On April 19, 1969, dozens of members of the Afro-American Society and several Latino students occupied Willard Straight Hall for 36 hours to protest Cornell’s perceived hostility toward students of color, its student judicial system and its slow progress in establishing an Africana Studies program. Fifty years later, the university community will examine the event’s significance in Cornell history and its part in the broader civil rights movement.

Featured event details

Film Screening

Agents of Change

Tuesday, April 16, 7 p.m., Cinemapolis, Ithaca, New York
Admission is free and open to the public

The Cornell community will mark the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Willard Straight Hall with a film screening of Agents of Change.

This film captures the well-publicized events at San Francisco State College in 1968 and the occupation of the student union at Cornell in 1969. The struggle for a more relevant and meaningful education, including demands for black and ethnic studies programs, became a clarion call across the country in the late 1960s. Through the stories of these young men and women who were at the forefront of these efforts, Agents of Change examines the untold story of the racial conditions on college campuses and in the country that led to these protests.

Filmmakers Frank Dawson ’72, who participated in the occupation of Willard Straight Hall, and Abby Ginzberg ’71 will be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening.

This event is a partnership between Cornell University, Cinemapolis and The History Center in Tompkins County.

Keynote Event

Social Justice–Civil Rights, Black Power, #BlackLivesMatter and the 50th Anniversary of the Willard Straight Hall Occupation: A Conversation with Harry Edwards

Thursday, April 18, 8 p.m., Bailey Hall
Admission is free and open to the public, no ticket required

Frank Dawson ’72, who as a first-year student participated in the occupation of Willard Straight Hall, will hold a public conversation with Harry Edwards Ph.D. ’73. At the time, Edwards was a sociology Ph.D. student and Woodrow Wilson Scholar who fully supported the occupation and played a prominent role in the Barton Hall teach-in that followed.

Dawson and Edwards will delve into what took place at Cornell 50 years ago and reflect on their personal experiences in advancing civil rights and applying their experiences to modern social justice movements.

Harry Edwards

Harry Edwards
As a civic activist, Harry Edwards organized and rallied support for a proposed boycott of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. That action led to the iconic gloved hand protest by medalists Tommy Smith and John Carlos, as well as other symbolic gestures by Olympians. Edwards is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the preeminent observers and scholars on the experience of black athletes, as well as a consultant on issues of diversity for the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. Edwards has consulted on numerous sports-related TV and film productions in the U.S. and abroad. He has received dozens of awards and honors, including several honorary doctorate degrees, and authored dozens of articles and four books: The Struggle That Must Be, Sociology of Sports, Black Students, and The Revolt of the Black Athlete.
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Frank Dawson

Frank Dawson
Currently the dean of career education at the Center for Media and Design at Santa Monica College, Frank Dawson formerly chaired its Communication and Media Studies Department and taught as a professor of media studies. Prior to that, he taught scriptwriting at the University of Southern California in a program geared toward African-American TV and film writers. Dawson is a producer, writer and founding partner in NuHouse Media Group, which has produced TV series, movies and features in association with CBS Entertainment, and now operates independently. Dawson co-produced and co-directed the documentary film, Agents of Change, which chronicles the 1960s black student movement in the U.S., featuring San Francisco State College and Cornell University.
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A Cultural Remembrance of the 1969 Occupation of Willard Straight Hall

Friday, April 19, 6 p.m., Willard Straight Hall
Free and open to the public

UPDATE: Due to the inclement weather forecast, the cross-campus walk portion of the Cultural Remembrance event has been cancelled and the event will start at 6 p.m. in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room.

Students and alumni will lead a commemorative walk starting at the Africana Studies and Research Center, stopping at Wari House and the former site of the Africana Center, and ending at Willard Straight Hall. Along the way, speakers will share each location’s role in the events surrounding the occupation of Willard Straight Hall. At Willard Straight Hall, student dance and music groups will perform pieces to signify the occupation’s importance in the broader civil rights movement, and participants are invited to view photographs in the building’s gallery and share their reflections and stories on a community banner. Alumni who participated in the occupation will share stories at a fireside chat in the International Room. Free refreshments will be served along with music by a local DJ.