Black History Month: The Griffis Incident

As February draws to a close, we take some time to honor Black History Month. Each year NMU schedules a plethora of events in celebration. This year, Northern hosted events such as a showing of the film “American History X,” a presentation by Ilyasah Shabazz (the daughter of civil rights activist Malcolm X), and Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of a memoir called “The Beautiful Struggle,” as well as a soul food luncheon called “Taste of History.”

Here at the archives, we did our own little digging into the history of NMU during the civil rights movement, and uncovered a protest which occurred right here on campus in December of 1969. A black NMU student, Charles Griffis, had been accused of having a girl in his Spooner Hall dorm room, which was in violation of University regulations. As a result, the All-University Student Judiciary voted to suspend him for two semesters.

Sit-In News CoverageIn response to the Judiciary decision, more than 70 black students took control of the Dean of Students Office and held it for 19 hours. Dr. Allan Niemi, Vice President for Student Affairs, was threatened and held for a half hour. President John X. Jamrich was denied entry during this time, and the office was vandalized, resulting in $395 in damages. Griffis later appealed the decision and was acquitted.Patrick Williams news photo

After the incident, an investigation ensued. The Black Student Association and 24 black students faced possible charges from the University, but eventually all charges were dropped. This event is but a small example of moments that have helped shape the civil rights movement, and serves as a reminder of the discrimination that many valuable citizens have faced in America. Though our country still has a long way to go, it’s encouraging to see how far we have come.

If you’re interested in learning more about this NMU event and other student riots, come visit the NMU Archives in room 126 of the LRC (down by Starbucks).

Prepared by Alexandria Eisner and Olivia Ernst.

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