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Amherst College Moratoria Collection

 Collection
Identifier: MA.00070

Scope and Contents

Clippings, printed matter, photographs and administrative records related to a series of political actions, including four separate moratoria, held at Amherst College from November 1968 to May 1972 to protest current events and explore issues of the Vietnam War, racism, and other social issues, particularly with regard to the College's role in them.

Dates

  • 1969-1970

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to this collection for research use. Particularly fragile items are restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

On Tuesday, November 5, 1968, 200 students, many of them from UMASS-Amherst, gathered in front of Converse Hall to protest the elections as a "hoax" and "farce" (Amherst Student, November 7, 1968). The protest had begun at UMASS, where students marched toward the Amherst quad carrying American flags and the “black flag of anarchy” before gathering at Converse. The rally was sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society, who asked voters to "Vote With Your Feet" to show dissatisfaction with all three of the major candidates.

In spring 1969, student grievances over the Vietnam War, race relations, College governance and coeducation led to plans to take over a College building. Advance warning allowed an ad hoc committee of students and faculty to request a two-day suspension of classes (April 28 and 29), called the Moratorium, to allow for College-wide discussion of these campus and national concerns.

On Friday, April 25, 1969 the Amherst College faculty in a closed meeting decided to suspend classes for two days, April 28 and 29, to allow for a campus-wide discussion to evaluate the College's problems in response to a proposal made by the English 98 seminar, "English and Education." The moratorium officially began on Monday, April 28, with an open meeting in front of Frost Library, when participants would then break into four groups to discuss questions raised at the meeting. Discussions with professors were held in fraternity houses later that evening. In anticipation of this first meeting, the College would distribute mimeographed material to campus mailboxes; students and faculty alike submitted proposals and grievances. Out of these two days the College community voted on the Ad Hoc Committee's proposals dealing with reforms to the college and the drafting of a letter addressed to President Nixon informing him of "our concern as a committed institution for the existing relationship between the crisis on the university campus today and the larger ills of society" (Amherst Student, April 30, 1969).

On May 1, 1969, the faculty and College Council again approved a suspension of classes for May 14, 1969, to begin with a mass meeting in Johnson Chapel (Amherst Student, May 8, 1969). Led by the Afro-American Society, this “Black Moratorium” was intended to create a “contagious awareness of the subtleties of racism that will eventually spread through the student body” (Amherst Student, May 15, 1969). To this end, the moratorium featured a series of seminars on Black students at Amherst and predominately white institutions, Black Power, and the rationale for a Black Studies Program. Poems were circulated in an effort to focus discussion on Black experiences in the country, while the moratorium was preceded by a showing of a series of films from the “Of Black America” series. The featured speaker, The Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison, gave an address entitled “Race and the Dynamics of American Literature” to benefit the Amherst Summer Action Programs. However, the second moratorium did not receive as much support and attendance as the first. The moratorium was part of a legacy of activism that contributed to the establishment of the Black Studies Department in 1971.

October 15, 1969, marked the third moratorium as Amherst participated in “Vietnam Moratorium Day,” joining several colleges in the area and millions of Americans in anti-war demonstrations, rallies, parades, teach-ins, forums, prayers and the reading of the roll of Vietnam dead. In contrast to previous moratoria, the October 15 moratorium, as it was known on campus, did not gain the support of President Plimpton and the Committee of Six and classes were not officially canceled. At 8:30 am, 200 canvassers gathered in front of Frost Library to listen to the Amherst College band Sundance before dispersing to Northampton (Amherst Student, October 16, 1969, and October 23, 1969). The day concluded with two rallies on the town common.

In the midst of this series of moratoria, Black students organized a takeover of College buildings in February 1970. Approximately 250 Five-College students seized Converse Hall, Robert Frost Library, the Amherst Science Center (Merrill), and College Hall in the early morning hours of February 18 (Amherst Student, February 18, 1970). The students’ initial statement expressed that their intended goal was to shut the College down and show commitment to the concept of a Five College Black Community. The seizure was non-violent, and students eventually removed themselves to the Octagon without incident. The final list of demands included a more robust Five College Black Studies program, the creation of a Five College bridge program, increased funding and cultural focuses for summer programs, increased admission and recruitment of Black students, and a budget for the Black Cultural Center (Amherst Student, February 19, 1970).

On May 3, 1970, area college students organized a strike to coincide with the National Student Strike to protest "the U.S. entry into Cambodia, political repression at home, and campus complicity in the form of ROTC and war-related research" (Amherst Student, June 4, 1970, p. 18). On May 4, the faculty joined with the student body in proposing a temporary cancellation of classes and the initiation of departmental committees to discuss the issues and act on them. On May 5, the faculty passed another resolution to make each student "free to decide individually where he will put his energy during the days ahead"; classes were allowed to continue if the student and teacher were so amenable. Then, on May 7, after a proposal by the Ad Hoc Student Assembly Steering Committee, the faculty voted to suspend classes for the remainder of the semester. In addition to the strike’s primary focus on the Vietnam War, students also expressed support for the Black Panther Party and the New Haven Nine.

May 1972 again saw a disruption of College activities as the faculty voted May 9, 1972, as a “Day of Concern” in support of the proposal by the Afro-American Society (Amherst Student, May 1, 1972). The day began with lectures in Johnson Chapel on the “Historical View of the University and Racism in the American Society” by Professor Asa J. Davis and “Racism and Amherst College” by Horace Porter (AC 1972). A series of panels on topics related to Black, APA, and Latinx students, among other issues, followed. The event was overshadowed, however, by the protest at Westover Air Force Base on May 11, 1972, in which nearly 400 Amherst students and faculty, including president John William Ward, were arrested (Amherst Student, May 11, 1972).

Extent

2 Linear feet (3 archives boxes, 1 oversize flat box)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Clippings, printed matter, photographs and administrative records related to four separate moratoria held at Amherst College to protest and discuss race relations, the Vietnam War, the U.S. entry into Cambodia, and the College curriculum.

Arrangement

This collection is organized in seven series:

  1. Series 1: Election Day Protest, November 5, 1968
  2. Series 2: First Moratorium on the Structure of the College Community, April 28-29, 1969
  3. Series 3: Second Moratorium, led by Afro-American Society, May 14, 1969
  4. Series 4: Third Moratorium, on Vietnam War, October 15, 1969
  5. Series 5: Building Takeover, February 18, 1970
  6. Series 6: Fourth Moratorium, National Student Strike, May 1970
  7. Series 7: Day of Concern, May 9, 1972

Related Materials

Marshall Bloom (AC 1966) Papers, Series 6 (Amherst College)

Amherst Student (newspaper), 1969-1970

John T. B. Mudge (AC 1971) Papers on Amherst College Moratoria

Theodore P. Greene (AC 1943) Papers

Processing Information

This collection was reproccessed in 2022 to more accurately reflect its contents.

Creator

Status
Completed
Author
Sarah Sorscher, Peter Nelson, Anna Smith (AC 2022)
Date
2003, revision 2022
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299