‘Whites only’ no more: KU unveils marker to commemorate Strong Hall sit-in of 1965
Once upon a time, Kansas University Student Housing and The University Daily Kansan student newspaper allowed advertisements for off-campus rentals that specified “whites only.” That and a few other discriminatory practices at KU ended as a result of a significant civil rights event that occurred more than 50 years ago on campus.
Currently mostly only historians and KU community members old enough to have been around at the time know about the Strong Hall sit-in of March 8, 1965. Soon, anyone passing by the chancellor’s suite on the second floor of Strong Hall will be in the know — if they pause for a few minutes to read a new marker commemorating the event.
A year ago March, a few professors organized a recognition event to mark the 50th anniversary of the sit-in. They also had the idea for something more permanent.
“We thought, well, there should be a historical marker,” said Bill Tuttle, professor emeritus of American studies. So he and two others — Shawn Alexander, associate professor of African and African-American studies and director of KU’s Langston Hughes Center, and John Hoopes, professor and department chair of anthropology — set out to make that happen, Tuttle said.
On Wednesday, the result was unveiled during a ceremony at Strong Hall. The ceremony, attended by close to 50 people, was in an auditorium on the top floor of Strong, but the framed panel featuring photographs and text describing the sit-in and its significance will be permanently affixed to the wall outside the chancellor’s suite on the second floor of Strong — “right where the students were in 1965,” Tuttle said.
At one point about 400 people were outside the offices of then-Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe, bearing some specific requests, Tuttle said. In addition to banning the whites-only rental listings on campus, they included asking KU to stop sending student teachers into segregated school districts and to order the greek system to abolish “racially discriminatory” practices. After being asked to leave when the building supposedly closed at 5 p.m., more than 100 students who stayed anyway were rounded up on buses and taken to jail. Tuttle said some 550 students marched around the chancellor’s residence that night, and 160 returned to Strong Hall the next morning. To make a long story short (Tip: Once the marker goes up, check it out if you’re interested in a less abridged version), after meeting with some leaders of the group, Wescoe took actions that led to changes at KU.
photo by: Sara Shepherd
“This was probably the first major sit-in for civil rights at a northern university,” Tuttle said. “It also was the most successful protest in the history of KU. It was very nonviolent.”
The largest donation for the marker, $2,000, came from the Class of 2015, with the rest from individual gifts, according to KU Endowment. The marker’s total cost is $3,100, including design, manufacturing and installation.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she was pleased that Strong Hall would have the marker. “Given the openness that universities should have to ideas,” she said, “it’s not surprising that all of these events were reflected here on our campus.”