Bus incident fans already heated conversation
LaQuita Henry ’71 recalls students’ pain over the loss of Martin Luther King Jr. that spring.
Hidden no more
At The Ohio State University, a Black Student Union (BSU) was formed to address concerns of African American students. In April 1968, a meeting was scheduled with BSU members and university administrators to discuss discriminatory housing practices and the lack of black faculty and course content at the university. After a white driver ordered four BSU members off a campus bus for discussing issues of the day, the meeting became increasingly contentious and ultimately resulted in a takeover of the university administration building by what became known as the OSU34. Here, four participants share their stories of that day, the fallout and outcomes that followed, and their return to campus 50 years later to mark that momentous event.
This incredible story is an early edition of the Carmen Collection, a series that highlights hidden Buckeye experiences, challenges and accomplishments that have helped shaped what the university is today. Part of Ohio State's upcoming sesquicentennial celebration, the Carmen Collection will debut in fall 2019.
It was an intense period. We thought as black students that our voices had no value, particularly with the administration. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, it was unbelievable. There was just heartbreak on campus. We were numb.
Three weeks later, my friend Gloria and I were heading to Morrill Tower on a campus bus, like a small van, coming from a Black Student Union meeting. We were in the first row, and two other black women were a row behind us. Everyone was still feeling a mix of sadness, anger, disillusionment. Where do we go from here? That was our discussion. We weren’t talking loudly. We were talking strongly about our conviction that it’s important in terms of our identity to let it be known that this kind of thing can’t happen in this country. But we weren’t raucous or rowdy.
All of a sudden, the white bus driver said, “You can’t be talking about this on the bus. You’re just going to have to get off this bus.” He just hit us at the wrong time with that, and we said no. He called campus police, who made us get off the bus. We were really upset. We started walking back to the union and ran into several other students who had just left the meeting. We told them what had happened and then ran into other students who were lingering. They went with us to file a report at the campus police station.
It so happened that a meeting was already set for the next morning (April 26) between the Black Student Union and university officials. We were so anxious to be there, ready to discuss with the administration the injustice we felt. During that particular time, Curtis Mayfield had a big song, “We’re a Winner,” that was very positive, encouraging people, particularly blacks. We weren’t singing it, but the lyrics were being stated as people were going into the administration building.
I remember feeling we’re doing something really important. I don’t know what we wanted to come from the bus incident other than to let the campus and everyone know that it was wrong. But on that day of April 26, none of us was expecting it to be a takeover of the building. We were on the second floor, looked over the balcony, and there was a sea of white faces on the first floor. Some of the anti-war protesters had come to support us. And then someone said, “The building has been taken over.” We were like, “Oh my goodness.”