Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008
For nearly five months in late 1968 and early 1969, near anarchy at
San Francisco State played out on national television as police
thumped striking students with batons and hundreds of students were
arrested after throwing rocks and firebombs.
The strike, led by minority students angered by their lack of
representation on campus, marked the most violent chapter in the
campus' history, paving the way for student activism around racial
issues across the nation. It also fueled the political career of
campus president S.I. Hayakawa, who later was elected to the U.S. Senate.
This week, the campus is holding a series of academic discussions and
cultural activities to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the strike.
Critics of the strike said some of its goals did not justify the
violence. But ethnic studies experts and historians say it brought
positive change to the university, particularly the creation of its
College of Ethnic Studies, which includes Asian American Studies,
Black Studies, La Raza Studies and Native American Studies.
The ethnic studies college now has nearly 50 tenure-track professors
and 20 lecturers, and it is adding the study of Arabs and Muslim
ethnicities as well as race and resistance studies.
Before the strike, the university occasionally offered a black music
or black sociology class taught by part-time faculty, said Joseph
White, who was dean of undergraduate studies and was faculty sponsor
for the Black Student Union at the time.
"Black people were invisible in higher education in California,"
White said. "We were invisible on the faculty, in the curriculum and
on the staff. And we were almost invisible in the student body."
The strike "changed the legacy of San Francisco State," White added.
"It changed San Francisco State to a multicultural campus. Those
ideas we fought so hard for now are a reality not only at San
Francisco State University but all over the United States."
Black students and the Third World Liberation Front were following
revolutions in Africa, Latin America and Asia in leading the strike
at what was then San Francisco State College.
On Nov. 6, 1968, they called for the closure of the campus until
their demands were met, including the rehiring of Black Panther
George Murray, a graduate student and instructor who was suspended
after he urged black students to bring guns on campus.
But more significantly, the group, which included blacks, Latinos,
whites and Asians, wanted a speedy establishment of a Third World
college representing all ethnicities. They also wanted the admission
of more black and other minority students.
UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Carlos Munoz Jr., who teaches a course
on the civil rights movements of the 1960s, said the San Francisco
State strike was for students of color the equivalent of the Free
Speech Movement in the mid-1960s in Berkeley.
"It sort of brought the civil rights movements around the country to
a more inclusive framework," Munoz said. "Jesse Jackson had not yet
organized the Rainbow Coalition. What happened at State was the first
large-scale multicultural effort and set the tone for that kind of
When the strike began, most students went to class. But the strikers
quickly spread chaos on the campus, banging on classroom doors and
threatening to forcibly remove students and teachers if they did not
leave. Strikers also cut electric cords on typewriters, telephones
and copy machines in academic offices, while toilets and bathroom
sinks were backed up and overflowed into hallways, said San Francisco
State Professor Jason Ferreira, who wrote his doctoral dissertation
on the strike.
After a long weekend, campus President Robert Smith called in
hundreds of police in full riot gear, and on Nov. 13, police showed
up at a student gathering and began to arrest students and other
participants, Ferreira said. In response, students began throwing
rocks and the battle escalated until Smith decided to close the
Gov. Ronald Reagan and the California State University Board of
Trustees ordered Smith to reopen the campus. He resigned instead and
was replaced by Hayakawa, an English professor, who opened the campus
Dec. 2 under a "state of emergency," with a ban on picketing, sound
amplification or any other form of protest activity without
administrative approval, Ferreira said.
The next day, which came to be known as "Bloody Tuesday," Hayakawa
ordered police to remove strikers who had assembled. They chased
students around campus, attacking them, Ferreira said.
Later, after a rally with prominent black leaders including Carleton
Goodlett, editor of San Francisco's Sun Reporter, Democratic
Assemblyman Willie Brown, Berkeley City Councilman Ron Dellums and
the Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church, police sealed off
the central campus and began "indiscriminately" beating students,
faculty, campus staff, community members, medics, photographers and
even church officials, Ferreira said.
Pioneer in ethnic studies
Early in 1969, the university agreed to many of the student demands,
including the establishment of the nation's first and only college of
ethnic studies. The strike ended March 20.
Retired San Francisco police Lt. George Eimil, who was on campus with
about 100 officers every day during the strike, was critical of the
"Did their 15 demands justify the bombings? Hell no," he said. "They
placed a bomb in the administrative offices while school was in
session. They were setting fires in the library. They were putting
people's lives in serious danger."
But Laureen Chew, now associate dean of the College of Ethnic Studies
and one of nearly 700 students jailed during the strike, said the
battle was necessary. As an Asian American, she had faced racism in
high school and from customers of her parents' laundry shop who
called her father a "stupid Chinaman."
Her conservative parents did not know she was involved in the strike
until she was arrested. She served 20 days in jail in connection with
misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace, illegal assembly and
failing to disperse.
"You have to look at all the social justice agendas that have
happened in the past 40 years," Chew said. "We were the first to put
many of those on the agenda. You have to fight for those things to be
included in the curriculum."
About 500 other colleges and universities have ethnic studies
departments or programs, but San Francisco State University is the
only one with a college of ethnic studies, said Larry Estrada,
president of the National Association of Ethnic Studies and director
of American Cultural Studies at Western Washington University.
Kenneth Monteiro, dean of San Francisco State's College of Ethnic
Studies, said the strike is taught in the campus' courses on history,
organizing and social justice. He said the strike was a key flash
point among similar movements around the world.
"When you say Kent State, I think of anti-war protests. When you say
free speech, I think of UC Berkeley. If you say multi-ethnic
struggles, it is San Francisco State," Monteiro said. "This was one
of the watershed events, that blast that opened the doors. It wasn't
that the other struggles weren't important, but this was the Normandy."
If you go
Events marking the anniversary of the strike will be held from 8 a.m.
to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday. Registration and the full schedule of events and speakers
is available at links.sfgate .com/ZFDY.
E-mail Tanya Schevitz at email@example.com.