An Incident of Racism on the UConn Campus on October 9, 1969

The Fall semester of 1969 was a time of frequent protests on campuses across the country, and the students of the University of Connecticut were ready participants and initiators of protests expressing outrage at the Vietnam War, recruiting on campus by the U.S. military and by manufacturers of weapons of war, and of racism in society. A racial incident that occurred on October 9, 1969, brought violence to campus and a resulting protest by the students.

The incident was written about in Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits: Creating the University of Connecticut, 1881-2006, by UConn History Professor Bruce Stave:

“On Thursday, October 9, an estimated fifty to sixty black students damaged lounges and rooms in the Delta Chi fraternity house and Lancaster House. They overturned couches, broke windows, and smashed mirrors. Paint was thrown into some of the rooms at Delta Chi. That incident, which lasted no more than five minutes, stemmed from a confrontation between blacks and whites from the previous night. Lew Curtiss, one of the black students, suggested that the disturbance represented an example of “collective defense” – blacks had to be concerned with the protection of black people. The fracas at Lancaster House resulted from insults leveled at a group of black women from the fourth floor. The protesters went directly there, smashing along the way the staircase, doorway, and lounge windows; upstairs windows were also broken, beds knocked down, and a bureau smashed. Three residents received minor cuts on their hands and faces when they met the protesters at the front door. After the incident, however, Lancaster residents issued a statement taking blame for initiating the confrontation and expressing the hope that others would learn from the situation and work to solve the racial problem rationally.

Front page of the Connecticut Daily Campus of October 10, 1969

The next morning three hundred white freshmen marched quietly in single file to Gulley Hall to “express…deep concern over the failure of the University of Connecticut community to take substantive steps toward ending the racial turmoil and injustice within our community and the desire that remedies be found. Provost Gant, who had been serving as acting president during Homer Babbidge’s sabbatical (during the 1969 Fall semester), called on all to embrace with conviction the spirit of the statement and promised to distribute it throughout campus. Babbidge returned to spend the day of October 10 in conferences with students and faculty to ascertain just what had happened – and to discuss its root cause. He said he could not and would not condone property damage but emphasized, “I must assert that we cannot and will not condone d damage to person by racial insult, for whatever reason.” The insult was the more truly violent act, the more threatening to public safety, the least comprehensible. The president then announced that he had asked the chairman of the board of trustees to call a special meeting for Sunday, October 12. After meeting in executive session, the board endorsed Babbidge’s statement and called on him to give highest priority to remedying the cause of racial tension on campus.”

Statement by the Lancaster House students on page 2, of the October 10, 1969, issue of the Connecticut Daily Campus

These photographs of the October 9, 1969, silent protest were taken by Connecticut Daily Campus photographer Howard Goldbaum and can be found in our digital repository beginning here:
https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/search/%22north%20campus%20against%20racism%22?type=edismax&cp=20002%3AUniversityofConnecticut

Martin Luther King Jr. and “Why I Oppose the War In Vietnam”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) said from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on April 16, 1967, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” 

“Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” – Dr. Martin Luther King jr. Dodd Center, Archives & Special Collections LP’s.

This edition of Martin Luther King Jr. day means many things this year.  A significant day to reflect on historical achievements in the United States for African Americans and people of color regarding civil rights and segregation,  and as a nation, its first African American Commander in Chief takes office today.  Though the Archives & Special Collections at the University of Connecticut may not contain Lincoln’s bible which will be used today in the swearing in of President Obama for his second term, we do have important materials that help contextualize why the issues of human rights for people of color in the United States and around the world matter now as ever.   

A linkage between the US government’s role in violence in the third world during the War in Vietnam and the violence against people of color at home was a major topic of King’s speeches in the last year of his life.  Other important figures like Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois,  Malcolm X and Angela Davis have also taken the stance on racism and human rights abuse to the internationalist position that a violence against people of color around the world is a violence to all.  On this inaugural day of the President of the United States, taking the steps of the building which he will stand upon, built by African Americans enslaved 150 years ago, will symbolize an overwhelming achievement in a nation’s history.  For the role of African Americans in the making of this country that has systematically seen its power turned to their oppression, the event symbolizes an equally outstanding time in history which lays deep within the meaning making of the citizen, the culture, and the class.  The struggles of African American draftees, Medgar Evers of the NAACP, Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, Freedom Riders from North to South and The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts all became witness to the atrocity and injustice brought to their people.  The contextual archive, such as Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam, also bears witness to those injustices which continue on to lay the groundwork for the now, the tomorrow and thereafter. 

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values, we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing oriented society to a person oriented society, when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies…true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” – Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1967.       

Materials on Civil Rights and Human Rights can be found at the Dodd Center’s Archives & Special Collections such as the LP Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.  For access to other radical LP’s from our Alternative Press Collection, please contact the Curator.