In the spring of ’69, I woke in my dorm room to pounding on doors, loud voices in the hallway.
“Get up! We’re under attack.”
My clock read 3:00 in the morning. I moved to the door and listened. My roommate remained motionless beneath his blanket. When the commotion in the hall continued, I opened the door a crack.
Someone shouted, “The Negroes are rioting! C’mon.”
I pulled on my jeans and stepped, barefoot and unsure, into the hallway, then followed others through a door, where we joined about twenty guys—one, at least, still in his underwear--gaping through the huge stairwell windows. One guy held a stick, a couple carried fraternity paddles, another had what I’m guessing was a crankshaft, the same guy, as it turned out, in his underwear.
We pressed close to the windows, looking down to the parking lot, where sixty or so Negroes yelled in an unorganized way.
“Whatta hell, man?” someone in our group said for all of us.
Suddenly the Negroes charged the dorm, attacking with what they had, voices and rocks. We scampered back to the doorway, all of us trying to fit through at once.
No rocks hit our windows, and the assault ended, so we crept back out.
Some guy down our hallway threw a lit pack of firecrackers out his window. When that fixed nothing, he fired Roman candles. Amid the confusion, a rumor came of a guy up on the roof with a bow and arrow.
The initial fear wore away. Revolt was common in ‘69; Wrencher was joining the crowd. We watched quietly.
Wrencher’s Negro count was a few hundred students out of eight thousand, all living in a lily-white city. I didn’t imagine they had much of a voice.
Again the Negroes charged the dorm, hurling rocks. Again we funneled back through the doorway and returned to the windows when the attack tapered off.
Then, the mob smashed a car window, then another.
Several guys cried, “Leave the cars alone, you bastards!” in various colorful versions.
The mob formed a semicircle around a car. They flipped in onto its roof. Then another.
One of the guys in our group watched in horror as the mob battered his car and rolled it over.
“God damn you fu__Nig__,” he shouted, going on and on until his round face became so red I worried his head would pop.
Some guys nodded and stuff as he spoke, but the main effect was to make everyone feel awkward. No one spoke against him.
State cops arrived with black helmets, clubs, and, we were betting, a bad attitude. They formed a straight line and swept the battlefield clear of combatants, without further violence. Problem solved. It wasn’t long before they packed up their tangible arsenal of order and left.
Campus the next day was normal, exactly as if nothing had happened. But it had happened, and nothing was the same. A year ago this wouldn’t have made sense to me. It didn’t matter, for now, anyway, that the protesters hadn’t changed much on campus. They were changed, and, what’s more, they’d shown that to the world.
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