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Comments on “Pivot Point: The Allen Building Takeover at Duke, Fifty Years Later”

Do you have thoughts on “Pivot Point,” our three-part audio documentary on the 1969 Allen Building Takeover? We’d love to hear them. Please use the form at the bottom of this page. Your comments will be read and appreciated and we will hope to contact you soon.

Before we even got this comments page up we received responses, and we wanted to share those with you. The comments follow below. Subsequent comments will spool automatically.

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“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be the very first voice in the Pivot Point audio history in on on-air guise as David Christy for WDBS. My contribution to the history was small, but thank you, Duke Magazine, for including me.”

Chris Santy ’71 (radio name: David Christy)

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“I have never understood why black students, having gained admission to Duke, then wanted to resegregate themselves.”

Mary Martin Bowen G ’59

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“Your recount of how the conflict started is almost right, but not quite. I was there.

“After entering the Allen building through the north door and discovering the students had left, the police exited through the west door and formed a line along the west wall in full riot gear. Increasing numbers of students gathered to watch. Many were very angry that the police felt they needed to remain after the Allen building had been vacated, and began yelling and taunting the police. Then some began throwing objects toward the police, mostly non-threatening things, like paper wads, at least to start with. Whether anyone actually threw a rock is unclear, but it was indeed clear that both sides were itching for a fight. Finally the police opened up their tear gas fog sprayers and marched into the crowd. I climbed what was then a fairly small oak tree in the oval opposite the west door of the Allen building so as to be able to continue to watch but stay out of harm’s way. (Over the years, the oak tree grew to be a very large one, and has been cut down fairly recently.) There was a slight breeze coming out of the north from the chapel, which blew the tear gas down Chapel Drive, making it not very effective to begin with. That didn’t stop the police from clubbing students with their batons, which they did most vigorously. Then the action spread across the main quad, with the tear gas still pouring out, and this time rising in the air such that being high in the oak tree no longer offered refuge from it. I nonetheless remained a bit longer as the clubbing was still going on below. When the action finally moved away I jumped down and ran back to the security of my dorm room.”

David Barber ’72

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“Your article about the Allen Bldg. takeover brought back memories — not all bad. I was a student living on West Campus in 1969. When the incident in Allen Bldg. occurred, the buses to East Campus stopped running. All the underclass women lived on East Campus, so many of them were stranded on West Campus after classes. I was on a little hill overlooking the Allen Bldg. watching the events unfold when the tear gas was released. A high school classmate of mine, Lynn Storie, and her new sorority sister, Diana Daffin, were watching with me, and when the tear gas came our way, I took them to my dorm to get away from the tear gas. Diana and I ended up talking for a long time afterward, and started dating after that. We were married on the day we graduated, June 7, 1971, in the Duke Gardens. We are still happily married, and love telling the story about how we met at a riot.”

Pene Senchal ’71

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“I was in attendance at Duke when this conflict took place. Your representation of those events is inaccurate, to say the least, and a politically correct, biased representation.

“What’s new at my Duke these days. I expect little else.

Eric Witt, ’69

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The Duke Race Riot

Not all learning occurs as a result of personal observation and not all of it occurs in the classroom. Near the end of my experiences at Duke, I obtained a vivid example.

The biology building was somewhat removed from the center of West Campus in the 1960s, so when the race protest occurred with a focus near the West Campus bus stop, it was easy for those of us who were busily trying to complete the requirements for graduation to ignore what was going on.

But we heard about it second or third hand. And one of my fellow students proudly announced, “I’m going up to observe what’s going on. I’m going to be a Dean in some college or university some day and I want to know how to control unruly students when that has happened.”

Then he promptly left us, going out by himself. It was not clear whether he was implicitly suggesting that others of us join him; he did not directly request any companions. In any case, none of the rest of us went with him. Perhaps, no one else expected to be a Dean anywhere or ever.

Within about an hour, he returned with blood on his face. We, of course, wanted an explanation and he readily gave it.

Calmly, he reported, “I went up to the bus stop where the protest was centered, merged inconspicuously into the dense crowd of protesters. The police were there already, and I gradually inched myself toward the front so I could have a good view of what was going on. Suddenly, the police surged forward and the protesters surged back, leaving me on the front line.”

He paused in his story, I suppose to let the suspense build, then he continued, “The police beat me with their billy clubs!”

No particular surprise there.

And finally, he concluded, “When I’m a Dean somewhere, I am going to be very reluctant to call in those unruly police!”

No one argued with him about that conclusion.

Ronald A. Stanley, Ph.D. ’70

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