May 6, 1969

by Daisy I. Alpert | 5/6/94 5:00am

Every May 6 at 3:00 p.m. former Dean of the College Thaddeus Seymour has called the four secretaries who were working with him in the offices of Parkhurst Hall when it was forcibly occupied 25 years ago today.

"I ask them how they are and wish them well," Seymour said. "They were hardworking people just doing their jobs and they were understandably terrified when 80 people came in and forced them out of the building. They deserve to be recognized."

On May 6, 1969, nearly 80 students calmly entered Parkhurst Hall, forced the administration out of the building and sat-in for close to 12 hours before yielding to 90 New Hampshire and Vermont state troopers.

The demonstrators, led by members of the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society, were protesting the existence of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Dartmouth and America's involvement in Vietnam.

David Green '71, who was later separated from the College for his involvement with the Parkhurst seizure, spoke for his fellow protesters in an interview last summer.

Not 'a polite discussion'

"We saw this as our moment in history," Green said. "We really wanted to push Dartmouth up against the wall. We didn't want it to be a polite discussion because we figured nothing would ever happen.

"Meanwhile the war was raging and ROTC was our only way of getting at the war," he said.

The Parkhurst seizure occurred after nearly two years of debate over the existence of ROTC at Dartmouth and America's position in Vietnam. For the most part, the debate took the form of peaceful protest vigils held on the Green every Friday. But by the winter of 1969, tensions were building.

"In the Winter [of 1969]," Green said, "we started realizing that it was time to start gearing up for something in the spring. Ultimately we knew we were going to have to end up taking over Parkhurst."

Green was one of the first to enter Parkhurst at around 3:15 p.m. that day. Shouting over a portable loud speaker, he announced that the building was being taken over and ordered the administration and personnel to leave.

"Dean [of Freshmen] Al Dickerson refused to get out of his chair," Green recalled. "It was one of those office chairs that had wheels, so we wheeled him out. I had to keep from laughing as he kept saying 'I'm not going, I'm not going' as we were wheeling him out."

Court issues injunction

In the meantime Seymour, President of the College John Sloan Dickey and other College administrators were seeking a court injunction that would hold the protesters in contempt of court if they did not leave the building by 9 p.m. Furthermore, the injunction took the responsibility for discipline away from the College and put it in the hands of the state.

Grafton County Sheriff Herbert Ash read the injunction aloud in front of Parkhurst and slipped a copy under the barricaded door. Students debated and voted to ignore the ultimatum.

At 3:20 a.m., more than 12 hours after the demonstrators seized Parkhurst Hall and long after the 9 p.m. deadline, two busloads and several cars of police joined the nearly 1,000 spectators outside Parkhurst.

As the police entered the building, the 56 remaining demonstrators -- 40 of whom were students -- linked arms and, with the crowd, chanted "U.S. out of Vietnam, ROTC out of Dartmouth."

Demonstrators arrested

The demonstrators were escorted to two army buses and driven to the Lebanon Armory where they were booked, fingerprinted and photographed.

"When we went to court we were told to just bring our toothbrushes, just in case we had to stay for a few days," said Ed Levin '69, one of the arrested students. "Next thing we knew, we were in for a month."

During the 26 days the students served in jail, the ROTC debate was brought to a close; on May 12 -- six days after the Parkhurst takeover -- the Trustees voted to end ROTC at the College by June 1973.

Levin was allowed to graduate in June but Green, a sophomore at the time, was the only protester separated from the College. He said he was not surprised because he had already been placed on probation for his involvement in another protest.

Green said he "wouldn't take it back. I look at my life and that was the single biggest thing that ever happened in my life. It really changed my life forever."

Protest was 'unforgettable'

Seymour agreed. "Of all the things I've been involved in professionally, Parkhurst was the most unforgettable," he said.

The Parkhurst takeover stayed with Seymour, who left Dartmouth in June 1969 to become president of Wabash College. The night before graduation he had a party at his house for his friends and colleagues and some students.

"One thing led to another," said Seymour, "and we ended up leading a procession to the Green.

"We entered Parkhurst and John O'Connor, the College Proctor, wearing a white handkerchief on his arm, pronounced the liberation of Parkhurst Hall. 'I return this building to Dartmouth College,'" he said.

"Then we all started singing 'As the backs go tearing by' and it echoed through the halls of Parkhurst and we were all crying.

"For that group of people who had been through such an emotional period it was a kind of reconciliation, a returning to a center of gravity in a very healthy way," Seymour said.

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