San Francisco State University
Library Home page Welcome to your university library

J. Paul Leonard Library

Find Research Help Services About
site navigation
display graphic

On Strike! Shut it Down! (Exhibit 1999)

Case 2: Context


One cannot look at the events of the late 1960s at San Francisco State without realizing that they arose from a decade in which cultural, social and political values would be challenged and the course of world events would be changed irrevocably. The complexity of local, national and international events happening simultaneously affected what happened here at San Francisco State. During the strike, Walcott Beatty, San Francisco State Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Academic Senate in 1968-69, said, "The campus is a microcosm of society." To understand what happened at San Francisco State in 1968 is a complex task. The political and social events that occurred early in the decade certainly played a part in what led to student demonstrations on this campus, and continued to influence student and faculty behavior throughout the strike. There would be no one set of individuals either, easily identified, or pointed to, as the major players in the events that led up to the strike. To the contrary, there were many individuals, on and off the campus, who influenced the course of events. The world and local events leading up to the strike, as well as the daily strike activities, can be studied and interpreted. However, in doing so one discovers there is much that is still unknown about certain strike-related activities. This exhibit points to only some of the many elements of The Strike and provides a basis for beginning to understand what happened.

We will use 1960 as our starting point, a year in which the world began to change rapidly. World events of the 1950s set in motion changes that would persist into "The Sixties." The dramatic--and violent--character of World War II, the Korean War, and the early Cold War produced numerous challenges to the superficial sense that American life existed in an ordered and controlled world. At the same time, to millions of Americans, the 1950s were a time of relative prosperity and a time to be proud of the nation's accomplishments. In 1960, Dwight D. Eisenhower was serving his second term as President and many American families felt secure. Eisenhower was a World War II hero who served as a "father figure" to much of the nation's electorate. The family structure seemed more solid and uniform. Dad would come home after a day at work and watch television with the family viewing the Huntley-Brinkley Report, Playhouse 90, The Untouchables, My Three Sons, and the Twilight Zone. Through the medium of television, families also experienced the tensions and instability of life here and abroad. They could see instantly, or in a few hours, events which were happening in this country and the rest of the world. The availability and immediacy of information accelerated at a rapid pace, and more people were becoming aware of national and international events. As the decade progressed, televising of the events like the civil rights activities at home and the Vietnam War abroad would affect the lives of many Americans. Families watched the Nixon-Kennedy debates, saw Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev address the United Nations, watched President Eisenhower as he toured in South America and the Far East. The United States sent a satellite, Pioneer V, into space to orbit around the sun.

The world was changing and the tensions from controversial topics were beginning to bubble over. World hot spots included the islands of Quemoy and Matsu off the coast of mainland China, Cuba, Algeria, the Congo, Vietnam, Laos, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and the shooting down of an American U-2 plane over the Soviet Union. China and the Soviet Union disagreed over their interpretations of Communism, and the Chinese established the National Liberation Front in Vietnam.

In race relations in the United States, challenges to the old racist social structure began in earnest in the mid-1950s. By early 1960 in the South, the first sit-in took place at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina as African-Americans continued to protest segregation. The sit-ins prevailed and President Eisenhower suggested that every Southern community hold bi-racial conferences to ease tensions. The Freedom Rides to the South began in May, 1961. San Francisco State students, among others, were involved. Their student letters, and later, articles about the experiences were published in the Gater. In June, President Kennedy met Soviet Premier Krushchev in Vienna. In 1962, Cesar Chavez began organizing the farm workers of California into what would become the United Farm Workers. In the Fall of 1962, riots occurred at the University of Mississippi when James Meredith, an African-American student, enrolled. Martin Luther King, Jr. Made his "I have a dream" speech at the August 28, 1963 March on Washington, where over 200,000 people marched in support of civil rights.

By May 13, 1960, the city of San Francisco would find itself experiencing the first in a long series of civic disorders involving students. Many were from San Francisco State College. In May, the U.S. House of Representative Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was in the middle of a series of hearings at San Francisco's City Hall concerning Communism and subversive activities. Students from San Francisco State, the University of California at Berkeley, and several high schools protested at the hearings. During this demonstration, fire hoses were turned on the students who were hosed down the inner steps of City Hall. Some were beaten and dragged off to police vehicles to be taken to jail. These police actions galvanized the local student community and led to the ultimate demise of this powerful, national committee. Students were beginning to learn their activities could directly effect governmental and political power. That same month, San Francisco State students, and others, protested the execution of Caryl Chessman, an alleged killer-rapist who had been on San Quentin's Death Row for eleven years. Although Chessman was executed students were actively involved in the protests against the death penalty, and were not about to stop their political activities. Students were also learning a popular phrase of the 1960s: "Question authority!"

During 1961-1962, international activities continued to occur in rapid sequence. In 1961, the Soviets sent into space the first man to orbit the earth. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, and anti-Castro Cubans invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The East Germans built the Berlin Wall. John Kennedy sent special military advisers to Vietnam to help the government of President Ngo Dinh Diem. United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold was killed in a plane crash and was replaced by U Thant of Burma. In 1962, the United States sent our first man into space, Colonel John Glenn. The Algerian crisis was partially resolved through French accession to independence for Algeria. In Fall, 1962, Americans thought that nuclear war was imminent with the discovery of Soviet missile bases in Cuba. The United States blockaded Cuba until the Soviets backed down. At the beginning of November, 1963, South Vietnam's Premier Diem was assassinated. Several weeks later, America's President John F. Kennedy was also assassinated. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became the new President. By 1964, the United States was heavily involved in escalating the war in Vietnam, a war in which thousands of Americans and Vietnamese lost their lives. The Vietnam War would cost President Johnson his chance to be a two-term president.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, during late 1963 and early 1964, local residents, including high school and college students, picketed and demonstrated against discriminatory hiring practices at local grocery stores, hotels, and at the automobile showrooms on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. By 1963, there was an annual Human Rights March up Market Street. At this time, open campus political activity was forbidden both at the University of California, Berkeley and at San Francisco State. On both campuses, students would begin to challenge the philosophy and dictum that they were not permitted to bring their involvement in current political activity on campus. Student frustration with this prohibition would lead to the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, and the creation of the Speakers Platform at San Francisco State. Students here wanted an outdoor area on campus where they could speak freely about issues which interested them. SCOPE (Student Council on Political Education) pressed for such a facility, and was joined by other organizations on campus. A wooden speaker's platform was created in the little triangle of grass directly to the northeast of the present Student Union Building, and in 1963 formally "dedicated to unrestricted freedom of expression." The Speakers Platform, the first of its kind on a college campus, was to be a central location for strike activities.

Major national and international events would continue to influence student and faculty actions at San Francisco State in the years leading up to the strike. With the escalation of the Vietnam War, students protested against the draft, against the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), and against military recruitment on campuses. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, yet three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi. In 1965, the U. S. bombed North Vietnam, and civil rights advocates marched from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem, and there were riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

In 1966, the bombing increased in Vietnam, and racial unrest continued at home, with riots in Watts in the Spring and riots in San Francisco in September. African-American student Sammy Younge, Jr. was killed, which catalyzed protests at Tuskegee Institute.

By 1967, San Francisco State students and faculty were discussing many of these issues at the April Student-Faculty Conference. They discussed the draft, the Vietnam War, the Black Students Union, student power, student-faculty relations and other activist topics. At this time, the Black Panther Party was formed in Oakland. Members of that organization would play an integral part in the strike. Israel and Arab countries fought the Six Day War in June, with Israel occupying the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the east bank of the Suez Canal. Summer 1967 was referred to as the long, hot summer, with racial explosions in Detroit, New York City's Spanish Harlem, Rochester, New York, Birmingham, Alabama, and New Britain, Connecticut. In San Francisco it was the "Summer of Love," as thousands of young people converged on the city. Hippies and the drug culture became a focus for national attention. In the fall, the San Francisco State community focused their attention internationally during the November 16 War Crisis Debates, and questioned how to respond to the "moral crisis" of the Vietnam War. Also in November, African-American students at San Francisco State invaded the Gater office. This action would later be called "the Gater incident," in which BSU members protested what they felt was an unfair editorial bias by the Gater staff against their activities and because they felt the paper conveyed a racist tone in general.

1968 was the year which changed the world and pointed us in the direction we face today. North Korea seized the U.S. Navy ship, the Pueblo. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and reaction was both sad and fierce. Students rioted in Paris and Mexico City, as well as at Columbia University. In the summer, Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviet Union. Violence attended the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. There were anti-war and anti-Vietnam protests nationally. And the Vietnam War continued. There was a draft resistance protest at San Francisco's Federal Building the same day of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. African-American athletes participating in the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City were suspended and sent home for giving the black power salute.

The diversity of national and international political and social events would also manifest itself on the San Francisco State campus and would heighten student and faculty awareness and activism. The variety of events included the following:

In January of 1968, a list of local San Francisco Draft Board members was published in the campus' literary newspaper, Open Process. Anti-draft and anti-war sentiment welled up on campus, especially alongside the presence of military recruiters.

In May, students protested ROTC on campus; also during May, Professor Juan Martinez brought approximately 200 Mission High School students to campus to fill out applications for admission in support of a more open enrollment policy.

In Spring 1968, San Francisco State released a racial, demographic survey of its student body, the only such survey done by a school in the Bay Area. (Federal officials would not re-require such information until the early 1970s.)

Liberal and radical groups had been active on campus since 1966. The SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and the Progressive Labor Party were the most vocal during the earlier campus demonstrations. In October 1968, they planned for an SDS-worker alliance. In the same month, the escalation of the student strike activities planned by the BSU, the Third World Liberation Front, and the Strike Committee would soon engulf the SDS and PLP's visibility. However, the SDS/ PLP-worker alliance remained active throughout the Student/ Faculty Strike of 1968 and 1969.

The conflicts of the 1960s, caused by a dizzying array of local, national, and world events, were mirrored in the activities of students and faculty on the San Francisco State College campus. On the one hand, there were the activist members of various groups on campus, i.e., those students, faculty, staff, and administrators supporting a variety of different social causes. They were pressing for change. These individuals also felt there could be no real education without change. And some individuals wanted daily campus activities, such as teaching, to stop until changes were implemented. On the other hand, there were those students, faculty, staff, and administrators, who had a different perspective. These individuals wanted to keep the college open in support of the normal educational process. Students in particular wished to focus on their present education and course work. They were here for the education the institution had promised them and they felt that San Francisco State had no business in short changing them.

For five months, members of the campus community fought for the ideas in which they believed. Whether anyone won or lost depends on your point of view. At least, members of the San Francisco State College community had the opportunity to express their opinions and to take the action to implement their beliefs.

SF State Home
J. Paul Leonard Library, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132 - 415.338.1854 - libweb@sfsu.edu
JPLL uses valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional, and valid CSS.