Timeline of Key Events
While it was a tumultuous time at universities across the nation—with protests against events ranging from the Vietnam War, to the assassination of Martin Luther King, to the imprisonment of members of the Black Panthers—what follows is a timeline that speaks more closely to the atmosphere at EMU leading up to and following the Feb. 20, 1969, Pierce Hall takeover.
Nov. 12, 1968
Black Student Association (BSA) members attend Student Senate meeting and ask for $300 for programming, including bringing in speakers and purchasing literature on black culture. The group had previously asked for $400 and been denied. This time, BSA members are questioned extensively and endure nearly an hour of debate before the allocation is granted. An Eastern Echo article noted that other allocation requests were granted with little or no conversation.
Nov. 19, 1968
Nearly 100 BSA members attend the Student Senate meeting, produce a symbolic, oversized check for $300, and burn it. Student Senate President Richard Skutt tells the Echo that the Senate group did “some soul searching” after the meeting, and for the first time discussed as a group the “underlying and hidden aspects of the disease called racism.”
Dec. 9, 1968
EMU President Harold Sponberg is quoted as saying, in a U.S. News and World Report article about unrest following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that EMU is in “a state of siege” and adds: “We’re not going to function under the threat of intimidation and guerilla tactics. We’re not going to substitute muscle for mind here.”
Dec. 13, 1968
A diverse group of more than 1,000 students rallies in protest of President Sponberg’s U.S. News and World Report comments. Students are also upset about the University’s “confiscation” of an underground newspaper called “The Obsidian” and a new “Mass Disturbance Policy” which they find vague, at best. They are also increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as administrative inaction. The rally is co-sponsored by the Student Senate, the Black Student Association, New Coalition Politics, Young Socialist Alliance, the Eastern Echo and The Obsidian. Sponberg attends the rally and attempts to clarify his U.S. News and World Report comments.
Jan. 7, 1969
BSA receives a voting seat on the Student Senate and a grant of $1,000 toward an MLK and Malcolm X scholarship fund.
Feb. 20, 1969
Dozens of black students occupy Pierce Hall with the intent of presenting a list of demands to the EMU administration (see Page 28). Fourteen students are arrested. Thirteen are charged with “conspiracy to create a disturbance” and face 2-5 years in jail. One student, Bob Smith, is charged with inciting a riot and faces up to 10 years. Hundreds of EMU students march to President Sponberg’s house to demand that no action be taken against students participating in the demonstration. Students boycott classes.
Feb. 20, 1969
In emergency session, the Student Senate votes to support the class boycott. The Senate also allocates $138 toward bail for the arrested students.
Feb. 24, 1969
Students form “strike committees” and continue to boycott classes after it becomes clear that all 14 arrested students will remain in police custody until they make bail.
Feb. 26, 1969
In a silent protest at the library, students check out 300 books and remove 3,000 from the shelves in about an hour.
Feb. 27, 1969
President Sponberg meets with student representatives in a three-hour, closed-door session.
Mar. 7, 1969
EMU announces the formation of a steering committee to study the list of student demands.
Mar. 18, 1969
Black students go to Lansing and meet with Governor William Milliken. While they’re frustrated that he can’t intervene, he does tell them, “You have helped to open up some windows and doors of understanding. It may not mean much to you now, but it could in the long run.”
Mar. 19, 1969
Students hold a teach-in about how to combat racism.
Five of the arrested students plead guilty to a reduced charge.
Six black students from EMU interrupt a Mott Community Institute meeting in Flint where EMU President Sponberg is the guest speaker. The students demand amnesty for the arrested students.
Feb. 23, 1970
A mistrial is declared in the case against Bob Smith.