Morrill Hall takeover remembered by alumni

Three alumni recall students’ search for racial tolerance at the U.

by mackenzie collins

On Jan. 14, 1969, a group of 70 students took over the offices of University of Minnesota administrators in Morrill Hall and refused to leave until a list of seven demands calling for black cultureâÄôs recognition and recruitment on campus were met. Though not all of their demands were met, their stand has made a lasting impact on the number of scholarships, programs and the amount of representation students of color now experience on campus. By the mid-20th century, the University had a small minority representation and little racial tolerance. A 1948 survey from the Office of the Dean of Students showed that 27 student groups had restrictive clauses prohibiting black students. On the 1969 University campus of more than 40,000 students, only 87 students were black. Rose Massey Freeman, past president of the later-established Afro-American Action Committee (AAAC), the current equivalent of the Black Student Union, came to the University from the South in the late 1960s. âÄúI realized that the North wasnâÄôt all that it was cracked up to be; it wasnâÄôt the promised land,âÄù Freeman said about her first years at the University. âÄúWhen you encountered racism, it wasnâÄôt overt, but you knew [it was there],âÄù Freeman said. While Black History Month seeks to preserve black history and the cultureâÄôs struggle for freedom across the United States, the UniversityâÄôs storied history becomes evident. With the civil rights movement and the group of University students who decided to take a stand, several things changed. While the UniversityâÄôs cultural history is not restricted to the active members of the Black Power Movement, the Department of African American and African Studies would not exist at the University without them. These are three stories from black students in Morrill Hall that January day and how their stand in 1969 shaped their futures. Rose Massey Freeman âÄî B.A. 1970 Rose Massey Freeman graduated from the University as one of the first two students ever from the Department of African American and African Studies. Freeman served as AAAC president during the Morrill Hall takeover, when Freeman said the group presented the list of demands to the administration and University President Malcolm Moos. âÄúThere was a hostile group outside yelling the âÄòNâÄô word,âÄù said Freeman, recalling the Morrill Hall takeover. âÄúIt wasnâÄôt surprising it was happening, but I think it was surprising the amount of positive support we also got from other students.âÄù Police later arrested Freeman, Horace Huntley and another member of the AAAC. They were charged with unlawful assembly, inciting a riot and destruction of property, though they were later acquitted of the most serious charges. After a night of occupying Morrill Hall and communicating with administration officials and community members, administrators agreed to speed up the process of creating an African American studies department, to fund a February black student conference and include an AAAC presence on the Martin Luther King Scholarship Committee, according to the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. Horace Huntley âÄî B.A. 1970 Horace Huntley was the other student to graduate with an African American and African studies degree in 1970. As vice president of the AAAC, Huntley headed the occupation of Morrill Hall with Freeman and negotiated with the UniversityâÄôs administration for an entire night. Huntley and the AAAC worked to bring black culture and racial problems to the forefront at the University by organizing events and bringing prominent black speakers to campus, like Muhammad Ali, whom Huntley, Freeman and other group members spent the day with. âÄúHe just had a very magnetic personality,âÄù Huntley said. âÄúHe was really a hero for younger folk at that time âĦ by determining that he would stand on principle to not fight as the heavyweight champion of the world.âÄù Huntley continued on with his education to earn his doctorate degree and is a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. John S. Wright, Ph.D. âÄî B.A. 1967, M.A. 1971 John Wright was on campus as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University from 1963 to 1973. He was a member of Students for Racial Progress, a student group connected to sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the South in the 1960s. Wright was also the only graduate student member of the AAAC and was one of the key members who took place in the Morrill Hall takeover. Wright drafted the original seven demands. âÄúWe were routinely subjected to police harassment, stopped by patrol cars, taken down to city hall and police headquarters on false warrants,âÄù Wright said. University police handled most of the protests during the civil rights and Vietnam War unrest era, Wright said. There was a great deal of question at the time as to which police department, UMPD or Minneapolis police, should handle some of the demonstrations. âÄúWe were also under government surveillance because the FBI and CIA during those years had whole units devoted to putting civil rights and Black Power and black student organizations under scrutiny,âÄù Wright said.