It’s a warm, breezy afternoon in late March. On the University of Michigan’s Diag – a grassy square in the center of campus crisscrossed by sidewalks – students are tossing Frisbees, strumming guitars, basking in the sun, and generally enjoying the promise of spring after a long, cold winter. The clothes and hairstyles change, but for the most part the scene remains the same, year after year.
Except that if you could somehow step back in time exactly four decades you would be greeted by a very different sight: students shouting, marching, and picketing; classes disrupted, canceled, or being held in nearby churches; angry voices calling for the deployment of the National Guard; a campus and community pushed almost to the breaking point. If the events of the Black Action Movement strike of 40 years ago had unfolded only a little differently, today people might speak of “Michigan” rather than “Kent State” as marking the tragic and deadly end of the sixties.
Instead, the BAM strike became one of the few protests of that era in which the students could make a valid claim of victory.