Tuesday Tip for beginning researchers: Yearbooks & Newspapers

Today’s blog post is a research tip for beginning researchers.We often advise students who are researching student life or campus life to take a look at the yearbooks. However, the yearbooks often make veiled references to events without providing full information.

Title of page is "king's dead - did we react with a purpose" and paragraph: "Martin Luther King was dead! Riots, looting, and violence spread across the nation. How was our campus going to react? Everyone knew the situation was the proverbial firecracker ready to be lit. Yet, there were no riots; but a silent vigil, there was no looting; but a memorial march, there was no violence; but a few broken glasses. We took the time to dedicate ourselves to the advancement of ideals Doctor King stood for. It has been over a year since we first declared our objectives. Isn't it time to stop again, judge our progress and rededicate ourselves to those ideals?" Top right black-and-white photograph, one of a young Black woman speaking and 3 older white men in suits sitting underneath her,caption says: "Pat Alford sings a tribute to Doctor King before some 350 people at a special memorial service." Second photograph, black-and-white, bottom of page, has men and women marching holding up signs one partially says "Let Freedom" others say "Black" and "White" caption: "Iowa State students, faculty, and Ames townspeople begin their memorial march from Ames to Des Moines."

Page 16 from the 1969 Bomb book 1. This page describes reactions on campus when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

To dig into further details on the silent vigil, memorial march and “a few broken glasses” mentioned in the yearbook, one would need to find corroborating documentation. I find the best documentation of student life is the student newspaper, the Iowa State Daily. Below is an article that was used in an earlier blog post, Formation of the Black Student Organization at ISU. The protest organized by Black students on campus led to the formation of the Black Student Organization (now the Black Student Alliance) at ISU.

Iowa State Daily, Twelve Pages, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, Saturday, April 6, 1968, Vol. 97, No. 118. Headline: Union is site of unexpected demonstration. By Staff Writers. Reaction to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was seen on the Iowa State Campus yesterday in the form of an active demonstration in the Commons, Memorial Union, and a silent vigil on the steps of Beardshear Hall. The Commons demonstration began about noon as 40 to 50 Negroes, most of them students, filed in, took trays with glasses of water and orange juice and then sat down at tables. All were dressed in dark clothing, many in suits. As the demonstrators pulled their tables together, surrounding students moved away, giving them the area. Toast: Black Unity. All demonstrators then stood; one Negro proposed a toast to "black unity on campus." Then before the disbelieving stares of onlookers, they threw their glasses on the floor, turned over the tables and chairs and walked out. After their departure, Union workers rushed out to clear the scattered broken glass and trays and pick up the overturned tables and chairs. One onlooking student reacted, "What was the purpose of all of this? What did they expect to accomplish? His answer from one woman was the cry, "You ask what they do it for? My God, that's what's wrong with all of us!" Black Students' Statement. A statement about the demonstration was issued by Bruce Ellis, Math 3. It read: "We, the Black Students of Iowa State University, are here to awaken YOU to the conditions and consequences of the situation which has led to the violent death of our non-violent leader, the Most Reverent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." The statement was signed "Afro-American Students of Iowa State University." This group was formed late Thursday night and elected Ellis as their chairman. At Beardshear, about 250 students gathered for a vigil of silence from noon to 12:30 p.m. Negroes Absent. At the top of the steps students held a sign "We Mourn for King" and a processional cross draped with a purple cloth in observence of the Lenten season. Negroes were noticeably absent. Many instructors and students wore black arm bands passed out at the Union and by United Campus Christian Ministry members who organized the vigil. UCCM members also handed out leaflets announcing the Memorial March tomorrow from Ames to Des Moines. The Rev. Mark Rutledge, UCCM minister, broke the vigil's silence, asking if anyone wanted to make a statement. At this time several students left for class. Tribute to Leadership. Robert Muehlmann, instructor of philosophy, gave a prepared speech in tribute to King's nonviolent leadership. A man, reported to be a Boone resident, read a passage from a book King wrote concerning the necessity of action in the civil rights movement. A poem relating personal reactions of the news of King's assassination compared with similar feelings at the March on Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1963 was read by Mary Francis Cochran Sci 1. In the last speech Dr. Richard Van Iten, philosophy, urged students to go home this Easter vacation and carry through on their actions there by speaking to parents, friends and city officials. "We Shall Overcome." Rutledge asked the group to sing, "We Shall Overcome" to conclude the vigil and the crows left slowly. At 12:45 p.m. as students walked to class, Carillon-neur Ira Schroeder played Chopin's "Funeral March" and two Nero spirituals. Schroeder said he wanted to play something appropriate. Later in the afternoon Don Stephens, director fo the Memorial Union, was questioned about the noon incident. He reported there was about $100 damage due to broken dishes, glasses and scarred furniture. Stephens thought the students picked the Union for the demonstration because they knew there would be a big audience there over the noon hour. "When students first gathered in the Commons," Stephens aid, "Union officials thought there would only be a sit-in or quiet demonstration. They should have gone to Beardshear," he added. Officials Discuss Demonstration. Following Friday'sdemonstration by Negro students in the Commons, University officials met with two Negro student leadres, Bruce Ellis, Math 3, and Louis Lovelace, I Ad I, to discuss the demonstration and other problems. Dr.Wilbur L. Layton, vice president for student affairs, said the two students explained the demonstration took place as a symbolic gesture to show that Negro students on campus are trying to get organized. Layton said, "University officials are very interested in communication with Negro students and are trying to understand their problems." Layton pointed out that a member of the Lake County Urban League, near Chicago, had been at Iowa State recently to talk to University officials about facilitating communications with Negro students. Set Up Future Talks. Layton said Ellis will contact him Monday to set up future conferences to discuss problems. The administrator said he did not think there would be any more active demonstrations though.

Article from the Iowa State Daily, April 6, 1968 reporting on the demonstration by a group of students at the Memorial Union the previous day.

Now that there are more details about campus’ reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, there are further places to research. You can look up the Black Student Organization (BSO) and Black Student Alliance Files in the collection on Student Organizations, RS 22/3/0/1 to see what further developments took place. You could check the papers of the ISU president at the time, Robert Parks, to see what files the administration kept on the protests or the BSO, or if there was any relevant correspondence worth checking out from 1968.

Where else do you think you could look for more information on how campus reacted? Leave a comment below or drop by our reading room to do some research! We’re open Monday-Friday, 9-5.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Tip for beginning researchers: Yearbooks & Newspapers

  1. Diana

    I want to say thanks for this coverage of these Black History events this month; many of them have triggered long ago memories of having been involved in these events so long ago—those today are part of my actual Iowa State experience.
    Thanks again,

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