By Thulani Davis ’70BC
Saturday, April 27, 1968
Today is the fifth day of demonstrations at Columbia University and the fourth day of the occupation of Hamilton Hall by the black students of the university. It is afternoon and people are gathered in small groups all over the building. In the dean’s office members of the steering committee are meeting to discuss what’s going on. Miles Davis is playing on radios all over the first floor, and upstairs, there is a bid whist tournament, and also, a band practicing. It has been interesting to live with 100 people whom you have previously known only on a casual basis and with whom you now find yourself closely tied. Absolute unity within the group has been our strength and the key to everything.
Tuesday afternoon was the real beginning of the demonstration. By that night when blacks decided to meet alone in Hamilton Hall, several things quickly became apparent: One, this demonstration is going to be entirely changed by the presence of black people; and two, the demonstration is going to be a lot bigger and last a lot longer than a few hours. At about 2 or 3 a.m., with the white people and black people meeting separately, it was decided [by us] that the building was going to be held. If the white kids were not willing to do this, then they should leave. The black people held their position and at about 3:30 a.m., the 250 to 300 white kids gradually moved out. We then barricaded the door and took charge of the building. A big sign went up over the dean’s door: Malcolm X University.
The entire Hamilton Hall was then cleaned up, and a plan of action formulated. There was a crew of 15 marshals to take care of the barricading of all entrances. There was a crew of 10 girls in charge of preparing and distributing food and a crew of 9 to 10 girls who set up an infirmary. We planned mainly to deal with what might happen that night, although we knew we could stay longer with our provisions. [By now] everyone has certain assigned working hours, and even shower hours. We have an office crew, a cleaning crew, a system for washing towels and washcloths, rooms for drying clothes, brushes, soap, mouthwash — the works. The upstairs offices are used as studies, not that we study much.
Thulani Davis is a writer and interdisciplinary artist. Her latest book is My Confederate Kinfolk (Basic Books, 2006), a memoir.