Silent Vigil Anniversary
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
The strike officially begins at 12:30 AM the following day.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.