In our post-truth era, many people have forgotten that Cornell University was the first to use a lie to obtain social justice. The event occurred on April 18, the same date that Paul Revere told the “folk to be up and to arm” in 1775.
In 1969, on April 18, a cross was burned in front of Wari House–a dorm that housed thirteen Black Cornellian women. The dorm had been established as a response to racist incidents that occurred in the integrated dorms on campus such as the hostility that Alicia Scott had to face when she was told that she played her soul music too loud.
At 2:52 a.m., approximately the same time of day that Jussie Smollett was out to get a Subway sandwich, Charisse Cannady called the police to report the cross burning. The police were already in the neighborhood, and when they arrived at Wari House, they noticed that the cloth at the bottom of the cross had not yet had time to burn, meaning that the fire had been lit only moments earlier. They saw nobody running from the scene, and the neighbors had not seen nor heard anything suspicious. This made the police suspicious. Could it have been an inside job?
A few minutes after Cannady made the call, WINS radio in New York City was reporting the story of the cross burning at Wari House. People from across the country were calling the the Ithaca police. The timing was suspicious.
President Dale Corson was sure that some Black student had planted the cross. “I am 99 percent sure. I’ve been told by black [sic] people involved and others on the campus at the time.” Corson did not air his thoughts at the time because, they, like the cross, would have been incendiary. Corson was either a victim of white guilt or afraid of being canceled by the AAS and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Stephen Goodwin, the treasurer of the AAS, called the cross burning “a set-up. It was just to bring in more media and more attention to the whole thing.”
With the encouragement of Professor Allan Bloom, a group of Cornell students protested the cowardice of the administration. They carried signs that read “DON’T LET THEM BULLY YOU” and “BERLIN ’32, CORNELL ’69”. Bloom realized that Cornell “students discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears,” and he left Cornell.
Thus, without an adult in the room, the the AAS took over Willard Straight Hall. It was parent’s Weekend, and parents were staying in the rooms in the upper floors of Willard Straight Hall. At 5:30 a.m., the students literally ran through the building shouting “Fire“. While they were not literally referring to the burning cross in front of Wari House, they might as well have been.
According to former Cornell economics professor Thomas Sowell,
Later, after the university’s capitulation, the students emerged carrying rifles and shotguns, their leaders wearing a bandoleer of shotgun ammunition.
Donald Alexander Downs, Cornell alumnus and author of the Princeton Principles and Cornell ’69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University wrote,
Thus at the heart of potentially the most successful revolutionary student action in American history, most probably lay a lie, a false representation of the truth that won the activists control over the entire public discourse. (It is not at all certain that the AAS would have been able to win such overwhelming student support had the administration made its suspicions of the cross-burning known in a thoughtful manner).
With cowardly administrators and a good lie, free speech and reasoned, thoughtful, and civil debate will disappear and we WILL achieve social justice at Cornell!
“From Collegetown to Fall Creek, Conservative Cornellians Must Not Speak!”