Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

James Fickle

Committee Member

Charles Crawford

Committee Member

Janann Sherman


This study examines how a group of Memphis State students, black and white, advocated for free speech, civil rights, and an end to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It addresses how studentscarried out their ideas for reform, and it demonstrates what changes were achieved--or not achieved--at an urban commuter university in the South. Local conditions in Memphis effected how student activism unfolded at MSU. Memphis State activists operated in an intense political and cultural environment in the South. Although faced with challenges inherent to a commuter university and the conservative city surrounding it, activists were determined to alter theirlandscapes. Did MemphisState student activism matter: The desegregation campaigns by student activists at the Normal Tea Room and Second Presbyterian Church resulted in lunch counters and church pews opening to African Americans. The visit bySteve Weissman, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, to Memphis State represented a breakthrough of academic freedom in the South. The effort by MSU student groups such as Logos to espouse anti-war views generated a political consciousness oncampus that previously did not exist. Logos transformed the university into acenter for intellectualism and critical thinking. Furthermore, sanitation strike activism resulted in awatershed moment: black and white students engaged in meaningful communication and dialogue for the first time in school history.Coupled with the sanitation strike, the Black Student Sit-in was culturallytransformative. Finally, the presence of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on campus gave likeminded studentsan outlet to express themselves politically. The scholarship on campus activism tends to focus attention on students from elite institutions such as Cornell, Columbia, Harvard and Berkeley, as well asuniversities that were hotbeds of unrest, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State University. Thisdissertation challenges the traditional narrative and contributes to the emerging scholarship of southern student activism. The work also documents instances where MSU activists faced repression by the FBI and Memphis Police. Relying on informants, law authoritiessubjected civil rights and anti-war acttivists to heavy surveillance. These finds contribute to the ongoing discussion among scholars of the role played by the FBI and police organizations in monitoring the activists.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.