Sit-in supported

10 December 1968

The sit-in of Birmingham University administration block. Students were trying to get more representation in the running of university affairs. The sit-in ended when the University agreed to the setting up of a committee of enquiry. Original Guild Gazette caption.

Today’s issue of Guild Gazette reports that a delegation from Socialist Society travelled to Birmingham University to show solidarity with the sit-in taking place there:

As a result of a telegram from Birmingham students to Socialist Society asking for support, a group of twenty Liverpool students spent last weekend helping with the occupation of Birmingham University’s administrative building.

This building is similar to our Victoria building. The central point is the Great Hall which up to last week had been reserved for such functions as concerts and Admission ceremonies. However, during the week it had become the centre for almost continuous discussions on topics such as “Where does the occupation go from here?”, “What is wrong with the University structure?” and so forth.

The decoration of the hall had also been supplemented by slogans and graphics, the now familiar accessories of student protest. When the continuous discussions moved off into lecture theatres, a discotheque took over the Great Hall.

Throughout the occupation literature was being handed out in the foyer of the building. Revised demands to the Vice-Chancellor, policy statements addressed to the people of Birmingham and reports of the Committee of Ten, elected to run the organisational side of the occupation, were all passed round.

However, none of the leaflets could balance the effect of the national, and more especially, local hostile press reports of the occupation.

Councillor Wallace Bauor of the Birmingham Council came on Saturday morning to speak in support of the students demands.

Throughout the weekend members of the University staff came into the building and though some left, disturbed by the sight of the inevitable mess of hundreds of people living in a building designed only for use as offices, many stayed to listen to discussions and to add their names to the long list of support from academic staff.

As the discussion continued a consensus of views was reached. The Four Points: No victimization; Open meetings of the University governmental bodies; Acceptance of the principle of Student Role (a document drawn up over the past two years on rights of students to participate in the running of the University) and the setting up of a committee to discuss this document, were decided upon.

The organisation of distribution of leaflets to the citizens of Birmingham and the provision of food in the occupied building was done with considerable efficiency and during the weekend the only division in the continuous discussions often involving over a thousand students, was over the issue of whether a “pop” group should be allowed to play until late at night, when the other occupants were trying to sleep.

Security pass given to Frank Milner, one of the Liverpool delegation to the Birminghsm sit-in.

Photos taken by Naomi Goldstein-Yalin at the sit-in (see comments below):

Gerald Hitman Redbrick Scan_Pic0506


And here is Martin’s Redbrick (see comment below):

Redbrick talks fail no 774

2014-12-16 15 21 50 rotated 2014-12-16 15 23 48 saved 2014-12-16 15 24 49 saved


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

34 thoughts on “Sit-in supported”

  1. I’m a current student at Birmingham University and many people would like to hear about what happened during this occupation. Do you think you could put me in touch with a student who was involved at the time.

  2. Thanks Gerry – if anyone has the Redbricks from the period leading up to the sit-in I would be grateful to see them too

    1. Naomi, I have 3 Redbricks from January of the following year when the occupation was still a hot issue. They are now quite fragile and difficult to scan being larger than A4. I have, however scanned part of the front of one of them with headline “TALKS FAILS”. I will send it to Gerry, so he could post it here.

      1. Martin thank you so much I’m trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together with bits of memories to try to understand the whole era – by the way did you know that one of the Student Council members then Perry Christie has been Prime Minister of the Bahamas since 2012.

  3. The sit-in even got a mention in Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins …
    Dennis L. Dworkin

    Centre [for Contemporary Studies] media studies in the seventies were, in part founded on its own involvement in the student upheavals of the period – notably the University of Birmingham sit-in of 1968. That protest was rooted in conflicts simmering since 1966 that boiled over in the intensified climate of 1968. The core issue was the right of students to participate in the decision-making process of the university. An administration study “Student Role” acknowledged that students should be allowed a role on policy making: yet the board of governors imposed its own definition of what that input should be. Both campus radicals and the more moderate elected student representatives were infuriated at not being consulted. As a result, some five hundred students occupied the Great Hall of the university for about a week until a meeting of 4,500 students voted to end the sit-in. 104
    By American or even British standards, the Birmingham protest was not a major event. The school was never shut down; no destruction of property or political violence occurred; and the situ-in attracted no attention outside the local and provincial press. Yet, despite its relatively minor status the protest was important for those involved and left a deep imprint on Stuart Hall and others at the Centre who supported it

  4. By the way the best way to scan large documents is simply to photograph them with an ordinary camera and then transfer them as jpg document to the computer

  5. I have taken photos of the front page, my open letter and the editorial of Redbrick No.774. They did not come out terribly clearly with my phone camera. I have sent them on to Gerry.

  6. Martin and Gerry thank you I found the new scans a bit difficult to read but begin to understand how the sit-ion ended but am still trying to understand how we actually got into the Great Hall and got all the staff to leave – did we enter when they were not working and if so how did we get in?

  7. Oo-ee, what a blast from the past, naomi, martin. Only just stumbled across this, and no doubt too late now. I have in my possession the complete original petition 1967 calling for student control of the refectory – one of the events leading up to the sit in (no doubt with all your sigs on it ), and indeed many other documents stuffed inaccessibly in my attic. I was searching to see if this Gerald Hitman above is the same person as the lancs property tycoon that died 2009.

    1. Hi there Akiwowo,

      Not too late. Would love to know what else you have in your atic.

      Did we know each other ?

      1. What’s in my attic? I think I’d like to know that too! But a heap of musty papers relevant to the above, to be sure.
        …yes, aka Roger, this is my “cultural” name. Cheers, Acky.

      2. Gerald Hitman became a notorious and somewhat eclectic property tycoon, but at least in the North of England. Also a clandestine, opinionated and, again somewhat off-beat, right-wing columnist in the local papers, before dying suddenly in 2009. He’s very young in the above photo , not long turned 18! The other slightly saving grace is he did patronise the arts, and outside the home counties too!
        I periodically search to see what’s happened to folk involved in these events, and seem to have amassed quite a dossier. Not one for passing judgement on people, on the living anyway.
        By contrast, Mike Terry (see Redbrick, above) later became, essentially, the leader of “Anti-Apartheid” before dying in 2008. He was mourned by COSATU.

      3. Thank you for that information Akiwowo – Gerald was a good friend – a grandson of a rabbi on one Yom Kippur we went together to break our kashrut traditions to the university canteen and tried to eat bacon sandwiches but could not raise them to our mouths. Sad that so many who are left-wing and tolerant become more right wing as they mature – I still yearn for and try to have an influence for equality and tolerance and try to make a difference wherever I can

      4. You must make your own mind up on that rather snap assessment of GH’s Contrarian Column, as it’s based not on the writings but on the readers letters they provoked. He will never be forgotten, for sure, as his legacy is in bricks & mortar – innovative buildings and controversial estates. I think people move in all sorts of directions, not necessarily in a conservative way.
        I also take great delight in following Perry Christie’s glittering career and silver-tongued speeches. I once invited him round to sample some of my goddamn awful cooking: cannot recall if he politely ate it or politely declined it, but you can be sure he was tactful and polite. I rather think the latter, as he survived to have that glittering career!
        My own role in the sit-in was very minimal, as I had already left the Uni by then, and just assisted in some external issues. By the way Naomi I see you are on a Redbrick page featured on the University’s history archives pages: hard not to notice the ambivalent “pin-up” treatment that our best female activists were not uncommonly treated to.

      5. I knew Gerald Hitman from when me met on a bus coming back from school both aged 11 until his death in 2009. We grew up in Ealing together, he often stayed at our house especially after he had been chucked out of his house after returning from the Paris Riots and the spirited discussions that followed. He was part of a close group of friends, a mixture of Jewish and non Jewish, such as myself. Went on the Vietnam demo with him and remained close friends with him for the rest of his life, working and playing together. The grandson of a Jerusalem Jewish family who had lived together in harmony with their Palestinian neighbours for generations he was a fierce critic of the Government of Israel. A giant of a guy with an intellect, forged by Talmudic scholarship, woe betide you if you took him on with a half assed argument. I can recall being recruited by him to light some fiercesome fireworks from a fag stored in his lips during the celebration of his son’s bar mitzvah. Up in Blackburn he championed the cause of local Muslims whom he thought were being unfairly treated, another example of his inclusive thinking. The idea that he turned into some shallow right wing bigot rather than a passionate independent thinker is more of a judgement made by lesser people than a statement of fact. Whatever facet of Gerald you were privileged to see, it was a tiny part of his life. Our group of childhood friends including his sister and mine gathered together for a meal after his sudden and untimely death to celebrate his life. I still miss his him and am still surprised when I hear about another part of his life that I never knew about.

  8. Tim, thanks for filling in the blanks about Gerald. It’s gratifying to get that picture of a person who clearly contributed a great deal to culture and politics, and my doubts were not realised. I only knew him as precious and overconfident 18 year old. That time was transformative for all of us.

  9. Naomi et al
    Amazing to read this history, especially about Gerald Hitman. He was one of my 3 roommates in Birmingham Hillel House in 1968. I have vivid memories of his arrival as a freshman , and of the times there. We went on very different paths but I enjoyed his intellect and joie de vivre, and was saddened to hear of his death.
    Rodney Falk

  10. I was there. I can’t remember very much about it but I rememeber how cold it was as there was no heating . I knew Gerald slightly. Worked on Redbrick. There was a second occupation the next year over ties with Rhodesia but it was a less lively affair.

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