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1970 Protest

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On February 12, 1970, a group of Madison College students rallied to show their support of three faculty members, James McClung, Ethrick H. Rogers, and Roger Adkins, whose contracts had not been renewed for the 1970-71 academic year. This protest foreshadowed a series of confrontations in the spring that resulted in arrests, litigation, and appeals, and would finally conclude seven years later with a governor's pardon issued to the “Madison 3.”

President of Madison College during this dispute was Dr. G. Tyler Miller. Miller had been Madison's top administrator for 21 years when student protest hit the Madison campus.

Although several protests occurred in those turbulent months at Madison College, two in particular fueled the confrontation between students and administrators. The first was a “teach-in” held on April 23, 1970. The protest was to examine a broad range of issues concerning campus government. The use of space near Gibbons Dining Hall was conducted in conformity with Madison College's rules concerning demonstrations. It was properly registered with the director of student services.

However, at approximately 11 p.m., a group of students decided to move their protest into Wilson Hall, where the office of the president was located at that time, to spend the night and force a meeting with Miller as he entered his office the next day. At shortly after 1 a.m., Dr. James W. Fox, dean of student services, advised those present that they were participating in an unregistered demonstration. The dean returned at 1:15 a.m. bringing with him a tape recorder and another administrator who took pictures. After Fox and his colleague left, the students remained only three to five minutes more.

Student protestors in Wilson Hall.   Dean Fox and police look on.
Student occupied Wilson Hall as Dean Fox and police looked on.

The next day a number of students sought permission to conduct a “vigil in Wilson Hall to protest the loss of academic freedom at Madison College.” Fox did not approve the request because it would violate the college's regulation of demonstrations on campus forbidding protest inside a campus building.

The group decided to hold the vigil anyway, and on Sunday a group of students assembled in the lobby of Wilson Hall. Fox again addressed the group warning them that they were in violation of school regulations and would face disciplinary action. After some delay to allow students to leave, arrest warrants were made out, and police loaded the students and professors into a van under arrest.

On May 15, a local judge fined 22 students and one professor each $100 and court costs ($9.75), but $75 of the fine was suspended. Seven decided to appeal to a Rockingham County jury to have their fines suspended completely. Unfortunately for those seven, the jury after a short deliberation returned fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and handed out three jail sentences ranging from six months to nine months.

Police and portestors at van.
Police placed protestors in a large van.

While the state courts reviewed the penalties handed down to the protesters, a challenge of the college's regulations proceeded through the federal courts. The protesters maintained that the regulations violated their First Amendment rights. College officials emphasized that the regulations were necessary to maintain the educational atmosphere of campus.

The protesters won a short-lived victory in U.S. District Court ruling by Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr. that the college's regulations were “facially unconstitutional.” The college officials appealed to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where the court ruled that the regulations were a “.... reasonable exercise of the authority of the college.”

Lawyers for the students appealed the Circuit Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In December of 1971, the Supreme Court announced that by a split vote (5-2) it declined to review the case.

Ultimately, the fines were paid by the protesters. The trio that received jail time for their involvement began serving their time on Monday, September 19, 1975.

The end of this chapter of Madison College's history was concluded on November 18, 1977, when Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr. issued a pardon for the jailed Madison protesters. The pardon statement was very short and stressed that it was issued because “(the protesters) have become useful and respected citizens in their community.”

--Dr. Roger Soenksen