said.

“It was clear that we no longer felt it necessary to apologize for being black,” he said.

The reunion

The reunion begins at 10 a.m. today in the Mississippi Room at Coffman Union with a panel discussion with students and leaders involved in the takeover.

Although the reunion is a celebration of the accomplishments the takeover has achieved, it also will discuss issues concerning diversity at a predominantly white University, Wright said.

“It is a time for us for reconnection and reflection because with the passage of time there has been a great deal of progress,” he said.

Wright said there are few moments in the history of the University that are comparable to the takeover in terms of the way it transformed the educational and social life of the institution.

“But it is also a reflection at a time when many issues that we addressed then are being confronted by today’s students and faculty and administrators and other forms,” Wright said.

Aurelius Butler II, vice president of the Black Student Union, will participate in the panel discussion. He said the purpose of the talk is to draw a parallel between what happened in 1969 to today.

Although there are more black students at the University today, this is still something the University needs to work on, Butler said.

“That same issue exists; the question is, Why is it so? Is it institutional racism or the state isn’t addressing the problem?” he said.

He said he hopes the reunion will help black students at the University understand the history behind the takeover and that “there were people here before them who fought for what they have now.”

Mary Freeman Massey, who was president of the African American Action Committee at the time of the takeover, said the concern of the committee today is making sure the gains made through the takeover in 1969 don’t become eroded for the students of 2006.

Massey’s concerns lie in the closing of the General College and the preservation of the African American and African studies departments.

Wright said he shares these concerns and wonders how they will affect black students and diversity on campus.

“The administration claims that there will not be a reduction in the proportions of students of color as a consequence of the closing of General College,” Wright said. “We intend to hold the administration to its promises in that regard.”

Massey said she hopes the reunion will inspire.

“We want to send a message that you will accomplish what you will,” she said. “People have to take a stand and you have to stand on the principal for what you believe in and fight for it.”