Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories–Freshman At Columbia, 1965

Chapter 3: Freshman At Columbia, 1965 (v)
I discovered a bookstore on West 114th St. and Broadway. It was owned and operated by this tall, quiet, solitary white man in his late ‘50s who had been politically active in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the old leftist stocked many leftist magazines, newspapers and paperback books that couldn’t be obtained at many other bookstores.

At the 114th St. and Broadway bookstore, I picked up anti-war magazines like Viet Report and Liberation, discovered social-democratic magazines like Dissent and purchased even more politically radical magazines such as Ramparts, A Minority of One and Monthly Review. I also purchased paperbacks which described and analyzed the Berkeley Student Revolt of 1964 in great detail, works by C. Wright Mills such as The Power Elite and White Collar and a paperback anthology on Viet Nam which Marvin Gettleman had edited.

Instead of reading most of my assigned course readings, I spent much of my early freshman year study-time reading the Berkeley Student Revolt books and the works of C. Wright Mills. I read the Gettleman book on Viet Nam during Christmas vacation in December 1965. It provided me with the information which, when combined with what I had picked up from listening to Mel and reading ICV literature and many leftist magazines, enabled me to now convincingly argue against the morality of the U.S. government’s Viet Nam war policy.

On Friday mornings for about one month I went to Charles Evans Hughes High School to tutor history as part of the Citizenship Council program. The teacher in charge of the tutoring program was a personally pleasant guidance counselor, and the student I tutored showed up for the first two 45-minute tutoring sessions. But when the student chose not to appear for the next two scheduled sessions, the teacher in charge of the tutoring program decided it didn’t pay to have me come to Hughes H.S. to tutor anymore. I concluded that it was unrealistic to expect a high school student to give up a free period for a tutoring session, in the absence of some immediate benefit.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., I went to the Grace Methodist Church on 104th St. and worked with other Columbia Citizenship Council student volunteers, as a group leader of 8-year-old boys in an after-school daycare center. The program later became known as P.A.C.T.: The Program to Activate Community Talent.

Bob Stein was the originator of the idea of having Citizenship Council set up a daycare center at Grace Methodist Church. He had spoken to the minister at Grace Methodist, Rev. Tatum, and had asked Rev. Tatum what people in the community most needed. Rev. Tatum had told Stein that all the working mothers most felt a need for a center to care for their children after school. Stein then began to organize a day care project to fill this neighborhood need.

Stein was a friendly left-liberal junior from the Boston area who majored in psychology at Columbia. He was a great believer in the value of group therapy and group discussion methods as a method of solving personal problems and work problems.

Around ten of us from Barnard and Columbia were initially involved in Stein’s project. The first few weeks of the fall term we spent cleaning up and repairing those rooms of the church which were to be used as day care facilities. Grace Methodist Church had a small gym and a large recreation room. There was also a small library and a few side rooms. After we had fixed things up, we opened up for recreational business.

I also continued to read as much as I could about Dylan and Woody Guthrie. By the second month of my freshman year, I was considering dropping out of Columbia in order to just write and go out to Berkeley and bum around. Dylan had dropped out of the University of Minnesota during his freshman year and it had not hurt his artistic career.

But I did not yield to my restlessness and immediately drop out. I had rapidly concluded that life in the classrooms of Columbia was not intellectually, emotionally, morally and politically stimulating. Yet living in Manhattan and exploring Manhattan on weekends was still a novelty in Fall 1965, so I stuck it out at Columbia for the time being.

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