American Experience
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Jean Ponder AllenKeith HackettMike AriasDiane Sikorski KramerJane BrotmanJim RowenJack CipperlyPaul SoglinJoe CostelloClark Welch
BeforeOctober 1967AftermathReflections

Jim Rowen (2:56) video | transcript

There was -- from the same end of the hallway where somebody was trying to make an announcement -- there was kind of the sound of a commotion and I can remember one of the men near me whom I recognized but I didn't know his name, took his belt off and wrapped his belt around his hand so that the buckle of the belt was at the front of his fist as if to say, "Well, okay, now we have to get ready for our fight." And I thought, I didn't come here for this. We're just going to get massacred here because we can't move and I'm not going to fight a police officer with my belt, that's ridiculous. But that made me a little nervous.

And then this sound of sort of the commotion got louder and people started screaming. There was the sound of breaking glass so without anybody saying the police are coming and they're going to drag you out, it was clear that the police were coming to remove people from the building and the sound of the breaking glass and the screaming led me to believe that they weren't simply going to lift people out and arrest people, that it wasn't going to be this classic nonviolent Civil Rights demonstration where you went limp, you got arrested and you were making your moral point with your body.

It became clear that the police were clearing the hallway by force. And there was no place to go because people were crowded in behind as well as in front. And this sound that I describe as the commotion got louder and louder and a new sound emerged out of the commotion and it was a sound that I couldn't place quickly. I didn't know what it was. In retrospect it sounded like somebody breaking watermelons with a baseball bat, or cantaloupe or something. It was a kind of thwacking and then I realized that was happening was that people were being beaten in order to be removed from the building and that was pretty frightening because we were trapped and this sound was approaching.

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