The Scuffle

Due to the confusion and shortage of objective documentation surrounding the events of this night, much of what follows was reconstructed through anecdotes and what little reporting exists on the events of the night. 

Sunday April 12, 1970

While students were busy occupying the Allen Center, Abbie Hoffman was speaking to a crowd of about 400 as part of his speaking tour at the Houston concert venue Continental Showcase. The Houston Chronicle reported that as his speech was wrapping up, the emcee David McQueen, told the crowd that they had received a call from the Allen Center, asking all Rice students to return to campus. According to their reporting, as the crowd debated whether to go support the Allen Center occupants, Abbie Hoffman “smiled and said ‘do it.’” 

Back at the Allen Center, the students received the news that non-Rice students were heading towards them from Hoffman’s speech.

Tom McGarity, head of the student security task force, said that upon receiving the news, he came across Malcom Lovett and his wife entering the building. The three got into the elevator to go to the fourth floor where Lovett planned to tell the students to leave the building. After some argument, McGarity said he “just broke down and started cussing him out.” McGarity said Lovett’s wife had pity on him and convinced them all to go back to Lovett’s nearby house so that McGarity could explain the situation. McGarity said that he just got back to campus when “the radicals began coming across the hedges.”

Dr. Ira Gruber, who was then a faculty member and the Hanszen College Master, said that after this news had reached Rice, Hanszen students came to his door. Although students were supposed to check in all firearms with their magisters, Gruber said that the students arrived armed and ready to “protect the college” from the leftist radicals coming from Hoffman’s speech. According to Gruber, the students took his wife and children to a family friend’s apartment to keep them safe and did not return them to campus until nearly 4 a.m. after the commotion had passed.

Reports of the ensuing scuffle at the Allen Center vary between sources. Although the campus had been closed to the public, several non-Rice people were able to make it to the Allen Center, including those from the Hoffman speech across town and members of the local media. According to the Houston Chronicle, about 200 non-Rice people gathered outside the Allen Center. When the doors opened to allow students to leave for the 11:30 deadline given by Weirum, about 50 of the outsiders engaged in a struggle outside the doors of the Allen Center, where they attempted to gain access to the building. They were held off by McGarity and his security task force, campus security personnel, Weirum, and a few others. No one was seriously injured in the fight.

As the scuffle occurred, the students left inside debated what to do; one student spoke to the Houston Chronicle afterwards, saying, “we had almost forgotten about Dean Weirum’s threats and were worried about the crowd outside. [...] we thought the presence of outsiders might worsen the situation but we did want to relate to them. Since we couldn’t agree, we ended the occupation.” In total, the occupation lasted roughly 36 hours.

According to the Thresher, several people who claimed to be from the University of Houston later arrived, one of them saying that their purpose was to “help their brothers inside the building,” but at that point, the action had already passed.

As the remaining students left the building, Weirum ordered everybody outside of the Allen Center to disperse. McGarity told the crowd that he was convinced Malcolm Lovett would call the police if the protestors remained, and the group did indeed leave, heading instead towards Willy’s Statue in the academic quadrangle.

According to McGarity, the group lingered at the statue until a non-Rice student began to orate about his transcendental religious experiences - at which point the remaining stragglers also left.

Paul Hlavinka, KTRU reporter, broadcasts about bringing in food for the Allen Center occupiers.