Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast and the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Columbia 1968 Rebellion: The Role of the Black Students and Harlem Community 

This past week, from April 24 to April 27, 2008, many veterans of the spring 1968 strike and protests at Columbia University in New York returned to the campus for a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of that event. This gathering also served as a sort of reunion for those who were activists at Columbia and Barnard in those days, including, of course, many who remain active today in various political and social movements.

Back in 1968, I was a freshman at Columbia. Those events, which took place in the context of the growing Black liberation movement in the U.S. and the worldwide struggles against the war in Vietnam, among many other international rebellions and revolts, profoundly changed my life and thinking. They opened my eyes quite wide about some of the horrors going on around the world, and drew me into political activism with their irresistible slogan: Join us!

Today, however, many do not understand what took place or why. Numerous attacks on the protesters have been circulated, especially in the mainstream media, as usual a primary source of confusion, distortion, and lies.

Despite the severe shortcomings of some of the political tendencies which played a key role in those events at Columbia, especially among the leaders of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, which I joined shortly after the strike of spring 1968), it is my belief as it was then that the basic demands of those actions were just. They sought an end to the building of a university gymnasium by the elite, private Columbia University in nearby Morningside Park, which is public land in Harlem, an end to university involvement in war research, and several related issues.

One of the most distorted features of this struggle involves the role of the Black students. Many accounts talk of the uprising by white students on this Ivy League campus, but either omit or downplay the crucial leadership role played by the Black students and their organization, the Students Afro-American Society (SAS). Still less is recorded about the role of activists from the Harlem community in leading the struggle against the gym, and in assisting the students when they struck Columbia and occupied campus buildings.

Now a new documentary film is trying to set the record straight. It is called "!VALA! The Power of Black Students at Columbia University 1968-2008". This film is the brainchild of Sherry A. Suttles, Barnard class of 1969, who is the film's executive producer, and was a student activist and SAS member in those days. The producer and director of the film is Kamau Suttles, her son.

Right after a screening and discussion of "!VALA!" this past Saturday, April 26, at this Columbia 1968 conference, we spoke about this film and its message with Sherry A. Suttles, Kamau Suttles, and activist Samuel White Jr., Columbia class of 1968.

You can listen to this lengthy interview for free by clicking here.

Thanks, Eddie Goldman

(Note: This show is not part of the NO HOLDS BARRED series, which will return later this week.)

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