Black students united cornell: In the fall of 1968, Nathan Tarcov, an recent Cornell University graduate, published an essay in The Public Interest titled “The Last Four Years at Cornell.” Tarcov was the author of the essay. Increasing student dissatisfaction, according to Tarcov, represented an existential threat to the university’s commitment to liberal education. 

It is possible that Cornell’s proclivity toward accommodating student expectations may just exacerbate the situation: “Granting a slew of peripheral demands will not be sufficient to alleviate a widespread dissatisfaction with the basic qualities of education with in arts college.”In Tarcov’s opinion, Cornell’s continued refusal to admit the severity of the problem and defend itself indicated the deep dysfunction at the core American higher education, which was certain to have negative consequences in the future.

As a result of the warning, the Cornell campus was engulfed in racially charged violence just under a year later, which was far more severe than he had anticipated. Of course, the student demonstrations that took place 3 years ago were not restricted to Cornell. Many other prominent institutions saw outbreaks that were no less significant (and in some cases, far more serious) than those at Harvard. Across all of these cases, a similar narrative can be discerned: student radicalism, sometimes with racial overtones, culminates in violence and puts the university’s administrators to the test. When the administrators fail the test, they cave in to pressure to adapt the curriculum or any other practises, setting a long-lasting point of reference for the subjection of free expression to an intense political agenda. Additionally, in each instance the blunder was simply amplified over time, with both the students’ violence and the administrations’ weakness now being lauded in ways that continue to undermine the American academy.

black students united cornell


Tarcov writes in his essay that he chose Cornell because he believed it would be significantly less politicised than other universities, such as Berkeley or Wisconsin—and he was right, at least at initially, about that. Cornell’s reputation as a peaceful and nonpolitical school played a role in the events of 1969, which had a particularly strong impact.

The trouble started with certain early signs of racial hostility on the part of the community. During the 1960s, the numbers of black scholars at Cornell University had been steadily increasing, thanks in large part to the work of the university’s administration and faculty. 

Black students united cornell: When Dr. James Perkins became president of Cornell University in 1963, only around 25 percent of the school’s 11,000 students were African-American. Perkins, a Quaker who had previously served as chairman and chief executive of the United Negro Saving Account, successfully petitioned the Rockefeller Foundation for a $250,000 grant to assist in the recruitment of bright black students. Following the program’s success, Perkins formed the Commission on Special Education in order to increase the level of recruitment even higher. Rutgers hosted 250 black students at1969, out of a total student body of 14,000. This was due to the baby boom, which increased the student body to 14,000.

Even though Cornell’s president and professors made concerted efforts to recruit and integrate blacks, most black students at university felt isolated from their peers and resentful toward the administration. The Afro-American Society was founded in 1966 by a group of black college students. 

The AAS, which was heavily influenced either by nationwide Black Power movement, wanted to improve black students’ autonomy while also changing Cornell’s curriculum to reflect its viewpoints, rather than attempting to integrate the university. This is an example of an AAS statement, sent in the form of letters to a Cornell Daily Sun, which reads:

If Blacks do not describe the type of programme that will be established within an university that will be meaningful to them, the programme will be rendered ineffective. Furthermore, if the programme would be to be valid for either Blacks or whites, the Blacks have to have the authority to determine the function of white pupils in the programme, perhaps to the point of restricting their participation. We do not ask white people to comprehend since their perception is clouded by the racism that they themselves acknowledge they possess.

Father Michael McPhelin, the visiting economic historian from  Philippines who had previously criticised the economic-development practises of a number of African countries, was lectured in 1968 by a group of AAS members who caused a commotion in class. The AAS attempted to scare McPhelin into recanting his critique without ever addressing it on the merits of the case. 

The students attempted to read the letter critical of him in class for the first time without first showing him the letter, and he refused to make them to do so. Afterwards, they attempted to seize control of the class, but he held firm. After filing a formal complaint with the chairman of the department of economics, McPhelin discovered that, rather than disciplining the offending students, the chairman applauded them for their activity. 

The following year, McPhelin would have left Cornell, and Tarcov observed that a pattern had emerged: “The disturbance of a class, detention of a department office but also chairman, and also the threat or use of coercion had gone unpunished, and the values or beliefs manifested had even earned the sympathy as well as admiration of liberals as well as managers for the personal morals manifested.”

Additionally, in the summertime of 1968, Thomas Sowell, harvard black economics professor who had just taken his first undergrad degree, attempted to remove an unruly African American student from his classroom, only to have his decision overturned by another chairman who had undermined McPhelin. Sowell writes in his biography of his stay at Cornell that he was referred to as a “man from Mars” because he refused to participate in some of the mass debates or small-group dramas that permeated the campus during his time there. Sowell resigned from his position at Cornell because he was dissatisfied.

The situation deteriorated further. When black students demanded a separate curriculum in December 1968, they took over machines, brandished fake firearms on campus, and marched through the student dining hall while a dinner was in progress, according to a report. The administration’s inability to respond effectively to these interruptions paved the way for many more.

It is true that these first appeared in a winter of 1969. In February, the symposium on South Africa was held on the University of Illinois campus. President Perkins decided to appear and speak about the university’s investments in the that country, which were met with strong opposition from many student activists. During Perkins’ speech, the black student named Gary Patton came onto the stage and seized him by the collar by the collarbone. 

Black students united cornell: As Perkins shouted ineffectually to Patton, the audience of 800 students let out using a collective gasp. “You better release off of me!” they exclaimed. An ex-student named Larry Dickson followed up by brandishing a broad wooden plank at the face of Lowell George, Cornell’s superintendent of public safety who had intervened to defend Perkins. 

As Patton proceeded to detain and threaten Perkins, members of the AAS in the audience began beating bongo drums. After a few seconds, Patton relinquished control and Perkins bolted from the theater, but the episode was covered extensively by the media, and it became evident that Cornell had been on the brink of a meltdown.

black students united cornell

In addition, there were a few other minor eruptions throughout the semester. By April, several white students was becoming tired of the demonstrations and believed that the institution should take a more aggressive stance against the unrest. “If the administration would say ‘no’ today, it would get the support from the majority on this campus,” Stan Chess, editor of Cornell Daily Sun, asserted in the Time Magazine that “a majority on this campus would support it.” However, there was no meaningful action taken by the administration.

On April 18, pupils at Wari, a cooperation for black women, spotted a tiki torch on her lawn and blamed the act on racist whites, according to the report. 

Black students united cornell: The cross burning were never apprehended, and Ithaca cops suspected, but were never able to confirm, that AAS members itself had set fire to the cross in an attempt to provide a justification for further demonstration. AAS treasurer Stephen Goodwin, who was then a Cornell student and worked as the organization’s treasurer, later described the cross burning as “a set-up.” It was just to attract more media coverage and attention to the situation as a whole.”