We’re thrilled to be attending #BookExpo 2018 this year in New York City! Stop by booth #2766 May 31-June 1 and say hello! We’ve got some great new and forthcoming books that we’ll be showcasing, including:

Glory in Their Spirit: How Four Black Women Took on the Army During World War II

By Sandra M. Bolzenius

We’ll be giving away 50 COPIES of this remarkable story at our booth, so make sure to stop by before they’re gone!

 

 

 

James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era

by Joseph Vogel

Read an excerpt from the book in the Boston Review here!

Read a Q&A with Joseph Vogel here.

 

 

 

Pigskin Nation: How the NFL Transformed American Politics

By Jesse Berrett

“A superb cultural history.”–Publisher’s Weekly

Read a Q&A with Jesse Berrett here.

 

 

 

Hockey: A Global History 

By: Stephen Hardy and Andrew C. Holman

November 2018

The saga of how the coolest game changed the world–and vice versa.

 

 

 

Bill Monroe: The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man 

By Tom Ewing

September 2018

From cradle to great, the comprehensive real story of Bill Monroe

 

 

 

Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

December 2018

The lively art of conversation with auteurs from Welles to Jarmusch

 

 

 

And those are just a few! Make sure to stop by and find out about other new and forthcoming titles we’re publishing, and if you haven’t yet, peruse our new catalog!

Join us for a reception celebrating 100 years of publishing excellence with Illini Union Document Services, and Campus Mail at the Illini Union Art Gallery on Friday June, 1st from 1:30-3:30pm.

Established by the the Board of Trustees on June 2, 1918, the University of Illinois Press, Illini Union Document services and Campus Mail were originally one entity. Since then, the University of Illinois Press, Document Services, and Campus Mail have been valuable resources to the entire campus community at the University of Illinois. To acknowledge the longstanding impact they have each had on the campus and to recognize their evolution in printing and publishing services, Mayor Deborah Feinen and Mayor Diane Marlin will be officially declaring June 1st as ‘Printing Day’ in Champaign and Urbana at this event.

An exhibit will present and an engaging visual history of the University’s printing history, publishing services, and evolving print technology. The exhibit will continue for the month of June.

We hope you’ll join us for this centennial celebration!

Naomi André is an associate professor in the departments of African and Afroamerican Studies and Women’s Studies and the associate director in the Residential College at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early-Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera and coeditor of Blackness in OperaShe recently answered some questions about her new book, Black Opera: History, Power, and Engagement.


 

 

 

 

Q. In the introduction you say your book “departs from the solitary goal of understanding how music might have had meaning in the past” and instead focuses on the effect on current audiences. Can you elaborate on that concept and how it informs your book? 

In this book, I realized that my basic approach to analyzing music, and opera specifically, had evolved from how I was taught as a musicologist in graduate school. In my training, the primary emphasis had been on uncovering what we could understand and prove from the past—focusing on facts and data about performance practice, compositional genesis, and trying to construct informed understandings of how the music was received around its initial performances (a work’s early reception history). In Black Opera, I saw that the types of questions I was bringing to this project were more rooted in the present. Rather than starting with the past, I began with the vantage point of how do these works have meaning today? This line of inquiry was shaped by my lived experience of seeing these works performed and teaching, whether that be in the classroom, enrichment seminars for seniors and alumni, or other audiences such as educational classes in prisons and pre-concert lectures before a performance.

A big part of this approach is connected to the knowledge we gain from looking at music in the past; I see my analysis as building on what we know from the methodologies I learned in my training as a traditional historical musicologist. With the starting point in the present, I have developed a set of paradigms that I call an engaged musicology that complements and extends how we think about music. Engaged Musicology has overlapping goals with other directions in music scholarship. Similar to the energy in Public Musicology, I am interested in having the knowledge we have gleaned from our scholarship to reach a broad audience that extends outside of the academy and specialists. Moreover, there are close connections to the important discipline of Ethnomusicology in exploring how music functions in and as culture.

With Engaged Musicology, my goal was to address three basic rubrics in my analysis that connects the present to the past. First, who was on the artistic team for the work; for opera, who were the composer and the librettist? How do their lived experiences and vantage points shape and inform what they write into their works? Second, who is on stage performing the work? In opera studies, a trenchant theme I explore in the book concerns racial/ethnic representation and issues around true-to-color casting and the use of blackface as well as yellow-face for Asian characters or brown-face for Latinx roles. Embedded in this practice is the open-ended question of who is allowed to portray whom? The third parameter I set up is who is in the audience and interpreting the work? Rather than using this as a censoring club to point out biases, the aim of this line of inquiry is to highlight the different vantage points we all have. While we learn to write in an authorial voice that points out facts and truths, how we tell the story—how we shape the larger narrative in content and structure—reflects the individuality of our voices as commentators on art. Such questions help celebrate the strengths in the voices of music writers and, when necessary, help identify potential limits in their critiques.

Q. Why did you choose to focus on black opera in the United States and South Africa?

Through my work co-editing the collection Blackness in Opera (2012) I found an adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen that had been set in Khayelitsha—a township outside of Cape Town, South Africa—called U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and made into a film in 2005. I saw it, was fascinated, and wanted to learn more; was this a one-time thing or was there a movement of opera in South Africa that had black and mixed-race singers participating in this first generation after apartheid. I was able to follow up with a trip to Cape Town University and was very impressed with the opera program there. I had the opportunity to be in residence for a week, teach a few classes on opera and music history, watch rehearsals, and meet several people key in teaching in their opera program including Kamal Kahn, Angelo Gobbiato, and Virginia Davids. At a reception, I met Bongani Ndodana-Breen and Warren Wilensky and they talked about their plans for an opera based on Winnie Madikizela Mandela. I knew I needed to learn more; the vibrant opera scene, high level of accomplishment, and beauty of the voices got me hooked. I came into contact with a few South African scholars who are professors at Wits (the University of the Witwatersrand) in Johannesburg who were interested in the emerging opera scene in South Africa and we were able to attend Ndodana-Breen’s Winnie: The Opera in Pretoria. Our collaboration resulted in a cluster of articles about the opera and our work together continues to this day.[1]

Initially, I thought I would keep my work on opera in South Africa and opera in the west (US and Europe) separate. However, as I was working on how stories around blackness were being told in opera, I saw a similar situation on both sides of the Atlantic. I try to be very careful to keep the differences in the foreground, because each country has different histories and contexts. However, putting these two opera scenes in conversation ended up feeling like the best way to discuss them.

Both the US and South Africa presented rather hostile environments for black people to participate in opera. Opera was segregated and black people did not have access to the socio-economic resources to easily mount their own productions. The context for black musical theater performance was also shaped by the negative stereotypes in minstrelsy. Though minstrelsy was born in the US in the late 1820s, I was surprised to learn that we have evidence that it was exported to South Africa as early as the 1860s. On both sides of the Atlantic, black performers were singing opera, despite the incredible barriers. In the US we find singers (such as Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield and Sissieretta Jones), composers (Harry Lawrence Freeman and Scott Joplin), and opera impresarios (the Theodore Drury Grand Opera Company and Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company) who were participating in a “shadow opera culture” (a term I use to describe a different opera culture happening alongside the mainstream white opera culture) that is still being recovered and written into history. In South Africa, during colonialism and apartheid, black singers were deeply engaged in a strong choral tradition that included adaptations of opera arias, choruses, and tunes from ensembles. So the two stories formed a dialogue: in both the US and South Africa, black people were actively engaged in opera, despite many obstacles.

Q. How does black opera operate as a site for activism and push for social change?

In uncovering the shadow opera culture happening in black communities I noted that in recent years, since the 1980s in the US and since the dismantling of apartheid in 1994 in South Africa, opera has become a space for presenting new narratives of black lives. Rather than being reliant on minstrelsy, with the negative stereotypes of the Mammy and Jezebel for women or the Buck and Zip Coon for men, operas on black subjects now presented black people in an honorable light. In the US, we are still recovering earlier examples, but since the 1980s, I think of Anthony Davis’s operas X, Life and Times of Malcom X (1986) and Amistad (1997) as being pivotal works that have led to Margaret Garner (2005), Champion (2013), Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (2015), We Shall Not Be Moved (2017), I Dream (rev 2018), Blue (2019) and many others including several I have heard that are still in the pipeline. In South Africa, in addition to Winnie: The Opera (2011), there is Princess Magogo (2002), The Mandela Trilogy (2010), The Flower of Shembe (2012), A Man of Good Hope (2016), and others. These operas being composed and produced by interracial teams are inventing a new narrative for how blackness in general, and the specific lives of black people, are being represented. On both sides of the Atlantic, opera is providing an unlikely space for writing black narratives into history. For me, as an opera lover and scholar, opera is now beginning to feel like a space of change and liberation.

Q. You mention several adaptations of the opera, Carmen (Carmen Jones, Carmen: A Hip-Hopera, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha). Can you describe the process of “remaking” operas to fit modern times? How do the story/characters/themes change, if at all?

It is true that these adaptations create new visual and sonic landscapes; there are different locations and translations into different languages (for example, U-Carmen is sung in Xhosa). Rather than primarily describing the several adaptations, I explore how themes are treated across the versions. I look at the establishing shots in the beginning that set the tone and create the world of the opera. I concentrate on themes that highlight Carmen’s difference and how she stands out from her surrounding black community. I also focus on the ending and how her trajectory leads to her death and how this death has meaning in its specific context.

Bizet’s opera Carmen from 1875 brings many things together at once: memorable tunes, a story about an outsider, and the portrayal of an independent woman. This female character is controversial for using her seductive body not only to give men what they want, but also to withhold her affections and make choices that they do not want (including rejecting them). Carmen is, perhaps, the most adapted opera into innovative productions on the opera stage as well as into other media (film, ballet, theater). The fact that she is the quintessential outsider, has made her story especially attractive for black settings; this highlights the fascination with what is considered exotic and different from the perceived norm. She is a character that cannot be manipulated, except for the final scene when her transgressions become too great and she must be silenced.

One of the most provocative elements of the multiple Carmens I explore in the book is to see how different versions treat her. These settings involve all-black casts and a critical issue is how she is accepted and rejected by people who look like her and are outside of the background power of the white patriarchal hegemony. Frequently Carmen is empowered and her death seems to be more of a sacrifice of someone who is trying to escape oppression rather than a punishment for her sins. Sometimes Carmen fits into her environment and she emerges more as an “every woman” who is strong, yet also a little more vulnerable than her peers.

Q. What does Opera achieve or convey to audiences that other musical forms cannot?

Opera is a fascinating thing because it speaks on many planes simultaneously. For those who are familiar with opera, there is always the issue—especially in recent new works—of how this opera interacts and articulates the conventions of the form. For those new to opera, each work confronts the complicated history of being considered an “elitist” genre only for wealthy, older, white patrons. Having an opera on black subjects about black experiences, sometimes with more black bodies on stage than in the audience, presents an impact on the audience and performers that supplements the semantic content (the plot) of the opera. Hence, being in the theater seeing opera performed live presents many “meta-issues” around the power dynamics of how opera is consumed.

Within the performance, opera utilizes the wonderful ability to say many things at the same time. There are the words that carry the story and present the semantic narrative. However, there is also the orchestra that can support the text in its message or say something different through the use of musical quotation or presenting a different mood (e.g., providing a sinister accompaniment to a lyrical melody where the singer is trying to convince someone of something, but the orchestra alerts the audience that the person is lying). There is also the delivery, the interpretive actions, that the performer and director can add that presents another line of narrative. Winnie: The Opera and Nixon in China are two strong examples of controversial political figures (with operas written when both were alive) who are given multi-dimensional portrayals where the audience gets to figure out how they want to see these characters. The title characters of both works are presented as complicated, heroic, and flawed. What opera can do especially well is that these elements can happen at the same time in a lyrical moment, as well as happening at different times for each member of the audience.

The grandness of opera allows us to examine hyper-real spectacle in ways that can slow things down to take a miniature moment and present it as monumental. Opera can distort real time in ways that can be instructive and take us on a journey that helps us bring different viewpoints into focus. While people may complain that opera is “over the top,” I’ve always believed that certain lived experiences are “over the top” and, indeed, opera can help make life feel more real.


[1] Our five articles appeared in African Studies, vol. 75, no.1 (2016).

 

We are celebrating our 100th Anniversary at the University of Illinois Press this year. In honor of reaching this historic milestone, we decided to celebrate our readers by giving away an iPad pre-loaded with 100 UIP ebooks. We had so much fun during our first giveaway that we decided we couldn’t stop at one, so we are doing ANOTHER iPad giveaway! The deadline is August 1st, 2018. For a chance to win, enter here!

 

 

 

Here’s a quick look at a few of the books that will be featured in the iPad giveaway. To see the full list 0f 100 UIP ebooks you could win, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are pleased to announce that Making an Antislavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle over Freedom by Graham A. Peck has won the Russell P. Strange Memorial Book Award from the Illinois State Historical Society for the book of the year in Illinois history. The Russell P. Strange Award was established by Darrell and Priscilla Strange Matthews in memory of Priscilla’s father, noted scholar, educator, past vice president and life-long member of the Illinois State Historical Society. The award is presented annually to one author in recognition of his/her significant contribution to the study of Illinois history. The award was announced at the ISHS annual meeting on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. Congratulations Graham!

In Making an Antislavery Nation, Graham A. Peck meticulously traces the conflict over slavery in Illinois from the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 to Lincoln’s defeat of his arch rival Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election. Douglas’s attempt in 1854 to persuade Northerners that slavery and freedom had equal national standing stirred a political earthquake that brought Lincoln to the White House. Yet Lincoln’s framing of the antislavery movement as a conservative return to the country’s founding principles masked what was in fact a radical and unprecedented antislavery nationalism. It justified slavery’s destruction but triggered the Civil War.

Presenting pathbreaking interpretations of Lincoln, Douglas, and the Civil War’s origins, Making an Antislavery Nation shows how battles over slavery paved the way for freedom’s triumph in America.

We’re so proud to have published this groundbreaking work of scholarship!

Celebrate with us! Get this award-winning book for 30% off!
Use Promo Code PECK30 through May 15!

The 2018 AEJMC History Division Book Award, honoring the best journalism and mass communication history book published in 2017, has been won by Fred Carroll for Race News: Black Journalists and the Fight for Racial Justice in the Twentieth Century.  Carroll is a lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at Kennesaw State University, where he teaches courses in U.S. history and African-American History.

A panel of three distinguished media historians chose Race News from a field of 29 entries.  Race News is an exhaustive archeological dig that reveals the ways that ideological, political, and commercial dynamics of progressive politics shaped how black journalists reported news.  The judges praised Carroll’s scholarship and accessibility, saying that Race News “should appeal to anyone with an interest in black culture, dissident and mainstream journalism, and the social and political forces that shaped the American Century.”

Carroll, who will receive a plaque and a cash prize, has been invited to speak about his work during the History Division members’ meeting on Tuesday, August 7 from 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication convention in Washington, D.C.

Congratulations Fred!

Celebrate with us! Get this award-winning book for 30% off!
Use Promo Code CARROLL30 through May 15!

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It’s an important time to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history. At the University of Illinois Press we’ve published a wealth of important work in Asian American Studies. Our Asian American Experience Series was established in 1992 and features scholarship of high quality in history, religion, anthropology, sociology, political science, gender studies, visual culture, and other humanities and social science disciplines. Check out some of our new books in the series and other Asian American studies books below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fall 2018 catalog is finally here! This catalog is packed with illuminating, entertaining, and thought-provoking titles  and we’re so excited to finally share them with you!

The gorgeous catalog cover this season comes from Women and Ideas in Engineering: Twelve Stories from Illinois by  Laura D. Hahn and Angela S. Wolters.  Some fifty odd years ago we published Men and Ideas in Engineering. So we were thrilled when Laura and Angela approached us about creating a volume that highlights the contributions of women in the field. The engineering girl statue was erected on our campus last year after four years of effort from student Sakshi Srivastava to break the bronze ceiling. It’s the perfect symbol for the second catalog of our centennial year.

Our lead title is the first ever global history of hockey by Stephen Hardy and Andrew C. Holman.

Hockey: A Global History draws on twenty-five years of research to present THE monumental end-to-end history of the sport. The authors follow hockey’s history from modern hockey’s “birth” in Montreal, its migration from Canada south to the United States and east to Europe, to the game of today, where men and women at all levels of play lace ’em up on the shinny ponds of Saskatchewan, the wide ice of the Olympics, and across the breadth of Asia.

We also have two forthcoming essential biographies of music greats. Tom Ewing’s long awaited portrait of bluegrass man Bill Monroe will grace shelves this September along with Michael D. Doubler’s Dixie Dewdrop: The Uncle Dave Macon Story, which brings the grandfather of country music to life. And don’t forget to check out Wayne C. Temple’s biography of Noah Brooks, which tells the unknown story of one of Lincoln’s closest friendships.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also have some great new books coming out in film studies, including the first-ever study of the directing duo Lana and Lily Wachowski  in our Contemporary film Director’s series, which celebrates 15 years this year, and the first of two collections of interviews from film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. And in sexuality studies, Laura Helen Marks investigates the contradictions and seesawing gender dynamics in Victorian-inspired adult films.

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s just in the first few pages! We also have a second edition of of Richard T. Hughes classic Myths America Lives By, the first musical biography of medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen,  an investigation of feminism, conservatism and conspiracy in the heartland from Erin M. Kempker and five new titles in the Working Class in American History series, which will celebrate it’s 40th anniversary this fall.

So if you haven’t had a chance yet, grab a cup of coffee and peruse our new catalog to check out these wonderful titles.

  

 

 

Jesse Berrett earned a PhD in History at the University of California, Berkeley. He has worked as a rock critic, television columnist, and book reviewer. He teaches history at University High School in San Francisco. He recently answered some questions about his new book, Pigskin Nation: How the NFL Remade American Politics.


Q: What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been a Michigan Wolverines fan ever since I remember—lived in Ann Arbor until I was 7, decided at that point I would go back for college, did that, and still watch the games—and was reading about the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry in the 60s and 70s and came across an anecdote about the UM kicker’s being late to practice because he was at a protest. The simultaneous disjunction and conjunction—football as part of the time, but also opposed to what seemed like the period’s predominant values—stuck in my mind, and I wanted to figure out what was going on. What I discovered took me in entirely different directions. I ended up finding out that football fit much more comfortably, and even successfully, into the 60s than I’d expected.

Q: What caused this shift from baseball to football as the All-American sport?

Equal parts cultural fit and astute PR. Football was particularly well suited for a culture of technocracy, mass organizations, and computers (teams like the Cowboys pioneered data analytics and coding of players in the early 60s), and then intellectuals’ sudden discovery of the sport (I was surprised by how many thought pieces there were in the 60s in high-end magazines and journals that pondered football’s attractions, almost always written from the perspective of the intellectual-as-fan) induced them to analyze and amplify these connections. And then the NFL deliberately worked to cement this popularity in the minds of the public through books, films, and political positioning. So it was a happy collision of culture and sales.

Q: How did football function for the American public, either as a distraction or as a “metaphor for American achievement,” as you put it, during the tense climate of the Vietnam War?

It’s easy to find radicals lambasting football as figuratively (and sometimes literally) the cause of what the US was doing in Vietnam. In that sense football as both metaphor and reality merely expressed the same divisions you’d see elsewhere. What surprised me were the ways that football revealed some of the commonalities that remained under the surface—people like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern were big fans, McGovern even taking on Redskins’ guard Ray Schoenke to head up Athletes for McGovern. And fighting over football, and how sports pages covered football and sports more generally, let more people engage in debate about where America was going. I see football as helping democratize the debate.

Q: In the book you say that football’s popularity provided “a new language” for the debate over the meaning of America. How did the NFL capitalize on the different ways football was used in this debate?

The NFL produced books and films telling people how vivid and contemporary the sport was and spent that new political currency on lobbying Congress to give it what it needed—keeping players off the front lines in Vietnam, making sure that anti-competitive measures like the merger between the AFL and NFL in 1966 were allowed. I was especially surprised by how interesting the NFL’s books were. You’d expect them to be decent corporate productions, maybe (or at least I did), but they’re smart—they take all the things intellectuals were saying and just throw them at the wall, admitting that football says something troubling about the inherent violence of American culture while also suggesting that it incarnates the admirable meritocracy that conservatives want to think they see. Films, especially once NFL Films started making them, explicitly and expertly celebrated the skill and precision football required while detaching viewers from the sport’s consequences.

Q: How did Nixon use the sport to further his own political agenda?

I’ve always been fascinated by Nixon—I had collected almost all of the Watergate memoirs as a high school student. Nixon simultaneously truly loved the sport (even sportswriters who hated him were impressed by how much history knew and how deeply he was attached to football) and wanted to use it to distinguish friend from foe to build a political coalition. Proper Americans played team sports, endured the pain of losing, and watched football; dissidents and weirdoes did none of these things. If he’d been more cynical, he’d have been more effective—his sense that sitting on the bench as a player at Whittier had taught him to take punishment was so sincere that it led him to emphasize that lesson over and over. In a very Nixonian and self-defeating twist, he used football to emphasize what he was against much more forcefully than what he was for.

Q: What does Pigskin Nation have to tell us about football’s place in American culture today?

I think the same conflicts and possibilities are true now that were true then; they’re just more obvious. Owners and politicians who use football to stake out political positions do so more openly, as with Trump and Texans owner Bob McNair; dissident players make more resonant statements and suffer more for them (as of this writing, both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid remain unsigned); those who find football’s violence troubling are now armed with specific data about the lasting physical harm it does to players. Both sides’ attachment to their positions have strengthened. My long-term prediction, since people have been asking me to guess the future, is that football will be more like baseball than boxing—still a prominent part of our culture, but no longer something that can convincingly claim to be the national pastime.


 

The following is a guest post from Stefan M. Bradley, the author of Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s.

“Racist Gym Must Go!”: Remembering the 1968 Columbia University Student Rebellion.

Any story involving Alexander Hamilton, Malcolm X, Frederick Law Olmsted, Harlem, and the Ivy League is worth remembering.  This week, Columbia University in the City of New York commemorates the student and community uprisings that occurred on campus in 1968.  The major issues of the 1960s fueled the rebellion.  Students demanded power and an end to the Vietnam War.  Along with their black neighbors in Morningside Heights and Harlem, students also wanted to fight racism while checking the momentum of urban renewal.  Conflict arose over gender roles and generational divides, as young activists struggled to operationalize their ideals of leadership.

The Columbia crisis was technically a local controversy, but it was no small matter.  Activists took over five buildings, university officials called 1,000 police officers onto campus to evacuate the buildings, students engaged in a six-week strike, and neighborhood residents rallied to check the physical expansion of the university.  Richard Nixon, whose campaign of “law and order” propelled him into the White House, knew what it meant to the nation.  He called the campus disruption “the first major skirmish in a revolutionary struggle to seize the universities of this country and transform them into sanctuaries for radicals and vehicles for revolutionary political and social goals.”  Many students then and now wish Nixon had been right.

That the university is now sponsoring and promoting events concerning the fiftieth anniversary of the demonstrations is remarkable.  For many years afterward, there was no official recognition of the protests that provoked acrimony on the campus among the administration and faculty that lasted for decades.  As time went on, however, the institution has learned to commandeer some of the history as part of its own narrative.  Indeed, history forced Columbia to confront the implications of the 1968 crisis.

Postwar policies provided a build-up for the campus demonstrations that occurred fifty years ago.  No different than the University of Chicago or the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University took advantage of the Housing Act of 1949 as part of a group called Morningside Heights, Incorporated (MHI).  The university sought to make the neighborhoods surrounding the institutions more comfortable and safe for their patrons, who happened to be almost exclusively white.  Regarding the neighborhoods surrounding the university, one Columbia official remarked “We are looking for a community where the faculty can talk to people like themselves . . . we don’t want a dirty group.”  The faculty was nearly all white.  As part of its Morningside Heights General Renewal Plan, the university, along with the fourteen other institutions, made use of government subsidies and policy to expand.  That directly led to the displacement of 10,000 mostly black and Puerto Rican residents from the neighborhood. 

The Black Freedom Movement expanded as well.  In the postwar era, African continentals fought for independence and against colonialism abroad.  Local black activists like Victor Solomon of Harlem CORE claimed that he battled colonialism domestically.  Black Power took hold of Harlem, as leaders like Malcolm X implored black residents to not allow white imperialists to control their neighborhoods.  His word inspired freedom fighters who struggled in the urban terrain to help the black people that President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society missed.

 On April 23, 1968, students arrived at an on-campus rally that the mostly white Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had planned.  SDS had been pushing against Columbia’s ties to defense research and the Vietnam conflict.  The university had even punished six members for a previous protest regarding the university’s standing with the Institute for Defenses Analyses IDA.  Another campus organization, the Students’ Afro-American Society (SAS) was there as well.  Its members had conflicted with some athletes (mostly white) who supported the university’s plan to build a new gymnasium in the Frederick Law Olmsted designed Morningside Park, which is the only eastern land mass separating Columbia’s main campus from the historic neighborhood of Harlem. 

Considering it was just weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the nerves of hundreds of students who came to protest or observe were raw.  To the young activists, who had been in communication with Harlem organizations, the gymnasium became a symbol of institutional racism and rich powerbrokers’ control of working-class and poor black people. As planned, the gymnasium allowed the community to take advantage of only 15 percent of the floor space and to enter through separate doors from Columbia affiliates.  It was reminiscent of the institutional racism of the past, and they cleverly called it “Gym Crow.”  In the congested upper westside, everyone coveted affordable housing and green space.

“To the young activists, who had been in communication with Harlem organizations, the gymnasium became a symbol of institutional racism and rich powerbrokers’ control of working-class and poor black people.”

After a failed attempt to take over a building in the way that students at Berkeley had done during the Free Speech Movement or how students had done at historically black Howard University a month earlier, Columbia students walked to the nearby gym site to impede construction.  At Morningside Park, they physically confronted police and construction workers before returning to campus and eventually taking over Alexander Hamilton Hall.  In the process, the student activists captured a dean and his staff in his office.  He eventually left, thereby releasing them from kidnapping charges. 

The night of April 23, at the invitation of SAS, famed revolutionary H. Rap Brown arrived, boldly announcing:  “Thank you for taking the first steps in the struggle . . . . The Black community is taking over.”  Months earlier, Rap Brown had encouraged Harlem residents to either blow up, burn down, or takeover the gymnasium if Columbia tried to take any more space in the park.  Within hours of his arrival in Hamilton, the white members and followers of SDS were leaving to take over four other buildings in the name of the struggle. 

The building occupations lasted a week, confounding university and municipal officials alike.  Hamilton Hall presented a special problem in light of the uprisings and destruction that occurred in Harlem after King’s violent death.  When SAS faced a media blackout, it invited Stokely Carmichael, the world-renowned leader of SNCC and the Black Panther Party to read aloud their demands to end gym construction.  Carmichael had been charged with inciting a riot in Washington, D.C. weeks prior.  With his announcement of SAS’s demands, the world became aware of the campus struggle.  The black students in Hamilton renamed the building Malcolm X Hall and invited guests from the community, including the Black United Front, Revolutionary Action Movement, the Harlem Mau Maus, and black mothers. 

After finding that neither the liberal NAACP nor alumni like psychologist Kenneth Clark could get the students to leave, officials had to recognize that momentum was working in the favor of student and community activists.  New York City mayor, John Lindsay, and Columbia’s president, Grayson Kirk, did not want to incite more violence in a confrontation with the all-black occupants of the building, so they negotiated to end construction of the gymnasium.  Even though it received assurances that the gym would be suspended, SAS maintained the demonstration to be in solidarity with the mostly white students in the four other buildings, who also demanded amnesty and the cessation of ties to defense research.

To end the week-long occupation, Columbia’s president called the notorious New York Police Department to extract the students.  The mostly working-class white officers brutalized students who sometimes resisted as they exited.  Incidentally, professors and onlookers were not immune from the violence; more than 700 people were arrested.  Notably, black students exiting Hamilton did not experience violence during the arrests.  Without hyperbole, the whole world watched as Columbia became ground zero for the problems of postwar America.  The police actions on April 30 radicalized enough students to spark a six-week strike and another student-community demonstration in Hamilton that ended again in violence.  The university had lost control; it had to change course.

“As Columbia University graduate students implore the university to recognize their union, the students should recall that fifty years earlier young people believed they could stop a war and prevent a prestigious white American institution from expanding into black spaces at the same time, and they did.”

Elements of the 1968 Columbia rebellion are inspiring and instructional for today’s students, activists, and community residents.  As some in Harlem continue to fight Columbia’s expansion into Manhattanville, they should study the unity of neighborhood groups like the West Harlem Community Organization and Morningsiders United that represented the varied interests of residents.  As Columbia University graduate students implore the university to recognize their union, the students should recall that fifty years earlier young people believed they could stop a war and prevent a prestigious white American institution from expanding into black spaces at the same time, and they did. 

Without question, the coalition that formed around the singular issue of the gymnasium was the most instructional element of the uprisings of a half century ago.  Columbia’s agreement to end its participation with the IDA and to terminate construction of the gymnasium was atypical of history.  Predominantly white institutions historically have their way in poor black and brown spaces.  Not, however, in this case.  Black and white students, politicians, community activists, park preservationists, and working-class people came together on one issue, and they claimed victory.  In the midst of today’s tumult, perhaps it is again time to call for “two, three, many Columbia’s.”

-Stefan M. Bradley, Saint Louis University