Winter 1968:San Francisco State occupied by cops to brutally smash student strike

Lee Heidhues 12.4.2021

I was a Senior in the Journalism Department at San Francisco State in fall 1968.

1968 was a violent tumultuous  year in American history. The Vietnam war dragged on with no end in sight. Martin Luther King and Democrat presidential candidate Robert Kennedy were assassinated.

The Democrat convention in Chicago turned into what was later described as  “The Chicago Police Riot” by a Commission appointed to investigate the events of August 1968.

In early November 1968 Republican Richard Nixon was elected President.

The next day the Strike began at San Francisco State. The reasons for the Strike were many but the main goal of the strikers was creation of an Ethnic Studies Department. The Strike was spearheaded by a combination of black and white student activists. 

The Strike turned into the biggest student strike in American history. I was on campus during the entire nearly five month struggle.  Three years ago the Journalism Department at San Francisco State had an event to remember the event. I was the only person from the 1968  Journalism Department who was in attendance.

Given the opportunity to speak I disabused the young attendees who may have thought the Strike some romantic escapade to be viewed through history books.  It was not.

I told them it was very sad and depressing and was not enjoyable for a moment. It brought out the nascent fascism in America as exhibited by the brutal behavior of law enforcement.  It provided the most right wing reactionary politicians a forum to hammer progressives of the day.

The person who most benefited from the Strike was Ronald Reagan. The then Governor of California, former actor and General Electric Co. television pitchman used the Strike at San Francisco State and unrest at UC Berkeley to propel himself onto the National spotlight. The rest is sad history.

Following are a number of pictures taken by various San Francisco Chronicle photographers along with a couple of front pages.

34 12.3.1968.jpg
SF cops haul away bloodied protester 12.3.1968
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Marching in front of San Francisco State University 1.6.1969
11 Chronicle 12.4.1968.jpg
San Francisco Chronicle 12.4.1968
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Hundreds of cops on SF State campus 12.4.1968
14 12.11.1968
Woman beaten by cops receives first aid 12.11.1968
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San Francisco cops beat student 12.3.1968
52 Jerry Pedersen 12.5.1968.jpg
Center of photo Rev. Jerry Pedersen – Ecumenical House in choke hold by SF cop 12.5.1968
35 12.5.1968
SF cop points pistol at student demonstrators 12.5.1968
51 Dr. Goodlett 12.4.1968.jpg
Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, publisher The Sun Reporter Newspaper addresses the prostesters 12.5.1968
33 12.9.1968.jpg
Cop on horseback attacks demonstrators 12.9.1968
25 Chronicle 11.14.1968.jpg
San Francisco Chronicle 11.14.1968
13 12.1.1968
SF State President S.I. Hayakawa in glasses and tam o’shanter confronts students 12.1.1968
15 12.12.1968
Cops march onto SF State campus 12.12.1968
50 12.5.1968
Cops haul away student protester 12.5.1968
16 12.12.1968
Cops beat demonstrators 12.12.1968
A symbol of the Strike 11.29.1968