Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Shapiro in Columbia University

with 5 comments

1968. It was a year of turmoil and trepidation. Assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Vietnam War had come home with impending drafts. Thus it wasn’t a surprise that the college campuses all over the United States erupted into chaos and disorder–and nowhere was did disorder more apparent than on the grounds of Columbia University in New York.

The university was then a prestigious academic enclave surrounded by poverty and decay of the Harlem ghetto. The anxieties there were exacerbated by the university’s ban on indoor demonstrations, its work with a Pentagon think tank and the ‘Gym Crow’ scandal: the newly proposed gym had a grand entrance facing the university while a small separate door for part of the gym built ‘exclusively’ for the neighborhood kids.

On April 23rd, students stormed the acting dean’s office and took him and two others as hostages for 26 hours. Another group of students broke into the empty office of the university president Grayson Kirk, destroyed it and pasted a sing on the window: “Liberated Area. Be Free to Join Us.” The above photo of student David Shapiro relaxing and smoking Kirk’s cigar sitting in Kirk’s chair became one of the iconic images of student unrests in the 1960s. It was taken by Blake Fleetwood who described his experience here.

Over the next 48 hours, students seized three more campus buildings. It forced 17,000-student university to suspend all the classes. Counterdemonstrations were flared up. The university called in the New York Police, and just before dawn on April 30th, 1,000 officers armed with warrants signed by the university trustees entered the campus. More than 130 people–including 12 police officers–were injured; nearly 700 people were arrested. This ended the impasse but further demonstrations, police brutality and arrests plagued Columbia until that summer. As Margaret Mead, the famed anthropologist and longtime Columbia professor, noted, the demonstrations marked the end of an epoch in the way universities are governed.

David Shapiro went on to teach at Columbia.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 3, 2010 at 8:17 am

5 Responses

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  1. “A cigar ought not to be smoked solely with the mouth, but with the hand, the eyes, and with the spirit.” – Zino Davidoff

    Fine Cigars

    January 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm

  2. […] the standard retelling focuses on the later occupation of Low Library (and this picture), the film focuses instead on the power struggle between the SDS and SAS that emerged as the […]

  3. […] Image Source […]

  4. […] Smoking in the Dean’s Office: In 1968, student riots and protests were nearing their height, and Columbia University in New York was among the campuses with unrest. On April 23rd, students took over the dean’s office, taking him and two other people as hostages for more than a day. During the situation, a photograph was taken by Blake Fleetwood showing student David Shapiro relaxing at the dean’s desk, smoking one of his cigars. The image became one of the most iconic photographs of student unrest, and Shapiro eventually became a professor at Columbia. […]

  5. As a graduate student who participated in the 1968 Columbia uprising, I find this account to be heavily slanted against the students, and badly distorts the reality of what went on. Students rioting, taking hostages, or trashing offices is total nonsense… almost all of the violence and property damage came from the police. The link to Blake Fleetwood’s article provides a far, far more correct and honest view of the historic events at Columbia.

    Jon Katz

    August 25, 2015 at 5:31 am

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