I was a freshman at Howard University when 1,200 of us entered the Administration building on March 20, 1968, sitting-in in protest over the threatened expulsion of 38 of our classmates who had been accused of disrupting Charter Day.
Four days later we marched back out, having shut down the University and having saved those students from expulsion, successful in having prevailed in all our demands save one: the removal of President James M. Nabrit, which would come to pass two years later when Dr. James Cheek took office.
While we were the first United States university closed down by student activism, Columbia University (which had supported our efforts) followed our protest with one of their own and because of better media coverage is generally assumed to have been first. I am happy to set the record straight.
Among the protest leaders, Michael Harris, the Freshmen class president would later become a lawyer in the Howard University Office of General Counsel. Howard University Student Association (H.U.S.A) president Ewart Brown, M.D. is currently Premier of Bermuda, and Tony Gittens, Ph.D. is executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
For further information, reference the 1968 NET (Public Television) documentary on the protest “Color Us Black.”
Also read Tom Myles’ 1969 book “Centennial Plus 1: A Photographic and Narrative Account of the Black Student Revolution: Howard University 1965-1968.”