Update: For the past 10 days, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have been at odds with local Ferguson Police Department after a six-year officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed 18 year-old Michael Brown in a barrage of at least six bullets on Saturday August 9th, 2014. In the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown, the citizens–many of them students– have taken to the street to mostly peaceful protest against police brutality, and the local police has been anything but understanding of the citizens’ frustrations. The police has not been forthcoming with information, it has launched an excessive use of force and intimidation on the people to include the use of military tanks, assault rifles, and tear gas in the midst of claims of citizens throwing molovtov cocktails, shooting, and looting. Missouri’s Governor Jay Nixon has had to intervene by first, holding a press conference to announce his appointment of Missouri Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson, and now he had deployed the use of the National Guard. In America’s most volatile times, the National Guard has been sought as the solution. Some times it has worked and other times, it has further exacerbated the problems.
On May 4th, 2014, we remember the horrendous killing of four students and the wounding of nine by the bullets of the National Guard on the campus of Kent State University on May 4th, 1970.
Students at Kent State protested President Nixon’s announcement that the United States would invade Cambodia in the midst of America’s already unfavorable Vietnam War. In an attempt to stop the students from protesting and rallying, Kent State University’s administrators decided to cancel the students’ rally so they began passing out flyers saying that the rally was canceled. To no avail students showed up anyway. Some of Kent State’s faculty appealed to the students to abandon the rally upon realizing the Ohio National Guard had been called to disband the student assembly and knowing that eventually these students could become victims of the National Guard’s aggression. As the National Guard began closing in, the students maintained their position and continued rallying. Before anyone knew what happened, one of the officers opened fire which resulted in other National Guard officers opening fire on unarmed students.
We remember the students of Kent State that lost their lives. We also reflect on the role the National Guard has served in protecting and escorting our most vulnerable groups for the past 378 years. Lastly, we are called to question the price of student activism or lack thereof in America’s schools today.
Check out CNN’s photo slide show here: Kent State Shooting in Photos
In the 1950s and 1960s, the National Guard was used by President Eisenhower in 1957 to help admit nine African American students into Little Rock Arkansas’ Central High School–The Little Rock Nine. When the state of Arkansas refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling to integrate schools “with all deliberate speed,” the final resort for President Eisenhower was to enforce the ruling through the use of the Arkansas National Guard, a symbol of protection and an escort for nine young people attempting to be educated and bravely walking into the pit of racism’s hell for it to happen.
Check out the Eyes on the Prize segment here:
In 1963 President John F. Kennedy also used the National Guard to escort and protect two students into the University of Alabama, Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, when the notoriously defiant and racist Alabama Governor George Wallace denied them entry into the school.
Click on this 2003 NPR link to hear Vivian Jones’ words about this time period here:
NPR and the University of Alabama, 1963
As the decade of the 60s progressed, the National Guard intervened in even more campus conflicts, but they no longer appeared to serve, protect, and escort maligned groups in our nation. As America changed presidents and became embroiled in more international conflicts such as the Vietnam War and Cambodia invasions, a commitment to Civil Rights became a thorn in the side of our nation, and the National Guard seemingly became the escort of the nation’s resentment. And, its purpose became riddled in contradictory aggression and death.
On the campus of the renowned HBCU North Carolina A & T University, the National Guard, in reaction to the idea of Black Power, used deadly force to quell student protests in May of 1969. The students of the local James B. Dudley High School turned to the college students of NC A & T to assist them in the issues they faced in electing the student of their choice to represent their student body. As a result of the students of Dudley High School not feeling their demands were being met, and as a result of the superintendent’s decision to remove the Black principal and replace him with a white one, the students protested and picketed. During the student protest, the police used tear gas to stop it. The police presence and actions exacerbated the students’ behavior resulting in nine student arrests and rioting. Dudley High School students further enlisted the help of North Carolina A & T’s Student Organization for Black Unity, a group feared to be operating under the Black Power Movement. Some of the student activists organized a march to support the students of Dudley High School, but in the midst of the march, a group of young white youth orchestrated a drive-by shooting into the crowd of the A & T students; and, in response, the A & T students began defending themselves. How they defended themselves has long been a source of debate. The National Guard was called in to suppress the reactions, and once again the situation was exacerbated. As result of the National Guard’s presence, student Willie Grimes, 22, was shot and killed. The campus erupted and what ensued was the declaration of a state of emergency,
the raiding of Scott Hall, a male dormitory, approximately 300 students were held in prison for the day, more than 60 rounds of ammunition were shot into the dorm’s walls by the National Guard, a campus-wide curfew was put into effect, and ultimately 3 operable firearms were located.
In the aftermath of the Dudley High School / A & T fiasco, students lost their lives, had their college experiences marred, and came face to face with the brutality of the National Guard, an entity that 12 years prior had served to extend civil rights to vulnerable African American students looking to be educated in a racist, forced-integration system in Arkansas.
The National Guard’s motto is “Always there, Always ready.” There are countless men and women that serve in the National Guard every day, assisting America in its time of need and we appreciate them. In America’s most volatile, racist times the National Guard has been there, and in the most tumultuous decade of the 20th Century, the 60s, the National Guard was there, but we have to live with the record of knowing that it also executed some very poor and deadly decisions. The lives of the students in the schools mentioned in this post have forever been changed–some for the good and some in the worst ways imaginable.
Today, we live in a time where very little activism takes place on our college campuses and within our schools; students’ rights are violated on a continual basis, their voices are silenced in almost every regard, and yet we persistently wonder why younger people are so silent. There is a history not too far into the past that has frowned on students’ activism more than it has protected their rights. There has been no real major sustainable movement of young people protesting injustices on college campuses in recent years. Perhaps the greatest amount of noise in recent years has come from African American students like Sy Stokes on UCLA’s campus upset about the school’s lack of diversity, the seeming abandonment of affirmative action, and feelings that Black Male student athletes are only regarded because of their athleticism.
Check out his video here:
And, we cannot forget Brooke Kimbrough and her rally against the University of Michigan for not being accepted and the subsequent US Supreme Court ban on affirmative in Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.
Maybe our students are worried that their First Amendment right to assemble will be compromised by the National Guard if it is called to suppress their protests; or, maybe our students are afraid to chance that the National Guard’s motto will actually work in their favor like it did with the Little Rock Nine. So, students remain silent.
Either way, student activism in our institutions will always come down to a matter of life and death.
This is some pretty powerful stuff. Funny thing is I’ve been working in a Newark HS where the students protested a week ago due to poor administration and unjust decisions constantly made NOT in favor of the students. Their effort was turned into what was called a ‘riot’ very shortly after the protest began. Not necessarily achieving their goal, they still are moved to make their voices heard.
As unfortunate as the situation was, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the drive and tenacity of those students. Even in a school labeled the worst in the area, amidst a list of other negative titles, these students still want better and are willing to fight for it. There’s something to be said about the natural desire we all have to want better for ourselves and the ones we love, however, respect and acknowledgement MUST be given to those who choose to stand up, organize and work to right the wrongs. Even though the genuis administration of that school wanted to respond to the protest by putting all of the seniors in the library and telling them their Prom will be cancelled, these students actually embodied the same spirit of those great fallen heroes spoken of in this report. I appreciate you Sister Ali for your effort and being that constant reminder that we have work to do.
I wish I knew who I was responding to, but just the same, I really appreciate your comment and the fact that you took the time to not only read my post, but to also offer such valuable feedback. Thank YOU!
Hey Carlos! I really appreciate your comment and the confirmation that student activism is alive and well even when it is not public knowledge! Thank YOU!
I was totally enlightened by this!! Thanks a billion. It’s time to move!!!
Awwwwwww Man!!! Thank YOU for checking it out and sharing your thoughts!! Greatly appreciated, Life!!
Ms. Zakiyyah Ali Twitter: @DoItGurl Cell: 347-262-7572 “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.’ Frantz Fanon