By Jake Hearen, Student Research Assistant for the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit
(Posted c/o Carolyn Bratnober, Public Services Librarian)
I came to Union a bit behind the power curve. My formal involvement within a theological framework is relatively new. I had not heard of James Cone until I visited in the spring; I promise his books are near the top of my reading list. So, I jumped at the opportunity when I heard about Special Collections needing assistance with researching for the upcoming exhibit.
I realized how daunting the project as I became oriented to the particulars of the project. At its focus was the Union Commission and its predecessor organization, The Free University of Union Theological Seminary. These initiatives resulted in response to the tensions between Columbia students and the administration brought about by the Vietnam War and the gentrification brought of Columbia’s expansion affected the Union community.
In its entirety, the project was a single archival box stuffed with materials mostly from the 1968-69 school year but other documents appeared to include several that came from far beyond the walls of Morningside Castle. There were a few student publications from Columbia regarding the student protests. There were even a few standout pieces such as an international gathering of college students and a manifesto from the 1969 National Black Economic Development Conference.
But what stood out most came from within the seminary. One letter, drafted by a student who witnessed seminarians severely injured while mediating between police and Columbia students, noted how our unique role as future chaplains and ministers allows us to instill change from within power structures more than any other vocation. Another document from the Union Commission itself highlighted the values of the seminary such as looking at the potential application of computers as technology evolves and the importance of the Burke Library.
This institutional memory clarified the gaps I felt between an earlier Union with activists like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the later of James Cone. Those seminarians stood defiant with their peers before the atrocities beset upon an Eden and said no more. Their spirit of coming together against the destructive will of institutional corruption with compassion in their hearts is something that I pray I embolden over my next few years and the many more to come. -JH