Columbia’s plan to construct a gymnasium in city-owned Morningside Park also touched off negative sentiment on campus and in the Harlem community. Opposition began in 1965 during the mayoral campaign of John Lindsay, who opposed the project. By 1967 community opposition had become more militant. One of the causes for dispute was the gym’s proposed design, which would have included access for residents of Harlem through a so-called “back door” to a dedicated community facility on its lower level.
The first protest occurred eight days before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In response to the Columbia Administration’s attempts to suppress anti-IDA student protest on its campus, and Columbia’s plans for the Morningside Park gymnasium, Columbia SDS activists and the student activists who led Columbia’s Student Afro Society (SAS) held a second, confrontational demonstration on April 23, 1968. After the protesting Columbia and Barnardstudents were prevented from protesting inside Low Library by Columbia security guards, most of the student protesters marched down to the Columbia gymnasium construction site in Morningside Park, attempted to stop construction of the gymnasium and began to struggle with the New York City Police officers who were guarding the construction site.The NYPD arrested one protester at the gym site. Columbia SDS chairman Mark Rudd then led the protesting students from Morningside Park back to Columbia’s campus, where students took over Hamilton Hall, a building housing both classrooms and the offices of the Columbia College Administration.
In January 2017, thousands gathered on Fifth Avenue and the surrounding area for the Women’s March. But this wasn’t the first time that this street was the home for a massive demonstration: almost fifty years ago, it was a primary thoroughfare for the first Earth Day celebration. Learn the history of Earth Day via our archives.