Under the Big Red Sky

Come gather ‘round people … today is Bob Dylan’s 71st birthday. Which has me thinking about the many hours I’ve spent listening to and trying to decipher Dylan’s remarkable songs and the occasions I’ve seen him perform in Bloomington. It also has me wishing for an extended version of the continuing education class I took earlier this year on the man and his music — taught by IU Bloomington’s resident rock historian and author of the first for-credit college course on rock history, Provost Professor of Music Glenn Gass of the IU Jacobs School of Music.

A newspaper photograph from the IU Archives depicting protesters struggling to enter a business school office during a 1967 protest against Dow Chemical.

In addition to the Dylan fest I listened to on my iPod this morning, Bob’s birthday sent me back to the IU Archives and a fascinating project on student demonstrations at IU during the decade when Dylan burst on to the scene as a singer-songwriter whose works (“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’”) would quickly become anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Like a number of Midwestern schools in the 1960s, IU Bloomington would become embroiled in a number of protests over civil rights, student rights, the Vietnam War and women’s liberation. The IU Archives’ “Student Demonstrations at IU in the 1960s” exhibit, which is part of a larger project on IU student life throughout the years, captures this turbulent time with striking photography, news clippings, letters, records and enlightening stories about several memorable moments that have been woven into the fabric of IU Bloomington’s long and storied history of student activism.

The exhibit — created in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences’ fall 2011 themed semester, “Making War, Making Peace” — includes materials related to such major demonstrations on campus as the 1967 Dow Chemical Sit-in, a protest of Dow Chemical’s production of napalm for use by the U.S. military in Vietnam; a 1967 protest of a visit to campus by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, a major shaper of the nation’s policy on Vietnam; and the 1968 Little 500 Sit-in, a dramatic, yet nonviolent, sit-in protesting fraternity discrimination against black students.

Surveying this impressive exhibit, it’s easy to hear a Dylan soundtrack playing in the background — perhaps something like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Dylan wrote this epic, nearly 7-minute song warning about a coming apocalypse in 1962. That same year, a group of students led a march through campus and down Kirkwood Avenue to protest President Kennedy’s naval blockade of Cuba. Though short-lived (thwarted by thousands of hecklers, the march ended within a few hours), the incident signaled the arrival of a new type of student, one in line with a much younger Bob Dylan than the one we celebrate today, determined to have a voice and make a difference throughout this exciting decade on the IU Bloomington campus.

Pro- and anti-Cuban blockade protesters converge during a 1962 student march through the IU Bloomington campus and down Kirkwood Avenue. Photo from the IU News Bureau photograph collection.

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