Saturday, May 15, 2010

Forty Years Ago Today in Brooklyn: May 15, 1970: Brooklyn College reacts to Kent State

From our diary:

Friday, May 15, 1970

It remained cool and cloudy. I woke up early and while Mom was in the beauty parlor, I drove around and took Steven to Tilden [High School] - there's been race friction there. I went to the camera store and I got back the BC photos from last week, which were uninteresting.

I finished writing Mark [in National Guard basic training at Fort Polk]. It's funny communicating with him like this.

When I arrived at school, Paul was working on the second special edition, which may come out Monday. I went to SUBO and with Leonard attended a meeting of the Brookyn chapter of the Movement for a New Congress. The main campaign in the area is Peter Eikenberry's fight to unseat Rep. [John] Rooney.

I had a quick bite and found that the
Spigot office had been turned into Strike Central. They even repaired the telephone. I went into the next office and sat around with Alan Ullman and the others for awhile.

Dr. Bonchek [psychology professor] is standing up for his principles, however idiotic they may be, and is giving us a final and two quizzes next Friday. He got so exercised about the whole thing, I thought he'd have a stroke. . .

Two black students were killed by police at Jackson State College in Mississippi. Everyone is saying we're in the gravest crisis since the Civil War.

We'll end our May 1970 diary entries here. Although we were around campus all summer taking summer school courses (see our book Summer in Brooklyn for some entries), people started drifting off to the beach, jobs in the city or beach resorts or as counselors at sleepaway camps, or lured by cheap flights to Europe like those on the Icelandic "vomit comet."

A New York Times article, "19 students Seized in occupation of the New School," by Linda Charlton on Tuesday, May 26, 1970, began
Most of the country's college campuses were quiet yesterday, although National Guardsmen still patrolled Ohio State University and 19 students were arrested for occupying a graduate school building of the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Also in New York City, the governing board of the 18-college City University system adopted a resolution calling for a two-week recess immediately before the election next November 3, to allow its 180,000 students to take part in the election campaign. (Here's Basil Paterson, 1970 Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, campaigning that summer at the Junction.)

The resolution was submitted by Chancellor Albert H. Bowker, who had said at the Brooklyn College exercises Friday that the frequent closing of colleges in response to such events as the United States troop move into Cambodia might be well-motivated but "are pointless in terms of their impact." The action by the City's Board of Higher Education follows similar action at a number of other colleges and universities.

We worked in several campaigns in the 1970 election, mostly right away for Pete Eikenberry in Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg, but he lost the June primary to hawkish Rep. John Rooney. During the two-week pre-election recess, we worked with our friend Mark in the campaign of Westchester Rep. Richard (Dick) Ottinger, the Democratic (and Conservation Party) candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican-Liberal Senator Charles Goodell. Here's a pic of Ottinger campaigning by the BMT station at Kings Highway between East 16th and East 17th Streets. For more of our 1970 political photos, go here.

Although Democrats and peace candidates made gains in the 1970 elections, in New York State, Rep. Ottinger and Sen. Goodell split the liberal and antiwar vote and the Senate election was run by a Vietnam hawk and war supporter, Conservative Party candidate James Buckley.

At Brooklyn College, we tried to mobilize a strike and other actions the following spring in response to CUNY budget cuts (below is a leaflet we designed that we found a few years ago displayed in an exhibit at the Brooklyn College Library)

and the widening of the war in Southeast Asia with the incursion into Laos, but the May 1970 shutting down of colleges in response to Cambodia and Kent State was the high point of campus peace activism.

But we don't want to fall prey to nostalgia. Student activism at Brooklyn College is alive and well forty spring semesters later. Here, in a photo taken just a few weeks ago by John Salmone for the Brooklyn College Excelsior, are students marching on campus through the Campus Road gate protesting Gov. David Paterson's proposed CUNY tuition hike and budget cuts.

Looks a lot like 1970 to us.

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