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Stanford Stories From the Archives

1960s

The 1960s unleashed a series of social and political movements that engulfed both the nation and the campus for more than a decade.

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Stanford in 1964—the first of two visits to campus. Inspired by Dr. King and civil rights groups, eight students spent ten weeks during the summer of 1965 in the South tape-recording interviews with civil rights groups and leaders.

On April 8, 1968, in response to the assassination of Dr. King, members of the Black Student Union (BSU) interrupted a speech by Provost Richard Lyman, demanding the university develop new policies and programs to increase the enrollment and support structure for African-American students, recruit African-American faculty and staff, develop a more inclusive curriculum, and extend outreach to poor communities.

Opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in the mid-1960s. To oppose complicity with the Selective Service exam, students staged a sit-in of the President’s Office May 19-21, 1966. Protests escalated through 1968, targeting war-related research at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and CIA recruiting on campus. A sit-in at the Old Union (May 6-8) protested student suspensions. Some students turned to violence, destroying the ROTC building (May 7) and President Sterling’s office (July 5). In 1969, protesters closed the Applied Electronics Lab, occupied Encina Hall, and blocked traffic to SRI, where they were dispersed by tear gas. On October 15, in the largest political gathering in the university’s history, more than 8,000 people took part in the Vietnam Moratorium calling for an immediate end to the war.

In 1965, the Stanford Sexual Rights Forum registered as a voluntary student organization, creating one of the first student groups nationally advocating for civil rights for homosexuals. Members also sought changes in campus regulations limiting visitation between students in dorms, and lobbied for access to contraceptives.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. visits Stanford, April 23, 1964

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke twice at Stanford – first in 1964 (seen here), and again in 1967. During his first visit, King asked an overflow crowd at Memorial Auditorium for help: "in the Mississippi power structure, justice has no meaning .... Civil rights issues cannot be resolved from within the state; help must come from the outside."

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Project South students at March to Selma, March 25, 1965

Seen here during during a visit to the South during the spring, a group of Stanford students spent the summer of 1965 interviewing civil rights workers and groups. The recordings document a transitional period between the “freedom summer” of 1964, the high tide of civil rights, and the Meredith March of 1966, during which Stokely Carmichael first voiced the compelling cry of “Black Power.”

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James K. Sayre, Stanford Sexual Rights Forum letter to Stanford News Service director Bob Beyers, March 22, 1966

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Stanford Committee for Peace in Vietnam Yankee Come Home button, circa 1966

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The Draft, You and Stanford, May 19, 1966

Listen:

David Harris on the draft (1980)

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Student body president David Harris enters President Sterling’s office during a sit-in protesting Selective Service testing, May 20, 1966

What started as a protest against university involvement in Selective Service testing that might affect student draft deferments broadened into a challenge to faculty and administrative decision-making. Fifteen students began a three-day occupation of the reception area in the President's Office. Thirty-six students later were charged with violating the Fundamental Standard and placed on probation for a year.

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Ken Washington outside President’s Office sit-in protesting Selective Service testing, May 20, 1966

Washington (’68) was invited in 1965 to pledge Sigma Chi, a national fraternity founded in 1855 that had never had a black member. The move ignited a confrontation between the Stanford chapter and its parent, making national headlines and thrusting Washington into the role of pathbreaker.

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Michael Novak, statement in support of students occupying the Old Union to protest CIA recruiting on campus, 1968

Catholic theologian Michael Novak was professor of religious studies at Stanford from 1965-1968. In 1967 he co-authored Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience, a major text of the anti-war movement, with Robert McAfee Brown and Abraham Heshel.

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Members of the Black Student Union take the stage and microphone following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 8, 1968

During a speech on Stanford's response to racism, then-Provost Richard Lyman was interrupted by 70 members of the Black Student Union, who demanded that the university alter its policies.

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Black Student Union Ten Demands, 1968

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April 3rd Movement Act for our Demands boycott poster, 1969

On April 3, 1969, the April Third Movement (A3M) was born. The group’s goal was to bring an end to classified research and war-related research on campus and to stop chemical-biological warfare and counterinsurgency studies at Stanford Research Institute (SRI).

Listen:

April 3rd Movement meeting, 1969-04-29

April 3rd Movement meeting, 1969-05-01

April 3rd Movement meeting, Tresidder Union (includes Bruce Franklin), 1969-05-21