Forty years after 18 African-American students occupied Lorimer Chapel with a list of demands, about 75 current students turned out to hear a visiting historian say, “They left a legacy that can never be erased from Colby College.”
In the Pugh Center Nov. 17, Ibram H. Rogers, assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY-Oneonta, gave a lecture titled Activism at Colby: Colby College and the Black Campus Movement, 1965-1972.
Rogers talked about the weeklong chapel takeover during March 1970 in the context of a national black campus movement that swept American colleges and universities as activists occupied buildings to demand changes.
He described Charles Terrell ’70, a leader of the chapel group (and today a Colby trustee), warming “with his fiery rhetoric” a demonstration by supportive students on a snowy day. He quoted a letter from occupying students to the administration saying, “The matter of illegal trespass in the chapel is pitifully irrelevant when compared to the matter of man’s illegal trespass against human dignity.”
As the days wore on, it became clear that, as at other protests around the country, so at Colby: “Administrators and black students were not speaking the same language,” Rogers said. A week into the protest, a sheriff’s deputy delivered a restraining order and students left the chapel vowing the fight was not over.
While the occupying students did not get satisfaction, Rogers said, “We all are a legacy of the black campus movement and those seventeen brave, determined, and fearless black students who put their college experience on the line.”
Responding to a student’s question, he said: “Activism is usually initiated by a student. A student deciding, like a Charles Terrell, deciding ‘I’m not going to let the status quo persist,’ and then beginning to encourage his peers, his friends, that they shouldn’t allow this to happen. And then one becomes three and three becomes five.”
“They made a mark,” he concluded, “and I’m hoping that you make whatever mark you’re supposed to make.”