Recognition: The Marshall University Students for a Democratic
Society and the Red Scare in Huntington, 1965-1969
By By John Hennen
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) helped many American students build a political response to their sense of cultural alienation during the 1960s. SDS, the most visible New Left organization emerging from a disaffected white middle-class, mobilized students early mobilization against America's war in Vietnam. Built on the ideal of participatory democracy, SDS educated its supporters in protest tactics and nurtured a radical analysis of liberal capitalism. Organized as the student arm of the League for Industrial Democracy, SDS grew into a decentralized national network. SDS advocated the American university as the center of the movement for the transfer of social power from institutions to individuals and communities. From the pronouncement of its principles in the 1962 Port Huron Statement to its internecine disintegration in the early 1970s, SDS was the most vocal and influential student mass movement in the country.1
In September 1965, Marshall University junior Al Miller announced in The Parthenon, the school newspaper, that SDS would organize a chapter on the Huntington campus. Miller declared his intention to petition the Student Activities Board to recognize SDS as an official student organization. Dean of Student Affairs John Shay noted that SDS's system of rotational rather than permanent officers failed to comply with the technical requirements for student organizations.2
The possibility of an SDS chapter on the Marshall campus in 1965 stirred little reaction among the student body, although some raised objections, especially in the Student Senate. Student Senator Greg Terry, president of the freshman class, introduced a resolution recommending that the Student Activities Board never recognize SDS. This resolution marked the genesis of Terry's long personal opposition to recognition for SDS. Senator Samchai Sutikaphanit, a Thai student, supported Terry's resolution, warning that the Marshall SDS would soon be controlled by communists who would twist the minds of students, a position endorsed by many of the student legislators. Huntington senior Richard Diehl, speaking for SDS, reported that the organization would conform to all university rules and requirements that "did not infringe on basic democratic principles." Some senators interpreted Diehl's position as a semantic smokescreen, an artful signal that SDS actually believed itself beyond the reach of campus authorities. Diehl was skeptical of the charge of communists in the SDS, and said the local chapter was at any rate independent of the national body. Unimpressed, the Senate overwhelmingly passed Terry's resolution.3
Student sentiment at Marshall University, like that at most American colleges in the early 1960s, was influenced by the liberal consensus that America was a just society with an appropriate social and political structure to remedy internal problems. The foreign policy component of that consensus reflected the idealistic sense of American destiny that had accompanied the 1961-63 administration of John F. Kennedy, a culture exalting American capitalism and democracy as the international guardian against communist totalitarianism. Early protests against President Lyndon Johnson's policy of military escalation in Vietnam were therefore small and infrequent. When Judy Petit was elected Marshall Homecoming Queen in November 1965, a referendum attached to the ballot supported United States intervention in Vietnam by a count of 1,352-187. Antiwar expressions were generally scorned by the student body, with some like Greg Terry comparing them to giving aid and comfort to the communist Vietcong guerilla movement and the North Vietnamese Army. Student Senator Dale Louther labeled antiwar protesters as "asinine and ridiculous," and declared average citizens did not have access to sufficient information to decide "right or wrong in Vietnam." He further stated that "anyone caught in this type of protest should be placed in the armed forces." As for SDS, Louther was confident that Marshall students had better sense than to tolerate such a collection of malcontents on campus.4
Louther's sentiments about inducting protesters were not uncommon. In fact, Jeanine Caywood Woodruff, who in 1965 married Marshall activist Danie Stewart, believed Stewart's draft into the Marines in 1966 was attributable to his political activity.5 Stewart, active in the civil rights movement at Marshall with the Civic Interest Progressives prior to entering the Marines, participated in the failed 1965 effort with Al Miller to form an SDS chapter. Upon his return to Huntington after two years at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Stewart again joined forces with Marshall activists to organize SDS on campus.6
The founding of the Marshall chapter on October 31, 1968, and the ensuing struggle over the group's official recognition, highlighted the troubled presidency of Dr. Roland Nelson and challenged Marshall's traditional relationship with the Huntington community. During this struggle, SDS and Dr. Nelson faced a red-baiting campaign led by a coalition of traditionalist ministers and their supporters. The SDS controversy was paired with the scheduled appearance of Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker during Marshall's spring 1969 IMPACT week. The "reds on campus" debate fragmented the community's apparently benign town-gown partnership and helped undermine the Nelson administration.7
SDS at Marshall planned educational forums and demonstrations to "change a few local attitudes," guided by the principles of empowerment and participatory democracy outlined in the national organization's Port Huron Statement. The Marshall group described itself as
. . . an association of young people on the left, [that] seeks to create a sustained community of educational and political concern; one bringing together liberals and radicals, activists and scholars, students and faculty. It maintains a vision of a democratic society, where at all levels the people have control of the decisions which affect them and the resources on which they are dependent. It seeks a relevance through the continual focus on realities and the programs necessary to effect change at the most basic levels of economic, political, and social organization. It feels the urgency to put forth a radical, democratic program counterposed to authoritarian movements both of Communism and the domestic Right.8
President Roland Nelson, expressing his concerns about SDS based on the reputation of the national organization for disruptive direct action, nevertheless declared his intention to keep an "open mind" and to "listen to any arguments" for the Marshall chapter's positive goals. Nelson addressed the conflict between suspicions of SDS tactics and the imperatives of free speech, a conflict that soon intruded on his administration. His concern was that some national SDS leaders had "been affiliated with some very serious outbursts on campuses throughout the country." Nelson affirmed, however, "we should give fair and objective attention to their request [for recognition] and not be stampeded by the name SDS."9
Active opposition to SDS at Marshall was not broadly based, although there were incidents of harassing telephone calls and verbal abuse to the small activist movement. Keith Peters, a history graduate assistant when SDS organized at Marshall, believed the group was generally accepted by the student body within the context of "a questioning time" nationally. Peters concluded most students did not necessarily endorse SDS or react demonstratively to its presence on the campus. He found "hard core" of politically active people on the left and right at Marshall, with the average student, the majority, having little interest in the brewing controversy over recognition of SDS. "The real outcry seemed to me to come from people in the city."10
Korean War veteran Bob Cassell, a Marshall student in 1968-69, recounted a more universal, though pervasive, reaction to SDS by the students. Cassell believed political and social radicalism at Marshall was rejected by most students because it represented too great a departure from the functional role of education. The "vast majority" opposed the SDS critique of the war in Vietnam and shunned those who and dramatized the antiwar position. Marshall students had internalized a "family line" that told them "you go to school, you keep your nose clean, you get an education, you do better than your parents did." The broader view of the university as an agent for social change, even social revolution, promoted by SDS and others of the "radical element," contended Cassell, "intruded on education as understood by the students at that time."11
Charleston native Tom Woodruff enrolled at Marshall in the fall 1968 term after two years at Wake Forest University. Woodruff had not been active politically at Wake Forest but became involved in antiwar work at Marshall as one of the most active members of SDS. Woodruff concurred with Cassell's interpretation of student attitudes when he arrived at Marshall, but observed a drastic turnaround in student perceptions, fueled by the SDS recognition controversy in early 1969. The national traumas of 1968 -- including the massive Tet offensive by Vietnamese communist forces, which destroyed the credibility of the Johnson administration; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; violent unrest in major cities; the police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; the polarization of the successful presidential campaign of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew -- had burned themselves into the consciousness of students at Marshall, leading to a dramatic escalation of campus antiwar sentiment and protest.
Locally, according to Woodruff, the cultural challenges unleashed by such events surfaced during the SDS campaign in the spring 1969. An "amazing change" occurred at Marshall within a few months, generated by what many students saw as an assault on their basic rights by a cabal of community activists alarmed by the threats to traditional order and stability on American campuses. The off-campus efforts to banish SDS, said Woodruff, produced a "cultural shift," actually mobilizing student support for official recognition of the organization. "To us, the recognition was just a free speech issue. The opposition on the campus was early, and I think once the community got involved, it actually solidified the campus around a pro-recognition policy." Woodruff described the non-student opposition to recognition of SDS, led by a "small right wing group" as "ridiculous . . . that's not to say they couldn't generate and didn't generate a wild scare."12
Although he realized campus sentiment was shifting toward support for SDS recognition, in part a response to the alarmist nature of the off-campus resistance to the organization, student leader Greg Terry held firm that the Nelson administration should not recognize SDS at Marshall. Terry's opposition now lay more in his suspicions of SDS tactics than the group's philosophy of social revolution. Reflecting on the recognition controversy, he contended his willingness to endorse SDS in 1969 if the local organization would "renounce, publicly and on the record . . . utilizing any force or violence as a means for change. But they were unwilling to do it."13
Terry introduced a resolution at a January 14 Student Senate meeting requesting that the Student Conduct and Welfare Committee (formerly the Student Activities Board) resist campus recognition for SDS, declaring it would not be "for the welfare of the students." SDS representative Dave Kasper sought to mitigate the fears of Terry and others, arguing the local chapter would function independently of the national leadership and the violence associated with some SDS factions across the country. The SDS network, Kasper said, was unified not on tactics but on the common goal of determining "the legitimate pursuits of a university," suggesting that part of the Marshall chapter's role was "to seek answers, to seek truths." Terry was unappeased. "I would not object to this group of students under any other name," he said, "but the national organization's anarchic tendencies make me oppose it here."14
Terry, believing official recognition of SDS was certain, introduced his resolution as a forum for his personal objections and to compel the Student Senate to establish a position. The resolution received an unexpected boost when a demonstrative SDS supporter approached shouted at Terry during the debate. Sergeant-at-Arms Richie Robb forcibly restrained the demonstrator, much to the chagrin of other SDS members and their supporters at the meeting. While the Senate passed the resolution passed 14-13 after this incident, Terry believed a campuswide referendum would have resulted in recognition of SDS. Terry was somewhat uncomfortable in his role as student government leader of the opposition to SDS. It cast him by association with the rhetorical and ideological excesses of the off-campus citizens' group that had emerged to combat SDS at Marshall, led by fundamentalist ministers Reverend Paul Warren, Reverend Dewey Parr and Mrs. E. Wyatt Payne, a civic leader who for decades had been Huntington's most prominent anticommunist.15
The local coalition formed in response to campus unrest, the black power movement, the antiwar movement and the fragmentation of the national SDS into militant splinter groups. Payne and the others used the SDS issue and the scheduled appearance of Herbert Aptheker at Marshall to rally their supporters to the dangers of subversive currents undermining the traditional administration/student patriarchy on the campus.16 Their campaign began during the 1968-69 semester break with articles in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch and the Huntington Advertiser, featuring the emerging "reds on campus" crisis almost daily. According to Jeanine Woodruff and Keith Peters, the local press sensationalized the inflammatory anti-SDS charges and exploited the serious concerns of many moderate citizens by portraying the Marshall SDS as "very radical." Students returned from the Christmas holidays to a campus and community more sensitized to the explosive political and cultural conflicts that divided the nation in the Vietnam era. Some observers believed the local SDS issue was deliberately tied by the Huntington media to the "hysteria around what SDS nationally was doing on campus; the local media picked up on that image, and it was reinforced." Critics implied the newspapers manipulated the SDS controversy to dramatize the emerging town-gown conflict. "The local paper played this up very greatly," remembered Keith Peters. "They wanted desperately to see the reflection of what was going on nationally in Huntington. And as a consequence, they did."17
The editorial staff of the Parthenon consistently defended the organization's right to exist and checked any impulse to sensationalize the SDS. Editor Nancy Smithson, pronouncing Greg Terry's resolution and the Senate vote a "fiasco," outlined the paper's stance in a series of columns. She wrote that SDS spokesperson Dave Kasper "turned out to be the most sane figure at the [Student Senate] trial. Terry spent his time feeding the group emotional `scare' propaganda about SDS activities on three other campuses while admitting that the local chapter showed none of these tendencies."18 Smithson pointed out that the Student Senate had nothing to do with recognition of campus organizations. If the Student Conduct and Welfare Committee upheld the resolution, it would demonstrate that the Senate did "have the power to sit in judgement of an organization's right to be on campus," and such judgement could be based "not on what an organization does on Marshall's campus, but [on] what rumor says organizations having the same name do on three other campuses." Smithson chronicled SDS actions at Marshall, noting the publication of the chapter's paper, the Free Forum, peaceful demonstrations against Dow Chemical over the production of napalm and demonstrations against the war in Southeast Asia. The SDS, she wrote, "has articulated views varying from the established opinions of a conservative university." Smithson advised readers that "whether you agree with its positions on issues or not, you have to admit SDS has expressed these views within the limits of civil laws and university policies."19
Resolution of the SDS recognition controversy, and attendant community pressure, devolved to Dr. Roland H. Nelson, who had succeeded Stewart Smith as Marshall University president in the 1968 fall term. Nelson, holding an undergraduate degree from Duke University and a doctorate in education from Harvard, arrived at Marshall from the presidency of the Virginia Professional Institute in Richmond. Dr. Nelson's clinical, professional public persona, despite an animated private demeanor, was a striking contrast to the warm, ebullient Dr. Smith, who had presided at Marshall for over twenty years. Nelson's initial impression on the community, who defined Marshall's educational function in terms of academic reinforcement of traditional community values, was critical in controlling and resolving the town-gown controversy that marked his short tenure at the university.
Dr. Nelson's administrative style differed from that of his predecessor and proved immediately counterproductive with many townspeople and influential alumni. Marshall historian Dr. Charles Moffat implied that Nelson's political skills were lacking, particularly when compared to Dr. Smith, who had been "singularly skillful in the art of public relations." Nelson "made no especial effort to ingratiate himself with the townspeople" and "let it be known unequivocally that the university -- not the townspeople -- would make policy decisions governing the school." Moffat, who applauded Nelson's administrative vision which encompassed accelerated growth and academic experimentation, concluded that Nelson's "bold and tactless" style undermined his relationship with the Huntington community at a critical period of "unprecedented social ferment and unparalleled campus unrest."20
Most Huntington people, Moffat declared, regarded the local SDS as subversive and un-American. Dismissing any legitimacy to SDS's criticism of the marriage of American universities to corporate and military industrialism, Moffat described the organization as "peculiarly intrigued with abstract ideas and a visionary idealism," in part because modern students had too much time on their hands. Moffat lent academic credence to the conspiratorial tone that underlay the non-student attacks on SDS, charging a "close bond of affinity linking such radical organizations as the SDS, the BUS [Black United Students], FREE [Freedom and Racial Equality for Everyone], and the Free University," a voluntary network of discussion groups meeting in dormitory rooms and private residences near the campus.21
Others endorsed Moffat's observations about Nelson's failure to win the confidence of influential townspeople. Bob Cassell thought Nelson's personality made him a weak and ineffective administrator, one who did not understand Marshall's traditional relationship to the Huntington community and was consequently rejected.22 Keith Peters did not fault Nelson's character, but concurred that the new president was in a defensive posture from the beginning of his tenure. Nelson insisted on rapid changes at Marshall, which threatened longstanding relationships between the school and the community:
He was succeeding a longtime, extremely popular president in Stewart Smith. . . . When he [Smith] became president, Marshall was a small teacher's college. It had grown far beyond his capacity or desire to be the head of [it]. . . . So Nelson walks in with all sorts of ideas of a university and making this as good a university as he could . . . and runs smack dab into the community's desire for Marshall to continue on being Marshall. . . . I thought he was a good president.23
Nelson envisioned Marshall's development on the concept of the "Metroversity," which he defined as "a major societal force in its region; a brokerage house for ideas; a brainpower; a catalyst for action; concerned with and closely tied to the development of the region in which it is located." The Warren/Payne/Parr coalition voiced the vague distress of traditionalists facing rapid cultural changes on their town's campus, a frustration which echoed the left's criticism of Nelson's Metroversity idea. The Marshall SDS warned that the Metroversity's role would undoubtedly produce "X numbers of business administrators for the region, X chemists for INCO [International Nickel Company] and Union Carbide, X schoolteachers, and X ROTC commissioned officers for the government." By these terms, "the Metroversity will be less a dream than a nightmare." SDS foresaw the Metroversity becoming a training school for corporate interests, insisting that a college president increase enrollment, balance budgets and enforce stability on the campus. "The university is an institution that is a producer, wholesaler, and retailer of the skills and the ethics useful for the performance of modern capitalism."24
SDS supporters feared Nelson's Metroversity would accelerate and expand the military industrial corporate influence over academia, making the campus a laboratory for weapons research, American imperial expansion and militarism, instead of a refuge for the free exchange of ideas. Ironically, Marshall's SDS recognition became dependent Dr. Roland Nelson, whose program it suspected, and Nelson, who questioned many of the motives and methods of SDS, became the chapter's most visible, and vulnerable, public defender. The Parthenon reported on February 4, 1969, that six Huntington-area Church of Christ ministers, led by Highlawn's Reverend Parr, had begun an "anti-communist" campaign while the student body was absent from campus. The movement focused on the SDS and the scheduled appearance of Herbert Aptheker, but the campaign soon broadened to include implicitly, faculty and administrators who did not pass moral or patriotic muster. The ministers wrote President Nelson that they opposed SDS and did not believe that "Dr. Aptheker's appearance on the Marshall campus is in the best interest of national security and the welfare of the Tri-State [West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio] area."25 The Church of Christ ministers were soon joined by Reverend Warren, pastor of the Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church, who emerged as the most powerful spokesman of the movement. Reverend Parr, welcoming Warren to the campaign, described him as "a Bible-loving minister and a warrior of conservatism." Mrs. Fred Perry, president of the Woman's Club of Huntington, pledged the organization's one thousand members in a letter-writing campaign to Nelson against "the small minority of young subversives" at Marshall.26
As civic interest in the Aptheker/SDS issues grew, correspondence flooded Nelson's office, imploring him to deny SDS recognition and cancel Aptheker's appearance during IMPACT week. Dr. Nelson had received about one thousand letters, six hundred during a two-week period by early March. Nelson, who had refused to denounce publicly SDS's right to organize, was repeatedly accused of being a communist, leading students astray and using taxpayers' money to promote communism through the Marxist Aptheker. Letters warned that Marshall's financial contributions would dwindle unless he quickly changed course.27
One writer, expressing a common fear for the minds of impressionable students, asked Nelson "what kind of nonsense are you trying to put in the heads of these students, who will be our citizens of tomorrow?"28 After Nelson approved recognition of the SDS chapter, another letter accused the university of condoning subversive teaching, declaring "we abhor your approval of the SDS, and the allowing of a known communist to appear on a forum, as well as allowing some professors of questionable philosophy to teach at the university."29
Charges of outside agitators poisoning the political atmosphere at Marshall appeared in several letters to the president, including one which warned of the persistence of SDS leader Danie Stewart:
Marshall is an important part of this community. We do not want the type of individual SDS would encourage in our community. Are not the majority now clamoring for recognition imports to this area? A member of my family who knew Stewart, the head of the SDS group at Marshall, says "he will not give up." Show this punk that you are stronger than he and his backers.30
Mail to President Nelson ran about ten-to-one against of SDS. He answered many personally, including a letter to Mrs. E. Wyatt Payne in which he assured her that "any decisions we have made this year at Marshall have been made only after consideration and good participation of our most responsible faculty and students."31 Although Nelson composed a diplomatic form letter for most of his critics, carefully avoiding any direct condemnation of their opinions, his inter-office memos and correspondence with supporters demonstrate that from the outset of the SDS issue he discerned no legitimate reason to deny SDS recognition. When angry alumni threatened to withhold contributions to Marshall if SDS was permitted on campus, Nelson wrote Harry Sands, the director of alumni affairs, "as you and I know, alumni can never be permitted to run an institution no matter what their financial contribution to it may be."32
The Warren/Payne/Parr coalition, in addition to mobilizing a letter-writing campaign to President Nelson, conducted or participated in several public meetings about the recognition question. In a forum organized by Marshall student Jim Slicer, a panel of eight speakers addressed pro-recognition, anti-recognition and "moderate" views of the controversy.33 The two-hour evening meeting, held at the Marshall Campus Christian Center on February 16, 1969, and was attended by about three hundred people. The meeting hall was "packed with people," Keith Peters remembered, most of whom were citizens from the Huntington community. Peters, representing the moderate position, defended SDS's right to exist in a free society, a right "particularly vital on a college campus." Although he and the SDS panelists were subjected to some jeering from the partisan audience, the strongest vilification was directed at political science instructor Mel Miller, whose comments enraged those opposed to recognition. Peters recalled that one man rose as Miller was speaking, pointed at him and said "`we know what you are. We know exactly what you are.' I seemed to notice a sort of a smile come over Warren's face."34 The opposition suspected Miller because of his alleged affiliation with the World Council of Churches, a liberal religious body that was one of the main targets of Mrs. E. Wyatt Payne's crusade against communism.
Reverend Paul Warren read from a prepared statement at the Christian Center meeting, attacking academia as a "vehicle for the dissemination of communist propaganda." It was inappropriate for facilities such as the Christian Center, which had been available for SDS meetings, to function as a "haven to give aid, comfort, or encouragement to the very enemies of Christian principles and ideals." It was immoral
. . . to expose students to "Controversial Speakers" [sic] who are failures in their personal and professional life and have made no contribution to the field of knowledge or the peace and prosperity of our country . . . while at the same time failing to bring to the campus those who love America, are successful in their personal and professional life and have made a contribution to the peace and prosperity of our nation, such as Dr. Billy Graham.35
SDS representative Tom Woodruff believed most Huntington citizens were either apathetic or favored SDS recognition, but many of the community people attending the Christian Center meeting were vocally, even violently, opposed to SDS. They viewed SDS and the Aptheker appearance as part of a broad conspiracy, the fulfillment of apocalyptic warnings about "red" infiltration of campuses to capture the hearts and minds of America's future leaders. Payne and Warren both charged that the national SDS was directed by communists who planned to take over high schools and universities. Far from moderating the fears of the opposition, Aptheker's scheduled appearance, sponsored by Student Government, probably confirmed suspicions about the conspiracy's progress. "SDS got lumped in with Aptheker," speculated Woodruff, and "helped the community with the `red scare,' the witch hunt kind of mentality."36
In addition to Danie Stewart, Woodruff made his first public appearance as a representative of SDS at the Christian Center forum. Woodruff saw recognition as first and foremost a free speech issue, and identified the contradiction of having an active ROTC on campus while possibly denying organizational recognition to SDS. Woodruff questioned whether ROTC, an arm of the war in Southeast Asia, had a greater right to exist than SDS, an arm of the peace movement. In retrospect, Woodruff saw positive results from the polarization at the Christian Center meeting, concluding that the confrontational discussion helped to establish the Marshall campus as the natural location in Huntington for open debate and dissent. The meeting "crystallized the issue," in Woodruff's view, "it shook it up and woke it up. Nelson and the university had to deal with [the fact] that there was no basis on which to deny recognition, except as knuckling under to a right-wing, anti-intellectual and anti-university barrage."37
The Christian Center debate did little to establish a consensus on the SDS question, as it degenerated into a shouting match between Mel Miller and his attackers and a forum for some inflammatory anticommunist rhetoric from Payne and Warren. Greg Terry was disappointed at the turn of events, and, as a leader of the campus opposition to SDS, frustrated by the demagogic tone of the Warren/Payne/Parr coalition. He felt "an unfair identification" with Payne and Warren, neither of whom adequately reflected his own position. There was "a certain awkwardness about the event . . . more heat than light was generated on that particular occasion, and if anything it tended to fan the flames of misunderstanding rather than having any healing influence."38
The right-wing "barrage," culminating in the Christian Center conflict and the continued mail campaign to President Nelson's office, probably eroded recognition opposition as much as informing it. Many in the Huntington community had serious reservations about SDS on the Marshall campus and "weren't unhappy to see Mrs. Payne pick up the banner,"39 but the extremist pronouncements of the Warren/Payne/Parr coalition soon alienated many potential supporters. Mrs. Payne's virulent anticommunism seemed inconsistent in someone who had the personal respect of even those she attacked. Tome Woodruff did not ". . . know why she was what she was; you would have to be embarrassed with what she said and the ideas she expressed because they just didn't have any connection with reality." He believed Payne was "a nice person," whose personal and organizational skills led naturally to her leadership role in several community groups.40
Although he perceived the Huntington anticommunist faction's campaign against SDS as the raving of a small and ultimately insignificant handful of witch hunters, Woodruff was deeply impressed and disturbed by the power Reverend Paul Warren exercised over crowds. At a rally Warren conducted at Huntington High School, he so electrified his followers that "his pitch for money had me reaching for my wallet. I don't remember how he led into it but it was a wonderful job. He could easily compete with the TV evangelists."41
As the anti-SDS campaign reached beyond student radicalism to encompass more generalized attacks on the Marshall community, many faculty and staff concluded the school "had been defiled, that the university had every right to be a place for the exchange of ideas . . . [and] a substantial number of faculty members were greatly offended by the activity."42 The escalation of red-baiting compelled many moderate students and faculty actively to support official recognition of SDS in the name of academic and constitutional freedoms. Professor Stuart Colie encouraged the Marshall chapter of the Association of American University Professors to recommend that President Nelson recognize SDS and commend him for refusing pressures to cancel the Aptheker appearance. Colie later endorsed a "compromise" resolution offered by geography professor William Cubby, urging Nelson not to deny recognition to any organization willing to abide by the guidelines of the university.43
In late February 1969, the Student Conduct and Welfare Committee recommended approval of SDS as an official university organization. A note from Mrs. E. Wyatt Payne to Nelson, five days before he recognized SDS, suggested that the anti-SDS campaign went beyond the specific presence of a leftist organization to the broader issue of the university's autonomy relative to the alleged prevailing wisdom of the community. "It seems," wrote Payne, "that it would be to your best interests, having been in our community such a short time, to . . . veto the student action in this matter." She warned, ". . . this conservative community and the reaction of the nation does not make the climate safe for campus recognition. PLEASE DON'T. I'm sure, in retrospect, you'll be glad you didn't."44 West Virginia U. S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, a harsh critic of the antiwar and black power movements, in an article submitted to the Huntington Advertiser, warned that SDS had devised "a blueprint for the destruction of the entire American educational system," seeking to submit the educational community to the control of "those who would use it as a means to revolutionize American society according to Marxist precepts." He feared the infiltration of SDS not only on campuses but into West Virginia high schools.45
As Nelson prepared to announce his decision, sympathetic correspondents addressed the town-gown dilemma that had landed in the president's office. Reverend Hardin King of the Campus Christian Center told Nelson that "having lived in the community for several years, I realize too well that these things may place you in somewhat of a bind."46 Reverend Charles Aurand, who taught history at Marshall, encouraged Nelson to recognize SDS and let the organization stand or fall on its own, but advised "you will undoubtedly be vilified whichever direction [you] take." Nelson replied, "your letter sets forth most cogently the reason why I will recognize SDS."47
President Nelson approved university recognition of Students for a Democratic Society at Marshall on March 11, 1969. Referring to the opposition, Nelson declared that while the Warren/Payne/Parr coalition reflected justified community interest in Marshall's operation, "internal matters have to be decided by those responsible for the decisions in the university community." There was nothing in the SDS charter which indicated advocacy of illegal acts or violence. The university, he affirmed, "has to set the tone in society for the use of reason. . . . If we in the House of Reason . . . cannot solve our problems without resorting to violence, disruption, or obstruction, what hope is there for our greater society?"48
President Nelson followed the counsel of several formal and informal faculty/student committees in making affirmative decision on SDS. He received a petition endorsing recognition signed by some seven hundred students, none of them members of SDS. In addition to these recommendations, Nelson reported to Dean of Arts and Sciences Donald Dedmon, "I acted on the basic principle that a university is a seat of knowledge and investigation, a place where opposing ideas can be presented and studied openly."49
Reverend Dewey Parr of Highlawn Church of Christ, though disappointed, announced that the president's decision was "no shock," Charging that Nelson had ignored the wishes of "the taxpayers of our community, the statements of our elected representatives in Washington, D. C., . . . [and] the facts to which he had access that prove through documented evidence the anti-American and pro-Cuban activities of the SDS across the nation." It was now the university's responsibility "to insure us that the Communist conspiracy will not invade our community." Dr. Nelson "surely hasn't taken the time to analyze our community."50 Nelson may have analyzed the community and been disappointed, for a year after the SDS controversy, Nelson left Marshall to join the education faculty at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He taught there until 1985, when he left to found Creative Leadership Systems, Inc., a private consulting firm based in Greensboro.51
President Nelson apparently never seriously considered denying recognition to SDS, although he did what he believed legitimate to appease concerned alumni and the extremist community coalition during the struggle. In reply to a letter of support, Nelson analyzed his decision and the red-baiting group that plagued his presidency:
I feel that there are many in our community who may not understand basic purposes of a university and who have been unduly influenced by recent disorders on university campuses. I rejoice that there are many like yourself, however, who do recognize that a university, to meet its obligations of encouraging free and open inquiry, must often incur the wrath of those to whom free and open inquiry is threatening.52
Roland Nelson's personal style, whether "bold and tactless" as defined by Dr. Charles Moffat or simply one of direct professionalism, worked against him during his troubled term at Marshall University. The art of public relations, as Moffat surmised, was perhaps not Nelson's forte, particularly when measured against the convivial boosterism of his predecessor, Dr. Stewart Smith, who had not been so challenged by the aborted attempt to organize an SDS chapter in 1965.
But the conflict that polarized Huntington and Marshall in 1968-69, and after, went far beyond matters of personal administrative style. Neither can the "red scare" be completely attributed to the specifics of national and international events that troubled an insular community. The national student unrest and urban turmoil feared by the anti-SDS faction in Huntington were galvanized by the war in Southeast Asia and implied far more than active dissent against U. S. foreign and domestic policy. Beneath the grand splash of rhetorical excess, media exaggeration and violent confrontation between polarized groups ran the current of what Tom Woodruff described as "cultural shift," or fundamental changes in the power relationships among communities, institutions and students on college campuses. The SDS-recognition struggle at Marshall reflected two opposing yet interrelated themes: internalized fear of subversion, implanted by the cant of American global anticommunism, and a direct revolutionary challenge to the role of the university as in loco parentis and defender of community standards.
Students for a Democratic Society represented a visible, vocal and irreverent challenge to traditional power structures on American college campuses. Mass demonstrations, occupation of university buildings, resistance to symbols of state and military authority and civil disobedience were radical threats to the primary role of Marshall University as seen by most citizens of Huntington. That role was to reinforce, not challenge, community values, which were rooted in obedience to authority, unquestioning support for the national government on foreign policy issues and conservative social and sexual mores. The passionate opposition to the Nelson administration by the anti-SDS coalition was a response to its perception that the university was not doing its job in training and disciplining students to absorbed traditional American values.
To those who enlisted in the Warren/Payne/Parr campaign against SDS and President Nelson, the civil rights and antiwar movements represented the unraveling of moral culture. Fire in the streets of Newark and Chicago translated to the subversion of authority at home and in the schools, foreshadowing the destruction of traditional standards. Even the language and physical appearance of student activists transmitted dangerous, indefinable signals to those who believed that American values were endangered more by student radicals than by the sacrifice of American lives and material resources in Southeast Asia.
Marshall's SDS and the Huntington anticommunists' vision briefly intersected at one point in this controversy. Both groups sensed a transformation in America away from democratic ideals. It is probable that SDS supporters and the SDS opposition were influenced by a similar impulse to assert collective power over social forces against which they were powerless to overcome as individuals. SDS and its opponents shared a common adversary in the university. Where the opposition indicted the Nelson administration for its alleged failure to mold good, obedient citizens, SDS believed his Metroversity was conceived to put academia at the disposal of an American corporate state. Essentially, both groups feared the betrayal of its interpretation of the true mission of public education.
The intersection of SDS and its opponents ended here. To the opposition, the purpose of education was to refine, conserve and strengthen American culture as it existed. Marshall should administer authority through the orderly hierarchy of a traditional family structure, chastise wayward students and reinforce mainstream community standards. To the SDS, authority on campus should have been recast to allow the student community a greater influence on university, state and corporate policy. This would establish the American university as a leading agent in the SDS mission to redirect American resources away from empire building and toward social revolution, the radical democratization of the United States by eliminating hierarchies of power.
The anticommunist correspondents to Roland Nelson may have sincerely believed in the specter of an international communist conspiracy forced on American youth by outside agitators. Indeed, the belief in such a conspiracy could be a comfort, permitting one to deny that the American political economy alone could produce the destabilization of the 1960s. SDS represented radicalism developed locally at Marshall University and dedicated to awakening people to the possibilities for restructuring America socially, politically and economically. This dangerous indigenous challenge to traditional power relationships within the community had to be defined as un-American by those who wanted to believe that leftist radicalism in America could only be the product of foreign conspiracy.
Factionalism, power struggles, failure to address successfully sexism within the student movement and the government's counterintelligence [COINTELPRO] program combined to dismantle SDS in the early 1970s.53 Concurrent with the collapse of SDS was the disintegration of the Marshall chapter. But the importance of SDS and student activism generally should not be measured solely by longevity or organizational sophistication. Transient student populations defies such measures of success. The meaning of the SDS-recognition struggle, according to Tom Woodruff, rests largely on the questions SDS raised, rather than on the finality of answers. "Those were good times at that college. . . . They were times when people had to deal with intellectual confrontations . . . people were confronted with issues and had to deal with them and shake out on one side or another. Those were exciting times, with a lot of change in attitude in a very short period."54
1. Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), 6-9. Sale's history is a full length study of the SDS. Another helpful work with considerable focus on the organization is Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam, 1987).
2. Parthenon, 24 September 1965; 1 October 1965. The student population at Marshall University in October 1965 was just over 7,000. Marshall was founded as Marshall Academy in 1837, became Marshall College in 1858, and became a West Virginia state college in 1867, with an emphasis on teacher training. Marshall became a university in 1961. West Virginia Blue Book, 1966. compiled and edited by J. Howard Myers, Clerk of the Senate. p. 429. Huntington, the county seat of Cabell county, was built on the flood plain of the Ohio river as the terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Named after Collis P. Huntington, president of the C&O, Huntington was incorporated in 1871 and soon became a railroad, industrial, and commercial center for southern West Virginia. The population in the mid to late 1960s was about 80,000. Ibid., 1969, 792-93.
3. Parthenon, 10 November 1965.
4. Ibid.; Parthenon, 20 October 1965.
5. Interview by the author, Jeanine Woodruff, 13 April 1986.
6. For material on the Civic Interest Progressives, see Bruce A. Thompson, "An Appeal for Racial Justice: The Civic Interest Progressives' Confrontation with Huntington, West Virginia and Marshall University, 1963-1965" (MA thesis, Marshall University, 1986).
7. IMPACT was an annual spring series of lectures and entertainment programs sponsored by the Student Government Association at Marshall in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Speakers in 1968 included satirist Dick Gregory, and beat poet Alan Ginsburg. The scheduled April 18, 1969 appearance of Aptheker, the director of the American Institute for Marxist Studies, drew the greatest reaction from the fundamentalist ministers who led the fight against SDS. He spoke before a crowd of approximately 1500. The anti-SDS faction labeled IMPACT an open forum for communist propaganda. Other 1969 guests included physicist Dr. Willy Ley, commentator Sander Vanocur, political journalist Harrison Salisbury, Bishop James A. Pike, and James Farmer, director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Huntington Herald-Dispatch, 9 February and 19 April 1969.
8. Constitution of Marshall SDS, submitted with petition for recognition as student organization, 12 December 1968. The Port Huron Statement, the manifesto in which the New Left, according to Todd Gitlin, documented a "shimmering feeling of having given birth to itself," was a fifty-page philosophical declaration that went to great lengths to criticize and renounce both the moral bankruptcy of American capitalism and the "tyrannies" and "oppressive institutions" of the Soviet Union. Gitlin, The Sixties, 111-16.
9. Memo from Roland H. Nelson to Olen Jones, Dean of Student Affairs, 20 December 1968. Roland H. Nelson papers, West Virginia Room, Marshall University Library, hereafter referred to as Nelson papers.
10. Interview by the author, Keith Peters, 28 February 1986. As the campus and the community became aware of the presence of the SDS, the house where Danie and Jeanine Stewart lived at 7th Avenue and 16th Street became a focal point for Marshall's nascent counterculture. A loosely structured communal arrangement among ten to twelve housemates -- some politically active, some apolitical bohemians, and a couple of high-school aged residents estranged from their parents -- formed a mutual support network. Jeanine Stewart, raising a one-year old daughter early in 1969, felt a great deal of domestic security in the arrangement. She and her husband had lived in a house outside the city when he was discharged from the Marines, and as their political activity increased, so had harassment from anonymous parties. Jeanine Stewart [Woodruff], commenting on a student/non-student dichotomy that weakened the antiwar movement, remembered that "unfortunately there was a delineation between the student population and the working population. . . . I remember being fairly fearful of working-class people." The Stewarts received threatening phone calls, some with sexual references to Jeanine and other female activists' association with "nigger-loving radicals." Although the Stewarts concluded that there was little actual danger, the calls created a disturbing environment in which to raise a child. Jeanine's fears subsided when she, Danie, and their one-year old daughter Emily moved to the communal setting. Interview with Jeanine Woodruff, 13 April 1986.
The failure of the student movement to successfully align with non-student antiwar and civil rights activists, although decried by the SDS, plagued the peace and social justice movement. The Marshall chapter's constitution (see note 8 above) makes no specific overtures to non-academic activists. It should be noted that SDS did not originate as an antiwar organization, but with the goal of radically restructuring American economic, social, and political institutions through the means of community-based mobilization of the poor in U. S. cities. In September 1963, SDS formed ERAP (Economic Research and Action Program) to apply participatory democracy to grassroots problems such as urban decay, landlord-tenant conflict, unemployment, nutrition, education, etc. In the summer of 1964 SDS sent 125 organizers into nine cities, establishing an urban mostly white northern parallel to the black voting and social action campaign in the rural South led by SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). Ironically, ERAP programs were competing with the domestic reform agenda of the Johnson administration's Great Society, which was less socially revolutionary but heavily funded. As the war in Southeast Asia escalated, and began forcibly to turn dollars and political energy from domestic issues, SDS by late 1965 had recharted its organizational focus to resistance to the war, based on college campuses. See "SDS," The Reader's Companion to American History, ed. by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1991), 1038-39. For a case study of the ERAP see Todd Gitlin and Nanci Hollander, Uptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (New York: Harper and Row, 1970).
11. Interview by the author, Bob Cassell, 12 March 1986.
12. Interview by the author, Tom Woodruff, 5 April 1986.
13. Interview by the author, Greg Terry, 27 March 1986.
14. Parthenon, 16 January 1969; See also Thomas Timothy Chadwick, "The Political Socialization of the Students for a Democratic Society at Marshall University, 1968" (MA thesis, Marshall University, 1969).
15. Ibid. The volatile SDS supporter was not identified in the Parthenon article.
16. Mrs. Payne is deceased. Rev. Warren and Rev. Parr declined requests for interviews when I researched this paper in 1986.
17. Interview with Jeanine Woodruff, 13 April 1986; interview with Keith Peters, 28 February 1986. Although the tone of the reporting on SDS and Aptheker does not seem particularly inflammatory, except when quoting some of the anti-faction, suggestions of sensationalizing are understandable when one reads the Huntington papers from mid-January to mid-March 1969. For example, stories on Aptheker or the Marshall SDS often appeared on the same pages with wire-service "scorecards" of campus disruptions around the country, highlighting damage to property and student occupation of campus buildings. The editorial position of the Huntington Advertiser, especially, was often hard-line against student activists. A February 17 local editorial, under the heading "Red Tactics Are Exposed," announced that FBI and military intelligence reported "links between the North Vietnamese and those organizing some riots and demonstrations in this country. . . ." "The traditional Communist strategy has been to conceal its activities behind a respectable front until it gains control and then to impose savage repression that does not stop short of mass murder. . . . The big- hearted liberals who support such groups in the name of freedom are following the example of the gullible people who put their heads in the noose in Russia, China and Cuba." Huntington Advertiser, 17 February 1969. Emphasis added by author.
18. Parthenon, 16 January 1969. Emphasis added by author.
20. Charles Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age: 1837-1980 (Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981), 207-08. Moffat was a distinguished Marshall history professor and chair of the history department during the SDS controversy.
21. Ibid., 208-09. BUS and FREE were basically the political heirs to the Civic Interest Progressives at Marshall, although characterized by a stronger emphasis on black nationalism and history than the CIP, which featured black and white leadership. Indeed, SDS at Marshall also had much common ground with the political and social goals of the CIP, but was predominantly white in composition and leadership. BUS, FREE, and SDS were, of course, linked on the Marshall campus and had many common supporters. Moffat's tone reflects the suspicions of many to whom evidence of activist coalitions implies shadowy connections to "outside" controlling forces. The Marshall Free University network offered informal lectures and discussions on topics such as Russian literature, contemporary poetry, American diplomacy, oriental religions, and civil disobedience. Herald-Dispatch, 8 February 1969.
22. Interview with Bob Cassell, 12 March 1986.
23. Interview with Keith Peters, 28 February 1986. Smith had been Dean of the Teacher's College at Marshall before becoming acting president in 1946, and president in 1947, succeeding James E. Allen. The enrollment at Marshall was under 3,000 students in 1947, and over 9,000 when Smith left office. West Virginia Blue Book, 1946 and 1969. compiled and edited by J, Howard Myers, Clerk of the Senate. 288 (1946); 792 (1969).
24. SDS Free Forum, 2 December 1968, quoting from Bill Towe, "Who Runs the Schools?" SDS Collection, West Virginia Room, Marshall University Library, hereafter referred to as SDS Coll.
25. Letter from six Church of Christ ministers to Roland H. Nelson, 29 January 1969. Nelson papers.
26. Huntington Advertiser, 3 and 6 February 1969.
27. Nelson papers, January-March 1969, passim; Herald-Dispatch, 14 March 1969. The tone of much of the correspondence to Nelson is evident in examples elsewhere in the paper. Nelson told an Honors convocation that many letters called him a "leading communist;" demanded his resignation, or "promised no more money" to Marshall. Huntington Advertiser, 13 March 1969.
28. S. Rider to nelson, n. d., Nelson papers.
29. Mr. and Mrs. John McChesney to Nelson, 22 March 1969. Nelson papers.
30. Mary Fleckenstein Loeser to Nelson, n. d., Nelson papers. Danie Stewart's hometown was Barboursville, a small town adjacent to Huntington.
31. Nelson to Mrs. E. Wyatt Payne, 11 March 1969. Nelson papers.
32. Nelson to Harry Sands, 19 March 1969. Nelson papers.
33. The panel members were Mrs. Payne and Rev. Warren (anti); Danie Stewart and Tom Woodruff (pro); and Keith Peters, political science professors Mel Miler and Stuart Colie, and economics professor William Cook, neutral commentators.
34. Interview with Keith Peters, 28 February 1986. Stuart Colie, associate professor of political science, and economics professor William Cook also defended SDS. Colie said SDS espoused "subversive ideals rather than subversive practices," and "there is very little a democracy can do about subversive ideas except to refute them." Cook pointed out that local SDS chapters have "complete autonomy" and should be judged on their merit and actions on each campus. Huntington Advertiser, 17 February 1969.
35. Rev. Paul Warren, "Activism on Marshall's Campus: Prelude to What?" comments at Campus Christian Center discussion on recognition of SDS at Marshall, 16 February 1969. SDS Coll.
36. Huntington Advertiser, 17 February 1969. Interview with Tom Woodruff, 5 April 1986.
37. Interview with Tom Woodruff, 5 April 1986.
38. Interview with Greg Terry, 27 March 1986.
39. Interview with Keith Peters, 28 february 1986.
40. Interview with Tom Woodruff, 5 April 1986.
42. Interview with Keith Peters, 28 February 1986.
43. Herald-Dispatch, 14 February 1969.
44. Parthenon, 25 February and 12 March 1969; Mrs. E. Wyatt Payne to Nelson, 6 March 1969. Nelson papers. Emphasis added by author.
45. Huntington Advertiser, 7 March 1969. SDS chapters had been formed at some high schools around the country. To supporters this was grassroots organization towards legitimate social and political ends. To Senator Byrd, it was communist infiltration.
46. Rev. Hardin King to Nelson, 7 March 1969. Nelson papers.
47. Rev. Charles Aurand to Nelson, 7 March 1969; Nelson to Aurand, 11 March 1969, Nelson papers.
48. Parthenon, 12 March 1969; Herald-Dispatch, 14 March 1969.
49. Nelson to Donald Dedmon, "Possible Letter to Alumni," 24 March 1969. Nelson papers.
50. Huntington Advertiser, 12 March 1969; Herald-Dispatch, 13 March 1969. When asked if the Marshall SDS was part of the Communist conspiracy, Parr told the Advertiser, "I do not feel the local chapter is a separate entity from the national chapter."
51. In a 9 December 1986 interview, Dr. Roland Nelson expressed regret that the SDS controversy became the focus of the community's assessment of his presidency. He considered the Metroversity idea and the development of faculty committees as much more important to the university, the city, and the state. Nelson spoke highly of Huntington.
52. Nelson to Richard Krajeski, 18 March 1969. Nelson papers.
53. COINTELPRO was an FBI-coordinated covert operation to harass domestic opponents of U. S. policy. Evidence of COINTELPRO operations surfaced in 1971 when a "Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI" removed secret FBI files from a Bureau office in Media, Pennsylvania, and released them to the press. COINTELPRO was officially ordered stopped by the Nixon administration, which had previously authorized its actions (as had the Johnson administration), but FBI surveillance and infiltration of dissident groups came to light again in 1988, when documents released through the Freedom of Information Act revealed covert operations against groups at odds with U. S. policies in Central America.
A 5 July 1968 COINTELPRO memo on "Internal Security: Disruption of the New Left" includes the following tactics:
1. Preparation of a leaflet designed to counteract the impression that Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other minority groups speak for the majority of students at universities.
7. Anonymous letters [to university officials, legislators, Boards of Regents members, and the press] or leaflets describing faculty members and graduate assistants in the various institutions of higher learning who are active in New Left matters. . . . Such letters could be signed "A Concerned Alumni" or "A Concerned Taxpayer."
8. Whenever New Left Groups engage in disruptive activities on college campuses, the cooperative press contacts should be encouraged to emphasize that the disruptive elements constitute a minority of the students and do not represent the conviction of the majority. . . .
12. Be alert for opportunities to confuse and disrupt New Left activities by disinformation. This sampling of COINTELPRO strategy is from Brian Glick, War at Home (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 1-5, 80-81.
54. Interview with Tom Woodruff, 5 April 1986. Student activism at Marshall was reinvigorated in the late 1970s with the nuclear freeze and environmental movements, and expanded rapidly in the mid-1980s as a new core of student activists sought to mobilize the campus and community around issues such as arms control, government surveillance of dissidents, U. S. policy in Central America, homelessness, sexism, racism, homophobia, and veterans' rights. Some of the focus for the early 1990s has been on corporate influence over university policy, and universities' dependence on federal weapons research for grant money.
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