Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela Hall

Last week, with the death of Nelson Mandela, the world lost an exceptional leader and dedicated crusader for human rights. He brought the light of his cause to all corners of the globe, including a small college in New Hampshire where, briefly, there stood a Mandela Hall.

Apartheid and the College's investments in companies doing business in South Africa had caused some protest at Dartmouth dating back to the 1970s. In the 1980s unrest among the students and faculty in regard to the College's investment polices increased and became organized in a serious way. Rallies, teach-ins, vigils and recommendations generated by numerous committees and groups urged the Board of Trustees to divest. In June 1985, the Board issued its first statement supporting divestment, voting to remove from its portfolio companies not complying with the Sullivan Principles during the next year.

Taking their cue from activities at other colleges and universities where shantytowns had proved to be an effective protest method, on November 16, 1985, the Dartmouth Community for Divestment constructed two shanties on the green, Biko Memorial Hall and Mandela Hall. In addition, the DCD issued two demands to the Trustees, expecting their written statement of acceptance by mid-day, November 18th.

The Trustees did not respond to the DCD demands, and a third shanty was built. Town officers, students, faculty and community members argued and debated the legality of the shanties. On November 21st, College president David McLaughlin stated that the shanties could remain as long as they served an educational purpose.

And remain they did, at least until the night of Jan 21-22, 1986, when twelve students calling themselves the Dartmouth Committee to Beautify the Green Before Winter Carnival, took sledge hammers to the structures, and sent a brief letter to President McLaughlin stating that they were "merely picking up trash off the Green." The discussions that had surrounded the legality of constructing shanties on the green were instantly replaced by debate over the violent actions of the DCBGBWC.

Over time, the dust settled, but opposition to the College's investment policies continued for a few more years following the shanty incident, until finally, in November 1989, the Trustees voted to fully divest.

To learn more, ask for the Vertical Files "Student Protests 1985" and Student Protests 1986."

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