Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Big Bust on Morningside Heights

I've been pondering for years how I can write a play that can use material from Marvin Harris's article for The Nation, "Big Bust on Morningside Heights."

And I think I finally came up with something. Unfortunately I won't be able to get to it until April at the earliest - I have way too much theater stuff going on in February and March.

I'm excited though - I'd love to combine my love of the work of Marvin Harris with my theater work.

I read a copy of the piece which I retrieved from The Nation archives several years ago. Since it is under copyright, it was removed from the Public Anthropology web site, but luckily the Wayback Machine had a copy.

I have a current subscription to The Nation, so I suspect I could get a copy again from there, but it's more convenient online.

You would think the people who put together the Columbia 1968 web site could have gotten rights to reprint it, seeing as how they link to it, and how it was an eye-witness account by a prominent member of the faculty, of what went down back then when... I'll let Marvin Harris tell it:

At 2:30 A.M., Tuesday, April 30, a thousand New York City policeman attacked an approximately equal number of students barricaded inside five Columbia University buildings. The action lasted three hours and injured at least 148 persons in varying degrees. Many students were thrown or dragged down stairways. Girls were pulled out by the hair; their arms were twisted; they were punched in the face. Faculty members were kicked in the groin, tossed through hedges, punched in the eye. Noses and cheekbones were broken. A diabetic student fell into a coma. One faculty member suffered a nervous collapse. Many students bled profusely from head wounds opened by handcuffs wielded as weapons. Dozens of moaning people lay about the grass unattended. At one point an estimated 2,000 spectators were set upon by the police and pinned against the gates. Outside the campus, mounted police chased screaming knots of people, young and old, up and down Broadway in a scene from Planet of the Apes. It took a line of paddy wagons stretching along Amsterdam Avenue from 118th to 110th Street to carry off the 720 persons who were arrested. They were driven away, unrepentant, beating on the bars, cursing the police, President Grayson Kirk and Vice President David Truman.

Later Harris explains:
The failure of the administration to act quickly and seriously in response to various student charges concerning the university’s complicity in the detested Vietnamese War contributed heavily to the breakdown of trust and communication between the student activists and their administrative counterparts. Columbia’s destiny up to now has been under the control of a Board of Trustees consisting almost entirely of top-ranking businessmen - directors for more than sixty banks, insurance companies, utilities and manufacturing corporations including IBM, C.B.S., Con Ed, Ford, Equitable Life, Shell Oil, AT&T, Metropolitan Life, Irving Trust Co. and the Chase Manhattan Bank. Insofar as these men are leaders of bureaucratic empires which our best students associate with massive acts of social irresponsibility, evasion, hypocrisy and exploitation their image is unsuited to attempts to establish cross-generational dialogues under the present circumstances. Nothing which the trustees of Columbia University have done during the past two years has indicated that the negative impression which they create on young minds thirsting for principled commitments to life and humanity is incorrect.
Combine this with my recent watching of the later episodes of Eyes on the Prize and I think I can create a story involving young black students and an anthropology professor (based on Harris of course) that deals with these issues. I'm looking forward to starting it. After I finish DARK MARKET and my Marilyn Monroe play and my play about jury duty. Sigh.