Howard Student Publishes Declaration of Frustration
04-09-2006, 12:17 PM
Howard Takeover 88'
Here's the full article just in case the link dissapears one day...
By: Retha Powers
Last winter I participated in what became the most significant student
demonstration on a Black college campus in two decades: the three-day
takeover of the administration building at Howard University.
The board of trustees of Howard, a school known as "the mecca of Black
intellect," had appointed Lee Atwater a new trustee. Atwater, the
Republican National Committee chairman, is a conservative who ran the
party's 1988 presidential campaign, which so many of us perceived as
racist. I was outraged by the administration's attempt to secure "new
money" through a Bush favorite, but I never expected my fellow
students to actively oppose the appointment.
We decided to disrupt a ceremony marking Howard's one-hundred-and
twenty-second anniversary, at which Bill Cosby was scheduled to speak,
"This is our convocation," remarked student leader April Silver. And
it was. Two thousand of us stormed the auditorium, making sure that
neither Bill Cosby nor Howard president James E. Cheek spoke that
President Cheek and other university officials met with student
leaders the following day to discuss our demands. These were for a
more Afrocentric curriculum, academic credit for community service,
increased efficiency in the financial-aid process, guaranteed
improvement of student housing, improved campus security, elimination
of a proposed 15-percent tuition increase and the immediate removal of
Lee Atwater from the board of trustees. The administration acquiesced
to all but the last demand, so students resolved to meet the following
Monday and take over the administration building.
I arrived on campus that Monday uneasy about whether enough students
would have maintained their anger over the weekend. But the usually
complacent student body set aside its apathy and marched to the
administration building. Within minutes we secured the doors with
cables and used desks as barricades. University employees were
escorted outside, and we made it clear that we would occupy the
building until all of our demands were met. We formed committees to
handle first aid, security and food.
That night we learned that President Cheek had placed an injunction
against us that could lead to the arrest and/or expulsion of students
who failed to vacate the building. Although many left, I put aside my
fears and tried to get some sleep on the cold floor. Our student
security force did not sleep.
We were supportive of one another. For the first time since I had come
to Howard, I witnessed Greeks and non-Greeks, light-skinned and
dark-skinned folks casting aside the usual campus politics. We were
further encouraged by the appearances of poet and professor Sonia
Sanchez and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, by telegrams of support from
all over the country and by the local support we were getting.
The next day, university operations, including classes, were shut down
due to "snow." By mid-afternoon, the police and campus security,
equipped with gas masks and battering rams, began surrounding the
building. They seemed anxious to use their riot gear--one officer
pointed his gun at a sister guarding an entrance and told her,
When Howard security broke through the glass doors of the main
entrance with billy clubs, those of us on the first floor lay flat
against the floor and prayed. But before they reached the second door
they stopped abruptly. Mayor Marion Barry had ordered the police to
That evening Lee Atwater resigned from the board of trustees. But his
resignation only strengthened our resolve to remain in the building
until the university presented us with a written response to all our
demands. This was accomplished after the university's attorney met
with 12 student leaders, a team of lawyers, Mayor Barry and the
Reverend Jesse Jackson until almost 4 A.M.
Several weeks later it was reported that President Cheek had resigned
with a full-salary pension of $179,375. The board stated that it would
increase tuition by 8 percent, directly rejecting one of our demands.
However, it voted not to increase housing costs and promised to seek
$61 million for dormitory renovations and also to improve
We came as far as we did because of a recognition of collective power,
followed by the assumption of the responsibility to use that
collective power to effect change. It is imperative that we continue
to draw on the courage and discipline that made our protest succeed.
Retha Powers is a Howard University junior and a freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Essence Communications, Inc
|Messages In This Thread|
Howard Student Publishes Declaration of Frustration - brianold - 03-23-2006, 12:47 PM
Howard Takeover 88' - brianold - 04-09-2006 12:17 PM
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