The Taking of North Hall: what we can learn from an act of civil disobedience.

Have you ever had that gym teacher who forced you to play a certain activity in P.E. that no one in the class wanted to do, or maybe a coach who wouldn’t let you take a break when you really needed it?  Well you’re not alone.  My older brother, a supreme soccer star, was subjected to one of the most dense soccer coaches.  This coach ignored my brother’s skills because he was a freshman in high school, and, in his sophomore year, the coach would acknowledge his ‘improvement’ at the school sports awards, in which, all the parents glared at him because they all knew how great a player by brother always was.

This was an innocent form of ignorance on the coach’s part, but, many years prior in the University of California Santa Barbara, the Athletics Director of the university would be accused of a far more bleak form of ignorance: racism.

In October of 1968, there would be reports of the UCSB Athletics department restricting and ignoring athletes of color.  The situation, according to Canceller Cheadle, was under investigation, but would later result in the reports being deemed as false and the Athletics department innocent despite the 400 protesting students that would argue against it.  As detailed by the living history project, a protest would break out later that month at the school’s computer building: North Hall.

The Santa Barbara Sentinel reported that the protest began on a Monday morning when a mob of 16 African American students entered North Hall, barricaded the doors, and took the school’s main computer hostage.  The computer was worth 2 million dollars, and held the data for all the students on campus.  Two of the protesters stood next the advanced machine carrying hammers and threatened the building’s techs that they would destroy it if they interfered.  These activists then renamed the building “Malcolm X Hall,” and preceded to give out their demands.

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Taken by me at the “a vision of change exhibit” at North Hall

The demands, as provided by the El Gaucho,  were as followed:

  1. The establishment of a commission designed to investigate problems resulting from personal or individual racism.
  2. The development of a college of black studies of Black Studies.
  3. Reaffirmation of President Hitch’s directive calling for increased hiring of minority persons.
  4. The hiring of a black female counselor of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).
  5. The appointment of black coaches “whenever this becomes possible.”
  6. Non-condonement of any harassment by any students, whatever color.
  7. The development of a community regulations staff to be “actively prosecuted.”
  8. The firing of Athletics Director Jack Curtice and Arthur Gallon, head of the Physical Activities Department.

Chancellor Cheadle was prepared to have the students kicked out, but one of the professors, Mr. Charles Hubbel, called upon the crowd of white students outside the building to “honor the courage of the men who have occupied the building.” With the support of the crowd, and the computer held hostage, Chancellor Cheadle agreed to seven of the eight demands because he refused to fire Curtice, nor Gallon.

This was an unbelievable result at the time.  This simple act received a heavy following, forged it’s way into UCSB’s history, and, most importantly, it gained the school valuable resources that would help prevent future segregation.  The actions of the protesters may have seemed rash; however, several reports of the event stated that the protesters were actually quite polite, and seemed to only care for having their demands heard.  One was reported saying: “Look, leave us alone and we’ll leave the computer alone.  We have your mechanical brain. Give us justice.”  All the protestors wanted was to have their voices heard and to have justice, and ended up succeeding in capturing the attention of a mass mob, and had almost all of their demands granted.

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Today in 2016, we are plagued with police shootings and an obviously rigged election.  The whole matter of civil rights is being brought back into question, and people have been unable to vote for who they want, or who they would want, had the media not influenced the wrong people.  When we look back to how a pack of 16 individuals stood up for their rights, and how they sought to see change, we can remember the struggles they faced back then, and stand up ourselves.  A mass mob of 400 students couldn’t change the minds of those in charge, but 16 brave students could.  What we need to do is to get the voices of the people out there so that the opinions that matter can be heard by all.  We don’t need to go through the lengths they did, but what we do need to do is to encourage small groups of courageous activists with opinions that can better our country or even the world.  That is why we remember the students who took over North Hall, and what we can learn from it.