Popular activism: From freaks to greeks

"The activities of the police at this time radicalized, if only for a moment, the frats. I shall not forget the scene in front of Alderman Library when a frat leader yelled 'They are PIGS! I never could have believed it, but they are, they are PIGS!' as he recounted the cops' invasion of the frats."

-Thomas Breslin, '72

. . . The spark was lit aflame that same evening by the coincidental speeches of famous Chicago Seven attorney William Kunstler as well as student movement notoriety and Yippie Jerry Rubin to packed crowds in University Hall, the basketball stadium. Their stirring of an already unstable student sentiment propelled the Strike into further, more emphatic action. The University had announced their visit long before the tragedy at Kent State and the escalation in Cambodia. The possibility of violence, the universality of activism at this point in the week, and their celebrity status culminated in a volatile 9,000-member audience. The events of the week had agitated the atmosphere; it seemed that anything could happen . . .

Tommy Steele-

The protests were driven by highly personal forces that one couldn't avoid. Friends were being drafted; many were being killed. When you examined the government's policies, at a minimum you had to struggle with whether the war was right. And if you decided we were wrong, as many of us did, the moral consequences were inescapable.

George Gilliam-

A: Do you think that the students’ coming together was more a result of other student movements? Or was there a deep, heartfelt feeling?

G: I think like always, you see stuff on television, you read about stuff in the papers and it increases interest. Their consciousness was raised because they always heard about it going on at other places. Martin Luther King, Jr. came here and spoke in ’63. That stirred a lot of people into at least paying a lot of attention.

I think a lot of people in the public sort of conflated these two (Civil Rights and the student movement) and lumped the long-haired hippies who were upset about Vietnam in with these black kids who were upset about the economic situation. They felt like they were being left behind, which they were. So there was a reaction locally, you know ‘we’ve got to crack down on all of this stuff; this is really serious.’ This was followed by a fairly oppressive time for two or three years where any sort of demonstration was put down. People were just afraid it would get out of hand.


Raymond Bice-

It wasn't typical behavior of UVA students. Students, when it comes to getting serious, they are usually pretty tractable and they direct themselves. This was a small group of radicals. And the worst of it was, they weren't all ours. The other major universities all closed and their radicals came down here to help our radicals. They were not respectful. They did things like walk on some of these ladies' boxwood bushes and those kinds. And in Charlottesville, you don't do that. Have you noticed? There is a line there. But these people didn't respect that.

It's hard to put yourself back in those times. But you see, there was a draft. The students would be drafted if they didn't have good grades. And here is a professor who gets a not-so-good term paper, and if he does what he is supposed to do, that's to give it an 'F,' the student might be drafted and might not come back. This puts the professor in a terrible spot. The students of course weren't motivated to study because they didn't know if they were going to be here at the end of the semester or not. It was a terrible feeling. All this is imposed upon us from the outside. If it had been some university officer that did it this way, they could have corrected it. But they couldn't do anything about it. And this went on and on. This was a long-time thing.

And then integration was coming in at that time. And the two got kind of confused. It was just a difficult period. There was a kind of hippie movement. You can't imagine. I was able to observe this because I was here. Until 1960, the students, who were mostly men, wore coat and tie all the time. Even at football games. They were proud of being gentlemen. About the time we went co-ed, this began to fall apart. I don't think the causation is there, I think this began to fall apart before the coeducation came in.


Thomas Breslin-

It is important to keep in mind that we were convinced that nothing of moment was going to take place at UVA--and felt that way very strongly. What happened in May was hardly a conspiracy.

All through this period we continued to put out the SALLY HEMMINGS, to discuss issues with as many people as would listen, to leaflet and to talk with media people. But we were not on the Strike Committee, or at least not at its head. In fact I cannot even remember who was on the committee except for Bruce "Bruce WHO?" Wine.

The spontaneity and ad hoc nature of so much of what went on confused the University administration. They had been prepared perhaps, to deal with the Gardners and the Longs of the student body, the traditional agitators who had nettled then for years and whose liberal chants were music to the ears of conservatives needing reassurance that they were on the correct ("right") conservative path. But the kaleidoscopic leadership of Bruce "Bruce WHO?" Wine and Company was a little too much for them to keep up with. So some blamed the whole thing on outside agitators and some students for political reasons may have from time to time assured them that such was the case. It was not.

We were not far into the strike when the students assembled on the Lawn and sent Ogle, Tom Collier and myself to represent them at a national congress of striking students which was held at Yale University. We arrived by car and quickly found what I had earlier discovered at Cornell, masses of tired, frustrated, nearly burnt out and discouraged students. I saw at a meeting of the delegates that no one was reporting on developments in the South, so we three from UVA agreed that I should volunteer to speak to the delegates and I convinced the ad hoc leadership to let me do so. The presence of a delegate from a major southern university reporting on a strike at his institution and on strikes at other institutions throughout the South revived their spirits, electrified them. It gave them something different from the usual litany and, most important, a sense that things were catching on and there was new vitality in the movement.

reflections