Vietnam Moratorium “Scroll” Documents George Mason College Community’s Activism

Student representative from the George Mason College Vietnam War Moratorium Committee presents Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with petition asking college administration to excuse members of the campus community from classes on October 15, 1969. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

Student representative from the George Mason College Vietnam War Moratorium Committee presents Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with a petition asking college administration to excuse members of the campus community from classes on October 15, 1969. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

On October 10, 1969 a neatly dressed George Mason College student presented Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with a loosely-rolled scroll of paper containing the signatures of over 600 Mason students, faculty, and staff. The document petitioned Thompson to excuse students, faculty, staff and administration from classes and college business on October 15 so that they might have the opportunity to take part in local events pertaining to the Vietnam War Moratorium.  The Moratorium was a day-long series of events held in municipalities and on college campuses across the United States and the world to call attention to, and protest the United States’ involvement in, the Vietnam War. Thompson, photographed while receiving the petition, displayed a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to the document both in his facial expressions and in his words. He insisted that the college’s obligations to the state and its citizens mandated that it remain open, and students, instructors, and staff must be present on that day. He left the matter of attending the Moratorium activities up to the individual, who would be responsible for any consequences for missing class or work.

Vietnam War Moratorium petition photographed while taped to the wall of an unidentified George Mason College building. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

Vietnam War Moratorium Petition photographed while taped to the wall of an unidentified George Mason College building. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

George Mason College was not known for news-making protests or acts of civil disobedience during the Vietnam War era. Nearly all 1,890 George Mason students lived at home in their quiet suburban neighborhoods, most of them hailing from families with military or civil service backgrounds. Though students spoke their mind about the war regularly in the student newspaper, The Gunston Ledger, there had only been a handful of isolated incidences of antiwar activities at Mason. These were limited to symbolic draft card burnings and teach-ins, involving a few Mason students and faculty. The Vietnam War Moratorium movement of October 1969 marked a high point in activism at George Mason College. Just under one-third of the entire student body, faculty, and staff played a part in this movement-even if it was as small as putting a name to a piece of paper.

Box containing Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Box containing Vietnam War Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

While working in our collections storage area in SCRC, the author came across a map storage box with a label reading: “Petition (Anti-Vietnam War) 1969”.  It was opened, and the 12-foot-by-16-inch manuscript was carefully unrolled for a few photographs before gently re-boxing it. The document still bears the masking tape that was used to attach it to a wall of one of the six campus buildings that comprised George Mason College in 1969.  Attached to the bottom of the document is a memorandum of October 3, 1969 from Mike Baker, the president of the Student Government, acknowledging that the body had voted 8 to 3 to endorse the Vietnam Moratorium. Student, faculty, and staff signatures grace the manuscript, which, when unrolled, bears a slight resemblance to the scroll containing Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript to On the Road.

The Vietnam Moratorium Scroll opened up in the SCRC collections storage area. The document is over 12 feet long. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

The Vietnam Moratorium Petition opened up in the SCRC collections storage area. The document is over 12 feet long. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Top part of the Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

It appears that this document itself played a relatively minor role in the larger Moratorium movement, judging by the small amount of newspaper space (a few sentences in two small articles) dedicated to it. The Moratorium events and corresponding editorial commentary received major coverage in the student paper for weeks afterwards.  But the scroll has survived as an artifact to help tell the story of this brief moment in the institution’s history, and it enables us to take a little trip into the past and understand what was important those who were here nearly 50 years ago.  Discoveries like this one help illustrate the value of archives and the archives professionals who preserve them.

The document is part of George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Mason Inaugurations through the Years

This past Friday, April 26 2013 marked the inauguration of Mason’s sixth president, Dr. Ángel  Cabrera. The event was a ninety-minute celebration of both old and new, both tradition and innovation.  Beginning with a staid traditional  procession accompanied by an orchestra and choir, the ceremony ended with a rousing recessional by the Mason pep band, the Green Machine and their leader Dr. Michael “Doc Nix” Nickens.  The program featured speeches by Virginia Secretary of Education, Laura Fornash;  James T. “Til” Hazel accompanied by other Mason Founding Fathers; and AOL founder Steve Case.  Dr. Cabrera, in full academic regalia, was invested by Rector of the Board of Visitors, Daniel Clemente. Vintage video footage and photographs of the university’s past were juxtaposed with modern videos promoting the Mason IDEA and a spoken word performance by Mason student Sha’air Hawkins.  Dr Cabrera emerged later in a jacket and an open collared shirt with no tie to give his inaugural speech before leading the inaugural party from the stage to the Green Machine’s rendition of Battle Without Honor or Humanity.

George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera speaks at the Installation Ceremony during his Inauguration at Patriot Center, April 26, 2013. Photo by Alexis Glenn, Creative Services, George Mason University.

 

We thought it would be appropriate to look back on previous CEOs at Mason and see how they assumed office.

Portrait of John Norville Gibson Finley in academic regalia. George Mason University photograph collection Box 76, Folder 1. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

George Mason’s first leader was John Norville Gibson Finley, for whom Finley Hall is named. At the time of his elevation to the Directorship of the University of Virginia’s branch college in Northern Virginia (July of 1957), he was currently serving as Director of another institution of higher learning, the Northern Virginia University Center, an extension center for the University of Virginia operating at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.  On July 20, 1957, University of Virginia President Colgate W. Darden, Jr.  sent Finley a letter instructing him to take charge of the newly created two-year branch at Bailey’s Crossroads.  The college was not called George Mason in 1957, rather it was called University College of the University of Virginia.  It would later be named George Mason College of the University of Virginia in December 1959.  We have no record of any actual “inauguration” for Director Finley, but it can be assumed that there were more pressing agenda items for the University to attend to as classes were set to begin on September 23.

Since the college was only a two-year branch of the university, Finley was not referred to as “President.”  His title was “Director,” one that would be used at the college until it became a four-year institution in 1966.  Though he was not given the fanfare of an inauguration Finley was, however, honored upon his retirement in December 1963 with a dinner. In 1972 the former North Building was renamed for him.

Robert Reid, who was Mason’s first Director at Fairfax, was hailed as Director as part of the new Fairfax Campus’ Dedication on November 12, 1964. The event was attended by U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall; Virginia Governor,  Albertis S. Harrison, Jr.;  and several hundred public figures, students, and local citizens.  During the Dedication, the University of Virginia’s Chancellor of Community Colleges, Joseph L. Vaughan installed Dr. Reid as Director in a brief ceremony.  Reid’s speech was about three minutes long and contained less than 300 words.

Photograph by Oliver Atkins of director, Robert H. Reid addressing the George Mason College Dedication, November 12, 1964. Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection Box 3, Folder 10. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

George Mason University President Lorin A. Thompson in academic regalia. Photo was taken in his office in Finley Building (formerly North Building), Room 208 on February 6, 1973. George Mason University photograph collection Box 3, Folder 4. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

On March 1, 1966 George Mason College became a four-year degree-granting college, though still part of the University of Virginia. Its chief executive would now be called “Chancellor,” and on July 1, 1966 Dr. Lorin A. Thompson was asked by the university to serve as Chancellor of George Mason College for one year until a replacement for the departing Robert Reid could be found. Thompson was a well-respected member of the faculty in Charlottesville and Director of the university’s Bureau of Population and Economic Research there.  Already sixty-four years old, he agreed to the one-year term.  But finding him to be an effective leader for George Mason, the university continued, successfully, to ask him to remain for another year every year until 1972. Under Dr. Thompson’s tenure the college moved rapidly forward, increasing in student body by five-fold, acquiring over four-hundred-twenty additional acres of land, and becoming an independent institution on April 7, 1972. At the first-ever meeting of the Board of Visitors of the now-independent George Mason University on May 31, 1972 the Board unanimously appointed him Mason’s first President, and once again Thompson accepted on the condition that it would only be for one year.  Dr. Thompson’s seven-year “temporary” assignment was not marked by an inaugural ceremony, though the then recently-completed Arts and Sciences Building was renamed for him in 1973.

Upon the retirement of Dr. Lorin Thompson, Dr. Vergil H. Dykstra took office as Mason’s second president.  In a ten-minute ceremony on July 2, 1973 the former vice president at the State University of New York at Binghamton met with both Thompson and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Robert C. Krug in his new office in Finley Hall. There, Thompson and Krug presented Dykstra with the keys to the President’s office and a set of quill pens and inkwell that were described as replicas of the ones George Mason himself used. Eighteen Mason administrators were on hand to welcome Dr. Dykstra and say goodbye to Dr. Thompson.  A university photographer captured the very brief ceremony.

Photograph of new president of George Mason University, Vergil H. Dykstra (right), shaking hands with Vice President for Academic Affairs, Robert C. Krug (left) while former president, Lorin A Thompson (center), looks on. Dykstra is holding the keys to the office in his left hand. The keys were just presented to him by Thomson during the July 2, 1973 ceremony in the President's Office in Finley Hall. George Mason University photograph collection Box 3, Folder 35. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

End of Part One.
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