Protests Occupy Boston's History

With all of the protests that have been occurring lately, especially Occupy Boston happening right here in our city, I have been thinking a lot about protest efforts through America’s history. In both the WHDH scans from the Boston Public Library and the WCVB scans from Northeast Historic Film, there are hundreds of news stories reporting on the protests occurring in Boston and the surrounding areas. This hardly comes as a surprise considering just how many colleges and universities there are here and that these news stories are from the 60s and the 70s. To help us better contextualize protests happening now, and maybe to allow us to see them from a new perspective, here are some examples of protests from over 30 years ago.

In spring 1967, mothers on welfare in Roxbury stage many sit-ins protesting that welfare money wasn’t going where it was supposed to.  On Friday June 2, the group of protesters, Mothers for Adequate Welfare, gathered in the local welfare office. Demonstrations had been peaceful up until this point; however, when the mothers were once again asked to leave the premises without having their demands considered or even being seen by the welfare director, the refused to cooperate and chained the doors shut with bike chains. Police came and entered the building through windows, while a large crowd gathered outside.  The welfare director finally showed up when he heard the welfare workers were trapped inside; however he refused to speak with the protesters. When the police began forcibly removing protestors and allegedly beating them, the crowd outside rushed the police, resulting in on again/ off again burst of violence against police lasting the entire night. By morning, there were over 100 officers trying to keep control of the situation. The surrounding streets were torn apart, resulting in an estimated $500,000 worth of damages to store fronts, apartments, and other buildings, two of which burned down.  The violence continued throughout the weekend.

For the entirety of the Vietnam War, many Harvard students banded together to protest against the draft and for peace. These tensions built up to the student occupation of University Hall, led by SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in April 1969.  This particular event is remembered as an attempt of the students to “dissociate themselves from national policy” because Harvard would not, keeping its contracts with the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC).  With between 200 and 400 students participating, the event caught a lot of attention from faculty and the administration.  A study done by the school later found that the average participant was “a white-junior living off campus, concentrating in English or Social Relations and coming from the Eastern United States, an alumnus of a private school not holding a scholarship at Harvard.” For more statistics check out: The protest ended with 138 students being disciplined; however, it certainly made its point. An anniversary article published in the Harvard Crimson 15 years later, quotes faculty and administrators saying that the protest changed the way the school operates, adding more Vice Presidents to look into student issues, and holding the administration accountable in news ways.

The UMass Amherst campus had been coeducational for many years, graduating its first female students in 1905 and building its first female dormitory in 1920. However, in early May 1978, fifty women stage a sit in in the UMass Amherst newspaper (The Massachusetts Daily Collegian) offices, infiltrating the building at 2 a.m. Their demands: more coverage of women’s issues. The editor of the paper argued against their claims, saying that news should be “integrated not segregated.” During this sit in, the paper continued to operate from a different location. The University declined to get involved as the paper is student run and funded.

In searching for information about these news stories, I stumbled on this article that looks even further back into history to examine protests from all the way before World War I. Check it out here.

Do you have any comments on the recent protests and how they fit into history of the Boston/Massachusetts area? Do you remember any protests from the 60s and 70s? Did you participate in any?