SDS at JHU
The Students For A Democratic Society, or SDS, was a national student organization which promoted leftist causes during the 1960s and the 1970s. The Johns Hopkins chapter of SDS issued pamphlets, held protests, and sent letters to the JHU administration demanding an end to the university's involvement in the American military-industrial complex.
The Students for A Democratic Society released a brochure which shows the anti-imperialist worldview possessed by many in this organization, and which urged them to demand immediate action.
“The struggle is one of the poor against the rich, the oppressed against the oppressor. The people of the third world are struggling to free themselves from the economic, political and military domination of the neo-capitalist world, primarily the United States. They are fighting for their own national liberation and the right and ability to determine their own affairs. The capitalist class is seeking to maintain and expand its hegemony over the people and resources of the Third World. They accomplish this through support of oligarchical dictatorships and, when this fails, through direct military intervention.”
Within this brochure, the SDS also noted Johns Hopkins' role in this state of affairs. Besides having several million dollars in Department of Defense contracts, the SDS could pinpoint specific inventions developed at the Applied Physics Laboratory which were being utilized to help fight the unjust war in Vietnam. It should be noted that the T-Series missiles were not, in fact, nuclear weapons and were not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
“In addition to having developed the Navy’s “T-Series” nuke missiles (Talos, Terrier and Tartar) which are vital to the air defense of the Seventh Fleet bombarding Vietnam, it has developed satellites (OSCAR) by which the ships and planes bombing Vietnam can determine their position and bearing. Its chemical propulsion Information Agency does major work in rocket propellants and operates in conjunction with the U.S. Army. APL is currently searching for “acoustic methods to detect tunnels” for application in Vietnam and elsewhere.”
The SDS also accused Johns Hopkins of continuing discriminatory practices in its admissions policy, which these students argued helped to perpetuate systemic inequalities.
“By denying large numbers of black people access to its wealth of resources (through high costs and white-oriented entrance requirements) the University is discriminating against and hindering that segment of society which most needs these resources. As a result, more black high school graduates soon find themselves in the Armed Forces, where they make up a disproportionately high number of the casualties in the war in Vietnam, the technology, officers and policies for which are produced by the very university which relegated them to fighting their brothers and sisters in the first place.”
The SDS expressed an interest in the local Baltimore area and accused the university and hospital of racially motivated real estate speculation in East Baltimore.
“The Hopkins hospital has a record of racist expansion into the surrounding East Baltimore black community. Several years ago, the Hospital managed to obtain adjacent land which was originally intended for low-cost housing. It erected residences and parking facilities and surrounded these with a fence and armed guards, clearly defining a “white civilization” in a black jungle."
SDS also concerned itself with the plight of workers at the university, whom these students believed were subject to harassment and exploitation. The SDS promoted equal pay and equal opportunity for women, the right for Hopkins workers to organize, and the end of the harassment of the predominantly black grounds, maintenance and cafeteria workers.
This brochure also included a list of demands, including the abolition of ROTC, the end of military, counter-insurgency, social control and pacification research and the end of military recruitment on campus.
In late April 1969, a letter with these same demands was presented to Lincoln Gordon after several SDS students entered Homewood House, where the administration was then located. This Homewood House protest was part of an anti-ROTC Spring campaign led by the Hopkins chapter of SDS and the New University Conference, and were a “call for a change of rationale and purpose of the university”. This Spring protest also included teach-ins to be held on Keyser Quadrangle and a performance of guerilla theater hosted by the New University Conference. These demands were rejected by President Gordon in a speech on May 16 wherein he accused the SDS of attempting to curtail free speech on campus and to infringe on the rights of students who might wish to be recruited by the military.
The question of whether military recruiters should be allowed to visit the Hopkins campus, however, remained a subject of debate after the Spring of 1969, and would lead to a confrontation the next Spring between students and administrators.