Sit-in at JHU library ends when exhibit is removed Black history display sparked student anger

March 01, 1993|By Richard Irwin | Richard Irwin,Staff Writer

More than 50 Johns Hopkins' students occupied the campus' Milton S. Eisenhower Library for several hours last night and early today, protesting a Black History Month display, and stayed long enough to see it removed.

Dennis O'Shea, a university spokesman, said the display -- depicting the anti-slavery beliefs of one Maryland family -- was removed shortly before the students left the building at 4 a.m.

Kobi K. Little, one of the protesters, said, "The display had absolutely nothing to do with the celebration of Black History Month and is an embarrassment to black students and all students at Hopkins."

The display focused on James and William Birney, a father and son, who participated in the anti-slavery movement during the 19th century and freed their slaves as a personal gesture of their outrage against slavery.

"The Birney display makes no mention of the contributions black Americans have made to this country," Mr. Little, a political science major, said before the display was removed.

Thirty minutes before the library was to close at midnight, the students told campus police they were going to protest the display with a sit-in.

Campus police remained on duty during the sit-in. No violence was reported.

About an hour after the protest began at 11:30 p.m. yesterday, Scott Bennett, director of the school library, met with the students and defended the school's selection of the Birney family's artifacts in celebration of Black History Month.

Surrounded by students, Mr. Bennett fended off accusations that the university is insensitive about Black History Month.

"The library display committee believed the Birney collection was an appropriate way to celebrate Black History Month," Mr. Bennett said.

He said the displays are scheduled a year in advance and that he would meet with display committee members later today about replacing the Birney display with one that more accurately celebrates Black History Month.

"We can't wait until next year," said Mr. Little. Waiting until next year is a delaying tactic"

After a discussion that sometimes was heated, the Birney display was removed.

Mr. O'Shea said the school has had many programs, lectures and displays celebrating Black History Month at the main campus and the East Baltimore campus.

He said the university is well aware of the contributions black Americans have made.

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