3. There Was a Massive Columbia University Protest Over a Gym in Morningside Park

Plans for Morningside Park Gym-1968-Protests-NYCPlans for the Morningside Gym. Image via WikiCU, user Tao tan

In 1968, a large protest took place at Columbia University, stemming from the potential construction of a gym in Morningside Park. The reason for the protest stemmed from this key fact:

It had two doors, one for Harlem community residents who were predominantly black and one for students who were predominantly white. The door for community residences was in the back of the gym on a lower level, while the door made available to students was a grand entrance in the front of the gym. The plans were announced the year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, only adding to the tension already in the air. On top of all of this, Columbia professors were heavily involved with weapons development research for the Vietnam War, a war wildly unpopular on college campuses. With this in the background, the proposal for segregated doors was a recipe for disaster.

The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Students for Afro-American Society (SAS) led these protests. They joined forces and held a rally, which then turned into a university-wide, week long student protest. The protest was non-violent at first, but by the end of the week police were sent to stop the demonstration. Protestors tore down the fence around the construction site and occupied four academic buildings. After negotiations to change the gym/Vietnam policies failed, this protest turned into a student strike big enough to convince administrators to cancel all plans for the gym and terminate all ties with Vietnam weapons research.