Cornell University Commemorates the 1969 Willard Straight Hall Takeover by Black Students

A half century ago, Black students at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, demanded the establishment of an African-American studies program. When their demands were not met a group of Black students occupied Willard Straight Hall on campus. The protest evolved into larger arguments over racial equality. After a 33-hour standoff, administration officials acceded to the students’ demands. The Black students who feared they would be attacked by Whites when they left the building brought in guns. Pictures of the armed students exiting the building graced the covers of major national magazines and newspapers.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the protest, Cornell will place a permanent plaque on the building. The plaque reads:

“Cornell was one of the centers of student protest and activism in the 1960s against the Vietnam War and the denial of civil rights in the United States. In April 1969, over a hundred Black students occupied this building for thirty-three hours, bringing to Cornell the national Civil Rights Movement’s struggle for racial and social justice. After a peaceful, negotiated ending to the building occupation, Cornell set out to become a leader in its commitment to the ideals of a diverse and inclusive university.”

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