Tuesday, May 5, 2020

50 Years Later: CMU Activism in the Wake of the Kent State Shootings

by Bryan Whitledge

After Richard Nixon’s April 30, 1970 announcement that military action would intensify in Cambodia, protests erupted across the country. Colleges and universities were a hotbed of activism, including Central Michigan University and Kent State University in Ohio. In Kent, Ohio, things became tragic on Monday, May 4, 1970: four students died and nine were injured after National Guardsmen opened fire on the assembled students.

"Freedom Hall," Click to enlarge
The events at Kent State did not happen in a vacuum and the reverberations were felt far and wide. That evening, in Mt. Pleasant, activist students went inside Central Hall on the CMU campus with the goal of occupying the building. Central Hall was the first gymnasium building at CMU and was the headquarters of the ROTC for many years. After taking over the building, students bestowed the name “Freedom Hall” on the building. Those occupying Central Hall effectively locked out the regular occupants of the building for the next five days. Reports of the number of occupying students in “Freedom Hall” range from 50 to 200. In addition to those in the building, hundreds established a “People’s Park” on the grounds around the building on the Warriner Mall.

On Saturday, May 9, the activist students and the University administration, led by President William Boyd, negotiated an end to the occupation of “Freedom Hall.” They also agreed that the tents in the “People’s Park” would come down each morning and could be reinstalled at dusk. By Monday, May 18, there were no more reports in the CM Life about tents on Warriner Mall.

All in all, the peaceful nature of the reaction of Central’s students and administration to the Kent State shootings was remarkable. Very little property damage was caused (CM Life reports $650 of damage), there were no arrests, and no confrontations between protesters and authorities.

To mark the 50th anniversary of these events, we are sharing some of the memories of those who were at Central during the time. These quotes are from two oral history interviews conducted by the staff of the Clarke Historical Library: one with former CMU President William Boyd (2014) and one with several activist students on campus during the occupation of “Freedom Hall” (2016).

"People's Park" viewed from above, click to enlarge

Central Hall was chosen as the object of the takeover because it was the headquarters of CMU ROTC. Former student Jon Childs remarked,
“They [Ohio National Guardsmen] shot these kids at Kent State, and the next day or that night, maybe, myself and a few other people decided to take over the ROTC building. There was a big -- one of the big movements here at that time was to get ROTC off campus. There was a group called SCAR, Student Committee to Abolish ROTC.”
Several former students remembered the environment in the building. While talking about the ROTC student staff who was in charge of the armory, where the weapons were stored, Dan Manville remembered,
“He [the student in charge of the armory] was not coming out […]. He was scared we were going to take over the weapons […]. He was in there, we had to feed him, he had to use the bathroom, so we gave him a bucket to use and whenever he wanted food, we would go and get food for him. […] He started trusting us, so we ended up taking care of him. So, it's like [the others in the interview] said, we weren't there to do anything [destructive]. It was a protest against the War.”
Ron Barrons said of his time in "Freedom Hall," “I can still hear the rattle of the chains [that padlocked the front doors of the building], and feel the rock hard floor under my sleeping bag.”

Paul Puma also remembered life in the occupied building:
“When you're in a building and the mere fact that you're in the building and you're controlling it, that is your statement, life goes on. So, within that building, relationships were formed, people met boyfriends, girlfriends. […] It was a little society within the society.”
Freedom rally on Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

Jon Childs noted that not everyone had the same strategies for change – some were into peace and love, some were political, some were hot-headed:
“[W]ithin the ROTC building, it wasn't all one big happy family. There were factions in there, too. […] At one point, someone came in to burn it down, brought in gasoline […]. We had a big fight about [strategy]. Where do we go from there? What does that mean, now we're destroyers?”
Rally in front of "Freedom Hall," click to enlarge

As the protest wore on, questions about when and how it would end began to bubble up. Cathy Courtney mentioned a time when she talked with President Boyd about how it would all end and his successful dialog with the students:
“I said, […] ‘it's not going to be much longer, you [President Boyd] don't need to bring in the cops. You're doing really good, you're negotiating just great, but it's going to be coming up because finals is coming up. People aren't going to miss their finals, they're not going to take incompletes. It will be over, and we're going to do freedom school instead.”
In a solo interview with Clarke staff, President Boyd offered a similar take on the events of May 1970, albeit from the administration's point of view. When asked, “In comparison to Berkeley, how did you view these events?,” Boyd answered:
“Well, I was surprised and pleased by the good nature of the Central student body. For example, when they occupied what became Freedom Hall, the ROTC building, they permitted an inspection every day by the administration to be sure that sanitation was OK, etc. I couldn't have imagined that happening at Berkeley.
"When Sproul Hall [at UC-Berkeley] was occupied, for example, it took police to get the kids out. There weren't any daily visits by an administration member.
“So, I was surprised by the good nature of the students who occupied Central Hall -- I mean Freedom Hall. And the same was true for the tent village. At Berkeley the People's Park episode, which occurred after I had left and gone to Central, was a violent episode in which Reagan had called out the National Guard. Our People's Park was really never anything but peaceable. I never felt threatened by it for example, though I did regret it very much because it was ugly. And because of the sanitation problem. And most students got tired of it and agreed to the university's request that they take down the tents.”
President Boyd, standing to the right of the tree, speaking to
students on the Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

President Boyd’s legacy in maintaining calm was a major part of discussion with former students. Almost 50 years after the events, the praise for President Boyd’s handling of the situation could not be overstated. Many former students expressed appreciation with statements like Paul Puma’s: “President Boyd, who… I really loved him, because he was very fair. He wasn't one of the people that would just say, ‘you radical bastards,’ you know? No, no, no. He had an open mind.”

During the 2016 interview, students had a chance to speak with President Boyd by phone and Judy Lewis expressed her appreciation directly to him:
“I was at CMU for two years and how you handled the situation, like they said, kept us out of trouble. We got our point across and it was an amazing two years under your watch, taking good care of us and making sure that we had our -- we could express ourselves but be safe at the same time. So, thank you for that.”
Jon Childs followed up, noting that it took 45 years to tell President Boyd this: “I don't know whether you know it, but I think you may have saved some people's lives during that situation, and mine may have been one of them. Some of us were a little hotheaded. Thank you so much for what you did, I really appreciate it.”

After a comment about the CMU president never losing his humanity while negotiating with the students, Janice Fialka remarked: “People can be skilled, but there's that superficiality, and I think that's why you hear, at this table, such love [for President Boyd].”

"Freedom Hall" and Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

The level-headed decisions of all of the parties involved kept the CMU campus rather peaceful during what could have been a very tense time. Cathy Courtney’s assessment of the events of May 1970 were echoed among the interview participants: “Ours was one of the only schools that had successful, and I mean occupied, educate, activated, tents, campus, occupy, with no violence, no personal injuries. That's considered success.” And Paul Puma followed up, “Yeah, totally, and a lot of the responsibility for that, I think goes back to President Boyd.”

After the occupation of Freedom Hall and the People’s Park, the building and grounds were left relatively undamaged. Things returned to business as usual and the students went mostly unpunished. Although some professors held students accountable for missing classes and President Boyd did not offer amnesty for those who missed class. Jon Childs noted, “My bowling instructor flunked me. I remember that (laughs).”

You can read more about the response to the Kent State Shooting at Central in the in the May 6, May 8, and May 11, 1970 issues of CM Life. And you can view the transcripts of these interviews at the Clarke Historical Library.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

50th Anniversary of Earth Day

by Bryan Whitledge

“Give Earth a Chance”: The words that ran on the front page of Central Michigan Life 50 years ago feels as relevant today as it was then. Before 1970, “Earth day” had a very different meaning: usually an astronomical measurement of the length of one rotation of our planet about its axis – an Earth day vs. a Mars day or sometimes the two words came together as a coincidence of two sentences, one ending in “Earth” and the next beginning with “Day.” But in April 1970, that all changed—Earth Day became synonymous with conservation, ecology, and environmentalism. One of the many places where Earth Day went from an idea to a movement was on the campus of Central Michigan University.

Earth Day display in University Center, 1970

During the spring of 1970, CMU students, along with students at hundreds of colleges and universities around the country, prepared for the first Earth Day. The proponents of the first day of collective ecological activism expressed fears that the atmospheric pollution and unclean rivers plaguing the environment would only get worse if people didn’t act immediately to change things. In Mt. Pleasant, the activists who planned events didn’t limit themselves to a single day—they planned a four-day program of seminars and teach-ins about a range of topics: environmental crises, government & citizen action, population control, ecology, environmental awareness, and more. And those who planned the events got many of their peers on boards: Central Michigan Life took a stance in the articles written during April of 1970—everyone should do their part to save the planet. The Intra-Fraternity Council planted trees. Others collected cans from off-campus housing to sell back to the brewing companies to be reused (this was six years before Michigan’s ten cent deposit for bottles and cans came into being).

Earth Day events registration table in the UC, 1970

Among the highlights of the Earth Week activities was the impressive line-up of guest speakers: U.S. Senator Philip Hart, singer/songwriter and activist Malvina Reynolds, Michigan Governor William Milliken, noted journalist and activist Norman Cousins, beloved Michigan author Jim Harrison, and several others came to CMU to offer their takes on conservation and the environment. Governor Milliken mentioned proposed legislation to go after polluters of Michigan’s waterways. Senator Hart spoke of federal leadership in the quality of the environment. Malvina Reynolds sang songs in praise of the Earth and lamenting the harm done in the name of progress.

Crowd listening to Earth Day presentation in the Finch Fieldhousem 1970

Because of the hard work of the organizers and the community spirit of many at Central and in Mt. Pleasant, the CMU Earth Day events in 1970 were a success. The same can be said for those who organized similar events at countless colleges and universities across the country.

Earth Day events in the University Center, 1970

Earth Day panel of speakers, 1970

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Emergency Libraries Provide Access to Books For CMU Researchers

by Bryan Whitledge

In these extraordinary times, it is impossible for anything to be “normal.” How can you do your “normal” research if all of the library buildings are closed? One answer is to toss your hands up in the air and forget about research. But that’s not what resilient and strong researchers at a world-class institution like Central do. So, there has to be another option. And thanks to the extraordinary efforts of institutions large and small across the county, the CMU Libraries is able to make your research as “normal” as possible. Two particular tools of note are the Hathi Trust Emergency Library and the National Emergency Library.

The Hathi Trust Emergency Library is exclusively for Hathi Trust member institutions, like Central Michigan University. The Hathi Trust already makes 6.5 million+ public domain books and documents in their holdings freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

Now, with the Emergency Library, Hathi Trust provides member institutions temporary access to those items that the member institution’s library holds and for which Hathi Trust has a digital copy. This doesn’t mean that all of the 17 million+ items in Hathi Trust are available to CMU-affiliated researchers. But it does mean that researchers with valid credentials can access about 46% of the books from the shelves of the Park and Clarke Historical Libraries in a virtual format, even those titles that are protected by copyright. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is no longer off-limits to you behind the locked doors of the Park Library. Hathi Trust makes it available to you in just a few clicks. Simply find the link for "Temporary Access," click on it, and then click “Check Out,” in the orange banner on the next page. The "Temporary Access" link may appear as a lock with "Limited (Search Only)" written next to it, if you are not logged in to Hathi Trust.

click on the image to view a larger version

In order to follow the Trust’s interpretation of US copyright provisions, Hathi Trust has put several measures in place that researchers should be aware of:
  • Affiliates of member institutions are required to log-in with their credentials.
  • “Temporary Access” books can be read online only.
  • You can Check Out a book for 1 hour. Your access will renew automatically at the end of that hour, unless another user requests the book after that hour is over.
  • Only one user may Check Out a book at a time (or one user per each copy of the book we hold).
  • Use the Return Early button to make it available for another user.
  • To read a book that is being used by someone else, you will need to check back periodically.

The second resource is the National Emergency Library. It is an effort of the Internet Archive to support education and research across the country. In the last week of March, they made 1.4 million books accessible to people across the country without their customary one-at-a-time lending practice. In order to access materials, you must create a free account with the Internet Archive. Many of the titles available are not in the public domain and some have argued that opening broad access to copyrighted materials is piracy. The Internet Archive argues that, in times of an unprecedented emergency, they are answering the needs of educators and learners with the National Emergency Library’s holdings, the bulk of which date from before the year 2000 and do not have a readily accessible e-book version. So, should you need to consult Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, you don’t have to worry that you can’t access DT33. F3 1968 in the Park Library, you can get it from the National Emergency Library.

Other than oral traditions, printed words on paper pages have been where, for centuries, we found most of the knowledge created and passed down by generations of humans. The digital information age is a relatively recent phenomenon. Often, researchers need information from a text created before the digital revolution. And the only place to get that information is from a book. And the only place to find that book is on the shelves of a library. With library buildings closed to help combat the spread of COVID-19, the next best thing for your research might just be an online emergency library.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Working During a Pandemic

By Frank Boles

March has been an extraordinary month for almost everyone, not the least of which has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operations of the Clarke Historical Library. Working first under Governor Whitmer’s executive order closing places of public accommodation (which included libraries) and then dealing with her subsequent order to “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” has caused the library staff to respond with ingenuity and flexibility.

Like the rest of the library staff, I am working from home “for the duration.” What that means is, in addition to the resources always available online,  the library’s work continues, with one important exception, reference. Unfortunately, to answer most reference questions that come to the library we need access to the material in the collection. I trust that people who are still sending us reference requests will understand that while we are monitoring email and messages left on the telephone, we can only create a log of inquiries to be dealt with as soon as we can return to the library itself, on campus.

But aside from reference, a tremendous amount of work, some typically done every day and some often postponed, is being undertaken. Marian Matyn, the library’s archivist, is spending time preparing finding aids to be eventually uploaded onto the internet, making collections more accessible, as well as documenting CMU’s response to COVID-19 for the University Archives. In Cataloging, records are being created for uploading into the catalog, making material discoverable in the future.

Although the Microfilm and Digitization Project cannot photograph newspaper pages onto microfilm or scan new material, the unit’s staff continues to manage digitization projects with customers throughout the state, communicate with contracted vendors in three countries as well as with the Library of Congress, while also conducting quality control work, remotely, on existing scans. One example of this work will be over 70,000 newspapers pages from Paw Paw coming online at the library’s newspaper portal later this month.

One of the underappreciated aspects of the program is the tremendous amount of quality control that goes into making sure the raw scans from a project like the Paw Paw paper meet user expectations when they are made available for online use. Users find searchable online newspapers the next best thing to magic. Put a name or a term into the search box and very quickly a hopefully short list of pages to read appears. Those of us who remember “the old days” recall spending hours sitting in a darkened room, head more or less inserted into an old Kodak microfilm reader (aka “the tin can”) looking patiently for that same information which is now so effortlessly delivered. But making that effortless search happen takes a very large commitment of “back room” time and energy. It may be magic, but like any good magician, there is a lot of hard work performed by those who prepare the files that underlies the illusion of “effortlessness.” It may be a point I make too often, but it is a point too often forgotten by online users.

Bryan Whitledge is busy continuing his work on University electronic records and records management. He is also bringing a few seconds of delight everyday with videos of pop-up books on the Clarke’s social media channels. 

While reference librarian John Fierst cannot do much reference, he is working on a long-discussed project to transcribe and place online some of the John Greenleaf Whittier letters in the library’s collection. Whittier was a strident activist opposing slavery and well-known nineteenth century poet. Beginning in the 1830s, Whitter published widely about the abolitionist causes, editing several abolitionist newspapers, while unceasingly badgering the New England members of Congress to adopt pro-abolitionist positions. He would work to end slavery, until it was legally abolished in 1865.

At the same time as he worked towards abolition, Whittier wrote and published poetry. After the Civil War, Whittier exclusively wrote poems. His most enduring work, “Snow-Bound,” was published in 1866. After 30 years of writing poetry, he was surprised that “Snow-Bound” actually made him money. Whittier is also remembered for championing women writers, in an era when female authors were not taken seriously.

The Whittier papers in the Clarke, while both extensive and interesting, are something of an accident. A now-deceased CMU professor gathered the material together, and eventually gifted it the Clarke Historical Library. Because they reside in a midwestern college, separated from their New England home, they have largely been ignored. John’s work, we hope, will make the collection better known and share some of this important resource online through scans and transcriptions of selected letters.

As for myself, there are grants to be written, letters to compose, material about the current exhibit that can be drafted for eventual use on the website, and similar tasks to be done.

In these stressful times, I like to remind people of the great pandemic of 1918, which caused campus to close and left two members of the Central community dead. It was very, very bad, but it eventually ended. So, too will the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently enduring.

Take care and be well.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Welcome Laura Thompson

by Frank Boles

Laura Thompson has joined the Clarke Historical Library’s staff as our new cataloger, as well as having responsibility for cataloging music in the University Library.

While new to the Clarke Historical Library, Laura has been at Central Michigan University since 2015. Prior to her new role as Cataloger and Music Librarian, she worked as a Research and Instruction Librarian in University Library, supporting the areas of Music, Art & Design, Fashion Merchandising & Design, Interior Design, and Recreation, Parks, and Leisure. In 2014, she received her MLS and MA in Musicology degrees from Indiana University, Bloomington (IU), where she specialized in Music Librarianship.

Her cataloging experience includes working with historical sound recording formats (78s, LPs, 45s, cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, acetate transcription discs) and accompanying documentation at the Archives of Traditional Music at IU. She also participated in a month-long codicology (the study of codices or manuscript books written on parchment (or paper) as physical objects) and manuscript description course in Italy, titled, “Musical Collectorship in Italy in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: A Survey of the Greggiati Collection in Ostiglia and a Model of Electronic Research Tool.”

The project studied and worked with early 19th-century Italian music manuscripts (mostly Italian opera). She described these materials for inclusion in an eventual digital tool that makes possible both connecting data from different musical collections and also help scholars reconstruct how the music was gathered together and collected. She gained additional experience working with special collections materials as a student working in IU’s Lilly Library.

She is very excited to be able to put her knowledge into practice working with the collections of the Clarke Historical Library.