MEMORIES FROM THE TURBULENT YEARS OF THE 1960’S PROTESTS, RIOTS, DEMONSTRATIONS AND BUILDING TAKEOVERS AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
I completed my doctoral studies at Michigan State University in June of 1968 and accepted a position in July of that year as Dean of Men at George Washington University, then led by Dr. Lloyd H. Elliott. I had known Dr. Elliott well from his time at the University of Maine, where he served as President during my undergraduate years there (1960-64).
In late September of 1968 I was at home on lunch break when I received a call from Dr. Elliott’s office. My home at the time was on the campus, in a historic residence known as the Lenthal House, adjacent to the GWU Law School. I was asked to stop by Lisner Auditorium on my way back to my office to investigate what was going on there. It seems word had reached the President’s office that a sizable group were about to occupy the Auditorium without permission, with the possibility of disrupting ongoing renovation work at the facility.
When I reached the Auditorium, a short walk away from my residence, I recognized several students from GWU and asked if they knew what was going on. They were the leaders of GWU’s student organization known as the SDS, or Students for a Democratic Society. They explained that their group, joined by other SDS members from area colleges and universities, had invited a small group of visitors from out of town to address their organization and it’s guests. They recognized that renovation work was underway and promised to be out of the building in one hour or less. There were approximately 100 or so people involved in the activity.
I communicated this to the President’s office and was directed to remain at Lisner and monitor the activities, as well as to caution the GWU students that action would be taken if they didn’t vacate the premises by the agreed time. At the point, I was invited to follow the GWU students backstage to meet the individuals who would be speaking. When we reached the green room, I was introduced to a group later known as The Chicago Seven and one or two others who had made national headlines protesting, among other things, the Vietnam War.
I learned The Chicago Seven were in DC because they had been subpoenaed by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of Congress to appear as witnesses before them over the course of the next several days.
Finally, Dr. Elliott and I were later subpoenaed to appear before the HUAC Committee as witnesses to protest events that occurred in and around GWU and were being investigated by the Committee.
Incidentally, the activity I am describing did conclude on time and no action had to be taken by the University as a result.