Silent Vigil Anniversary

The largest student demonstration in Duke's history, the "Silent Vigil" developed over the period from April 4 to 11, 1968. Begun as a response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the protesters pushed for a role in Duke’s governance, calling upon the university to reexamine and improve working conditions for its non-academic employees.

Administrative History

1968 Apr 04
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., minister and Civil Rights Movement leader, is shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

He is pronounced dead at 7:05 PM. The news spreads quickly across the Duke campus. Late that night, a group of students meet to discuss how the campus community might respond.

1968 Apr 05
A memorial vigil is held outside Duke Chapel.

1968 Apr 05
A vigil at Durham's City Hall led by activist Howard Fuller draws many of the students who participated in the Chapel memorial vigil.

1968 Apr 05
Campus activists meet to sketch out plans for a march.

After inital plans to march in the Hope Valley neighborhood are scrapped, the organizers decide to march to President Douglas Knight's house in Duke Forest. The march organizers decided upon six demands and students Margaret "Bunny" Small, Dave Birkhead, and Jon Kinney (Associated Students of Duke University president) are chosen to negotiate with Knight.

1968 Apr 05
450 students and faculty march to President Douglas Knight's home on Pinecrest Road in Duke Forest.

Knight meets the marchers at his driveway and invites them into his house. About 250 students and faculty enter, pledging to remain until the group's demands are met.

1968 Apr 06
Negotiations with President Douglas Knight conclude for the night.

The 250 students and faculty sleep at Knight's house. One of the students remarked to Duke radio station WDBS, "I have never seen more people crammed into . . . although this is a very, very large house, last night when people finally went to sleep, they were sleeping everywhere, sleeping on the stairs, sleeping on the hard rock, and everything else."

1968 Apr 06
A memorial service for King is held at Duke Chapel.

Knight addresses the audience at King's memorial service in Duke Chapel and discussess protestor demands in his address.

1968 Apr 06
Following the memorial service, 350 students, faculty, and workers from Duke and North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) march to Knight's house to show support for the cause.

The student protesters already at the house join the marchers outside. Faculty member John Strange reads parts of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

1968 Apr 06
President Douglas Knight falls ill.

Dr. William Anlyan, Dean of the School of Medicine and Knight's personal physician, announces that Knight, exhausted and already in poor health, will not be able to resume negotiations until 4 PM on Monday, April 8th.

1968 Apr 07
After a night of sometimes heated debate, the activists occupying President Douglas Knight's house decide to move the protest to the Chapel Quad.

The Committee of Ten--students Jack Boger, David Birkhead, Allen Ray, Jeff Van Pelt, Reed Kramer, David Henderson, Margaret Small, and Jon Kinney and professors John Strange and Tom Rainey--assumes leadership of the protest and is charged with handling negotiations with the administration.

1968 Apr 07
The activists march to the Chapel Quad (now Abele Quad), organizing themselves in rows in front of the Chapel. The Silent Vigil begins.

Bertie Howard and other African-American students--participants in 1967's Allen Building Study-In--expressed concern about the "party atmosphere" at President Douglas Knight's house. At their suggestion, to ensure unity and discipline, a group of monitors was established to maintain order and a set of rules for the Silent Vigil were issued. Notably, the protest was to remain silent with no talking permitted except during breaks and mealtimes.

1968 Apr 07
Campus radio station WDBS moves to the Chapel Quad with the students, continuing to broadcast the events of the Silent Vigil.

Listen to recordings of WDBS broadcasts from the Silent Vigil at

1968 Apr 07
With President Douglas Knight incapacitated, negotiations on the Silent Vigil's demands resume with members of the University administration.

Organizers choose to eliminate the final two demands and focus negotiations on meeting the first four. They were: 1) That Knight sign an advertisement to appear in the Durham Morning Herald calling for a day of mourning and asking Durham citizens to do all they can to bring about racial equality; 2) That Knight resign from the segregated Hope Valley Country Club; 3) That a $1.60/hour minimum wage for all non-academic workers become the first priority of all university funding efforts; and 4) That Knight establish a committee of administrators, faculty, students, and workers to design a method of collective bargaining for workers.

1968 Apr 07
That night, 546 students, faculty, and staff sleep on the Chapel Quad.

1968 Apr 08
Students Margaret Small and Jon Kinney and faculty member John Strange, members of the Committee of Ten, hold a press conference on the Silent Vigil.

1968 Apr 08
Following a rally on the quad, negotiations with the University administration and trustees continue.

1968 Apr 08
Night shift workers at the dining halls vote to go on strike.

The strike officially begins at 12:30 AM the following day.

1968 Apr 08
Musician Joan Baez and non-violent activists David Harris and Ira Sandperl, who had been scheduled to speak about draft resistance at Baldwin Auditorium, take questions from students participating in the Silent Vigil.

When challenged by students adamant that the Vigil not be associated with draft resistance, Sandperl replies, "As a matter of fact, what you're about is resistance, and you can't divide them, that's all, they're all connected."

1968 Apr 08
By head count, 1046 people sleep on the Chapel Quad.

1968 Apr 09
Dining hall workers form picket lines at the West Campus Union, the East Campus Union, and the Graduate Center (Trent Hall).

Demonstrators escalate their last two demands in support of the striking workers. They request that a minimum wage of $1.60 per hour be implemented. The fourth demand was amended to call for the establishment of a committee to implement a plan for collective bargaining rather than the formation of a committee to explore the possibility.

1968 Apr 09
Duke sends representatives to King's funeral.

Associated Students of Duke University president Jon Kinney, Professor Samuel DuBois Cook, and Chaplain to the University Howard C. Wilkinson fly to Atlanta to represent Duke University at King's funeral.

1968 Apr 09
The Silent Vigil calls for a class boycott.

Later in the week, the Chronicle estimates that the class boycott had the participation of 70-80% of Duke students.

1968 Apr 09
Operations Staff (housekeeping) on both East and West Campuses vote to strike and join the dining hall workers on the picket lines.

On East Campus, Woman's College students are assigned to staff the dorm telephone desks. The students pledge to donate the money they earn to the Local 77 Strike Fund.

1968 Apr 09
Vigil participants Margaret Small and John Strange phone William Griffith, Assistant Provost and Dean of Student Affairs.

Small and Strange talk with Griffith about the growing national publicity of the Silent Vigil, urging him to take advantage of it for the positive civil rights coverage the University would receive.

1968 Apr 09
Senator Robert F. Kennedy sends a telegram of support to the Silent Vigil.

Additional statements of support included telegrams from Benjamin Mays, former president of Morehouse College, who eulogized Dr. King; author and Duke alum William Styron; and the national office of the Students for a Democratic Society.

1968 Apr 09
Dean of Student Affairs William Griffith meets with negotiatiors.

Griffith meets with negotiators outside the Allen Building and informs them that a statement would be released the following day and that they would be provided with a copy before it was made public.

1968 Apr 09
By head count, 1427 people sleep on the Chapel Quad.

1968 Apr 10
A number of faculty members decide to hold their classes out on the quad, as a gesture of support for the Silent Vigil.

1968 Apr 10
A memorial service is held in Duke Chapel at the same time as King's funeral.

Loudspeakers set up on the quad allow the students participating in the Silent Vigil to listen to the service.

1968 Apr 10
Professor Samuel DuBois Cook addresses the the Silent Vigil.

Cook, then Duke's only African-American faculty member, had just returned from King's funeral. He reflected, "The only thing I have to say about my experience at Dr. King's funeral is that your commitment and behavior here made the occassion more bearable, ethically meaningful, and less tragic. . . . I was uplifted by the fact that you have made his mission your very own. . . . You provided, at a tragic moment, roses for my soul."

1968 Apr 10
Approximately 160 law students march from the School of Law to the Quad to show their support for the Silent Vigil.

1968 Apr 10
Durham activists visit the Vigil.

As part of the daily rally before the Committee of Ten negotiators met with the Duke administration, Durham activists Howard Fuller and Ben Ruffin arrive with about 100 African-American community leaders.

1968 Apr 11
The Academic Council, the faculty's governing body, meets and issues their own statement on the Silent Vigil.

They ask that the Academic Council's executive committee be permitted to work with the administration to improve working conditions for non-academic employees, including securing collective bargaining rights. They also urge an end to the Vigil and the resumption of classes.

1968 Apr 10
Board of Trustees Chair Wright Tisdale joins the Silent Vigil to read a statement from the trustees on the Vigil's demands.

Tisdale explains that the minimum wage for campus workers will reach the desired $1.60 on July 1, 1969, two years earlier than required by Federal law. After delivering the statement, Tisdale and other members of the administration join hands with students on the quad and sing "We Shall Overcome."

1968 Apr 10
Frustrated by the administration's response, Silent Vigil participants move to Page Auditorium to consider a list of proposals for the Vigil's future.

Just after midnight, the students vote to end the demonstration on the quad; to continue the dining halls boycott, fundraising for the Local 77 Strike Fund, and investigations into implementing collective bargaining at Duke; and to create a strategy committee to direct the future work of the Silent Vigil.

1968 Apr 11
Also unsatisfied with the Duke trustees' statement, the Local 77 members begin the third day of their strike.

1968 Apr 11
Students march to East Campus.

After a meeting in Page Auditorium to recap the decisions of the night before, the Silent Vigil participants march to East Campus and back. The demonstration is disbanded until a rally that evening at 7:00 PM.

1968 Apr 11
Three thousand people gather on the Chapel Quad for a rally on the future plans for the Silent Vigil.

Organizers announce the creation of committees to examine labor issues and support the continuing dining halls boycott. A ten-day moratorium on the occupation of the quad is also called, pending further decisions from the administration. Faculty member John Strange reads a statement from the Committee of Ten, which expresses concern for President Douglas Knight's health and calls for the administration to agree to collective bargaining and to create a committee to implement it.

1968 Apr 14
The Silent Vigil reconvenes on the Chapel Quad for Easter services in Duke Chapel.

Over 1,000 students and faculty gather on the Quad in front of the Chapel, joining approximately 1,500 churchgoers for Easter Services at 11 A.M.

1968 Apr 16
The Board of Trustees issues a statement on the labor-related demands of the Silent Vigil and the Local 77 strike.

Vigil protesters gather on the quad for a reading of the statement, which creates the Special Trustee-Administrative Committee to look into Duke's relationship with its non-academic workers and promises a plan for wage increases soon. The Committee of Ten issues a response, calling the statement "inadequate," but promising to maintain the ten-day moratorium.

1968 Apr 17
The Silent Vigil reconvenes for a rally with musician and activist Pete Seeger.

1968 Apr 18
For the next four days, the Vigil Strategy Committee offers seminars on the quad on issues raised by the demonstration.

Professor Frederick Krantz speaks on collective bargaining and unions during Thursday's seminar. On Friday, students Dave Henderson and Bertie Howard explore the history and significance of the Vigil. Saturday's seminar takes a look at university governance with Dean Harold Lewis, while Professor John Strange and students Huck Gutman and Jack Boger discuss on "The New University" on Sunday.

1968 Apr 20
The Special Trustee-Administrative Committee issues a statement.

After a day of meetings with faculty, student, and non-academic worker representatives, the Special Trustee-Administrative Committee issues a statement recognizing "inadequacies in the relationship of the University and its non-academic employees" and pledging a new timeline for wage increases.

1968 Apr 21
The Vigil holds a rally on the quad, where students celebrate the positive steps promised by the Special Trustee-Administrative Committee issued the day before.

During the rally, Local 77 president Edward McNeill declares a three-week moratorium on the strike, pending the University's decision on collective bargaining. The non-academic workers return to work the following day. The student boycott of the dining halls also ends.

1968 Apr 29
The Chronicle issues a special report on the Silent Vigil.

The special report's front page quotes faculty member Samuel DuBois Cook's statement that the protesting students had "wrought a revolution" at Duke. The Vigil leaders continue to press the trustees and administration for positive changes in the University's relationship with its non-academic workers for the remainder of the semester.