UH NEWS Liberated Press

The UH NEWS Liberated Press and the
Student Revolution at the University of Hartford

by Benedict M. Holden

In the beginning

The University of Hartford was a white school. We had Iranians, Turks, and a scion of one of Europe's historic, royal families. Hartt and the Art School had international reputations. In its history, U of H graduated more African-Africans than African­ Americans. Tens of thousands of black citizens lived within three miles of campus. If any of them by accident stumbled onto the property, the Hartford police would check 'em out and shake 'em down.

I believe Drs. Woodruff and Komisar et al. in the university administration were not prepared for the tasks of running a university. In most universities a provost is the school's disciplinarian – they had no provost. Most universities have some sort of code of conduct – they had no such code. A student who plagiarized Thomas More, had sex with a goat in the cafeteria, and called on his mob to obliterate North House could not be expelled, suspended, or punished in any way because he hadn't broken any school rules. They had no rules and didn't know it.

This was a Republican school with a mission to train compliant actuaries, engineers, musicians, teachers, artists, analysts, and clerks for the vast commercial-industrial base in greater Hartford. Train good Christian warriors for the war with the godless commies.

We grew up with an orthodox – written-in-stone – civic creed: "All men are created equal" and "with liberty and justice for all." We also learned a valuable lesson: It's OK to take up arms and fight back against the forces of the king when you win the war. Furthermore, we learned from the civil rights movement that an appeal to conscience only moves people with a conscience.

I came of age – we all did – in the shadow of that civil rights era. At first I didn't get it. Catholic schools mentioned slavery maybe, once a year in history class. In a Gone With The Wind world people fought and died for rights guaranteed to all in word only. I could not understand a Southern gentleman demanding that a black woman give up her seat on a bus to him. A gentleman gives up his seat to any woman. Guess he's not a gentleman.

My rude awakening came in 1964. While still a high school junior, age 17, at Northwest Catholic High, I took a summer-long journalism course at the Catholic University in Washington, DC. The Civil Rights Act passed and was signed that summer.

There was a tiny, dirt-road hamlet about a mile from campus – thru the underpass, over the tracks in Maryland. There was a dime store with lunch counter, a barber (black), a couple small stores, and a sundry shop that sold newspapers, magazines, candy, soda, paperback books, ice cream on a stick, other stuff, and most probably tobacco too.

One day I saw a small crowd outside the dime store and half a hundred cops in battle helmets. I stood and watched for a bit. This cop walked over to me and shouted, "Get out of here, kid." I was slow to move. He hit me in the chest with his club using two hands to hold it – BAM. "Din't you hear me, get out of here, or you'll go to jail with them." So I left, no soda. I could not believe that a cop would just hit you in public and think nothing about it.

I had worked at YMCA Camp Jewell during the summers of 1962 and 1963 – Camp Hideaway. It was a week-long tent camping experience for poor kids from the city of Hartford; many/most of the campers were 11-12-13-year-old black kids. If you had a shoe-shine kit and a good attendance record and you passed all your classes you could get a free week at camp. I had a tent to oversee. Many nights we cooked our own food over a fire. I taught firearms safety, shooting, and swimming to kids scared to death by the lake water. Five, six years later my kids were about 18; I had grown a beard but they recognized and remembered me. I was looked after, warned about cops, and told where to go during the riots.

Next: 1965-66

[ Interviews with Ben Holden ]
[ UH NEWS Liberated Press | Benedict M. Holden ]

Presentation created and maintained by Hank Mishkoff
©2018 Benedict M. Holden