Violence in the spring of 1969 marred the commencement festivities for that year’s North Carolina A&T graduates. This year, they finally got to celebrate.
It all seemed surreal to Sandra Alexander, the day when the response to student unrest at North Carolina A&T State University, a public historically black university in Greensboro, North Carolina, boiled over into a government occupation. The tear gas, the bullets, the tanks. It was May 1969, and the university was about to become the site of one of the largest occupations of an American college campus in history.
Alexander, who was one of the students hired as a full-time dormitory director, was on duty the night the commotion began. “The protest started right in front of the dorm I was in charge of, Curtis Hall,” she told me of the tumult over an injustice at a local high school that had leaked back to the campus. Then the Greensboro police arrived to disperse the protesters and unleashed chaos. The police fired tear gas and bullets at the students; Alexander recalled “young men running, trying to avoid being shot,” and “pounding their fists on the doors of the dorm, begging to be let in so that they could escape the gunfire.”