Cornell '69, 40 Years Later

I was a senior government major at Cornell University in the spring of 1969, when the campus was in turmoil after an armed takeover of the student union building by eighty members of the campus's Afro-American society.

I would like this site to be a discussion forum for participants and observers of those events--a retrospective after 40+ years.

To contribute your thoughts and reflections, click on the "Comment" tab at the end of the "Remembering 1969" post or any of the other posts.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Plus ça change: Black Students Occupy Willard Straight Hall

In an eerie replay of events from 1969, several hundred black students occupied the Cornell student union building this week to protest racism and recent racist incidents on campus.  Since I had seen the original events, a reporter from the Cornell Daily Sun called me to get my reaction to the current occupation.  In the story (see link below) in the Sun, I was quoted as follows:

Almost 50 years after that incident, we’re still plagued with the same problems: This issue of racism, more generally, but also specific cases of racist actions on campus.

Black Cornell Students Occupy Willard Straight Hall

Friday, July 17, 2015

Frank Borman, Carl Sagan and SDS at Cornell 1969. Information request.

I received the following interesting query from researcher Alan Andres regarding the visit of astronaut Frank Borman to Cornell's campus in the spring of 1969.  If you have any leads on this, please contact him, or leave a message here.

I am trying to research a visit to Cornell in the spring of 1969 by astronaut Frank Borman and his wife Susan. This followed shortly after the flight of Apollo 8, but I'm not certain of the date and whether it happened before or after the Willard Straight Hall incident. Borman conducted a series of visits to university campuses that spring including Notre Dame and Columbia, and encountered protests and unrest at a number of them. While at Cornell Borman was hosted at the home of Carl Sagan where he was confronted by members of the SDS who asked Borman about war crimes in Vietnam, a subject Borman said he felt unable to address in his capacity as an Air Force Colonel in NASA's astronaut office. His account of the Cornell incident appears on pages 235-236 of his 1988 autobiography Countdown. There is no mention of his visit in the Cornell Daily Sun that I can find. In the book, Borman mentions that Sagan was an advisor to the SDS, however this is not something that I can find documented elsewhere. Can anyone shed light on this incident, and ideally, does anyone have images from Borman's Cornell visit?

You can contact Alan Andres at 'alan' to be found at ''

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"People Were Ready to Die That Day"

Dale Corson, the Cornell official who helped quell the 1969 protest, and then was named president of the university, died in April, at the age of 97. In the obituary appearing in the New York Times on April 6, Homer Meade, one of the occupiers of Willard Straight Hall, said Dr. Corson had an acute understanding of "how close we were to a Kent State." "He knew a lot of us in that building, and he understood that people were ready to die that day," said Meade.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lost and Found: '69 Class Ring with "LH" Initials

Are you missing a '69 Cornell class ring with the initials "LH" inside? Or do you know a '69 grad with those initials? If so, see the note below, which I received from Liz Tower, who had seen this blog.

I am writing with an unusual situation. Approximately two years ago, my husband unearthed a 1969 Cornell University class ring while doing a construction job in Buffalo, NY at JFK High School Football field. At that time, I called the University to try and find it's owner and received little assistance. It's been in the bottom of a drawer until I ran across it again recently which is why I am writing to you.

It is a man's ring with the initials (LH) on the inside and a 4-digit number. It is a goldish color with a garnet colored stone. Is there any way you could assist me in getting this to the correct person? If so, I would appreciate it.

If the ring is yours, if you have any clue to whom it belongs, you could contact me (Dave) through this blog, or directly contact Liz at

Friday, October 15, 2010

Alison Lurie's "The War Between the Tates"

Alison Lurie's 1974 campus novel, The War Between the Tates, is a roman a clef partly inspired by the 1969 events at Cornell, and set in "Corinth University" which seems mighty like Cornell.

I had not read this novel before, and did not know of the Cornell connection, until a reader of this blog asked if I knew of a novel depicting the 1969 events at Cornell. I asked around, found, and read The War Between the Tates. It is not really about the '69 events, but takes place about that time, and features a women's liberation group occupation of a conservative faculty member's office. The main characters in the story are a philandering government professor (Brian Tate) and his wife (and their children, who they do not like!) so the novel is more about generational and gender conflicts, and about marriage and infidelity, than about race.

The Pulitzer Prize winning author, Alison Lurie, was an adjunct professor in the English Department at Cornell in 1969. She later received tenure there, and is now an emerita professor.

I have heard suggestions that the character of Brian Tate was thinly based on a real Cornell professor, though Lurie herself later said that the characters in the novel were composites, based on various people she knew at three different universities.
Another character in the novel, the conservative and sexist Professor Dibble, has also been compared to Cornell's flamboyant and outspoken government professor Allan Bloom. (Bloom was, in reality, much involved in the 1969 events at Cornell. And despite his political leanings, his introductory course on political philosophy, which I took as a freshman at Cornell, was one of the things that turned me on to government and politics).

The novel is an absorbing and entertaining read. And while it won't tell you much about the realities of Cornell in the 1960s, it is fun to immerse yourself in a fictional world constructed around a place and time that you actually experienced.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homer "Skip" Meade, Before and After Cornell

Homer "Skip" Meade was one of the students who occupied the Straight in 1969, and appears in some of the dramatic photos of the group exiting the building, including the cover of Newsweek.

Sharon Matchett, who knew Homer in elementary school in New Jersey, offers her fond memories of him from those days in a "comment" buried deep in this blog, so I thought I should bring it closer to the fore! You can link to it here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don Downs Reflects on 1969

Donald Downs, author of Cornell '69 reflects on 1969, and on his own book (published in 1999), in response to David Halperin's essay here on "Remembering the Straight--Without Pleasure, Without Pride."

[The following is Don Down's email to me, posted here with his permission]

Halperin's piece is very interesting, indeed, and I shared many of his thoughts and feelings at the time and now. When I wrote my book, I had to maintain the perspective of a researcher, not letting my own feelings and thoughts take over the narrative (though they did serve as data to some extent). Of course, as my book proceeded, it did take a narrative turn that ended up siding with Sindler, Berns, LaFeber, Kagan, and that camp. But it would have been interesting to have been able to be more personal, as Halperin was able to be.

Since writing the book, I have more sympathy for faculty's reversal, if only because it very possibly prevented a disaster from befalling Cornell. But then members of the faculty should have committed their own political act by doing something dramatic to show how angry they were about the necessity that confronted them, and how Cornell had sacrificed something that matters. (They could have submitted a collective resignation, or, short of that, a collective sit-in, or strike, or something similar.) As it was, a few resigned, while most limped back to their homes and their scholarly commitments. The lack of a political response meant that the trauma and recrimination would linger longer that otherwise would have been the case, for I believe that many would have regained a measure of honor that was sorely needed. I wish I had had this thought in writing Cornell `69, as it would have made for a more powerful ending. But, as you know, thoughts come when they will.

Regardless, I thank Halperin for his penetrating insight into the crisis, and his own reaction.