Michigan State News

April 29, 1969

"BSA holds Wilson cafeteria; claims harassment of blacks"

by Jim Sylvester and Denise Fortner


Over 100 black students shut down Wilson Hall cafeteria Monday to protest the alleged harassment of three full-time black employees.

Black Studentsí Alliance (BSA) said the three employees walked off their jobs because comments of a racist nature by Joseph Trantham, food service manager of Wilson, and Jennie Miller, asst. food service manager.

Shortly before 5 p.m., black students took over the cafeteria and refused to allow dinner to be served. "If those who rule or govern the operations of this University cannot control their racist employees who are in positions of management, black students will do their job for them," the statement said.

The students plan to occupy the cafeteria until Thursday, when they will hold an open forum with Acting-President Walter Adams.

A spokesman for BSA listed three grievances which the alliance wants rectified. First, that the two food service managers be fired. Also, that the University employ more black full-time help and, finally, that a worker who quit because of harassment be rehired to a position of responsibility.

Prior to the sit-in, the three black non-student employees who walked off their Wilson cafeteria jobs, presented a list of grievances at a meeting with Trantham and the South Complex hall supervisors.

Gary North, asst. director for South Complex residence halls, said the former employees seemed to indicate that they thought the meeting was generally productive and the outcome of the meeting was in no way influenced by the black sit-in which occurred after the meeting let out.

"Although the meeting was not a decision-making meeting, it was decided that the employers and employees would continue to get together and work out their grievances," North said.

Neither Trantham nor Mrs. Miller could be reached for comment Monday night.

Several administrators met in the cafeteria with the black students to discuss solutions to the problem. Besides Adams, Eldon R. Nonnamaker, associate dean of students, Donald Adams, director of residence hall programs and Lyle Thorburn, manager of residence halls, sat with the students to hear their demands.

Black faculty members and administrators were also present on behalf of the students. Robert L. Green, associate professor of educational psychology and asst. director of the Center for Urban Affairs, said, "This is the culmination of a series of incidents. I wholeheartedly support the shut down. The two managers should be fired. I am willing to stake my job and reputation on this demand."

White Wilson hall students were served in Case, Wonders, and Holden halls while a make-shift meal was prepared for the black students in Wilson.

A BSA spokesman said that from now until Thursday they would conduct a teach-in and discuss among themselves problems related to blacks on this and other campuses.

Only one incident at the rally resembled a physical confrontation. When a State News photographer continued to take pictures despite demands to stop, several black students forced him against a wall and took the roll of film from his camera. Later a black spokesman said the film would be returned.

Approximately 200 white students filed into the Wilson Kiva to direct questions concerning the sit-in to Acting-President Adams. Adams answered student questions in a 30 minute session.

Sam Riddle, South Complex BSA representative addressing the crowd, said, "If I were to look at it (the sit-in) from a white personís aspect I would say, "What the hell are those niggers doing in our cafeteria."

"There have been overt and rather blatant actions on this campus against blacks. Wilson cafeteria is the place where we thought it would have to be stopped."

Riddle said that the blacks "didnít want any physical confrontation" but if "the administration doesnít do its job to corral and throw out racist people like these then weíre going to help make them."

Riddle called for a hand count of the white students support of the black actions. Approximately half of those present raised their hand in support of the sit-in.

The BSA statement further adds that "the black students at MSU consider the harassment of black employees a direct insult. Undoubtedly this University is only trying to buy black students off. The University gives us $1.5 million which shows their commitment. However, this does not tell black students anything as long as blacks are still being de-humanized."