John Carter Brown Library Sit-in

1985

On April 16th, 1985, the Third World Coalition staged a sit-in at the John Carter Brown library that caught the administration’s attention.

In the afternoon, 150 Third World students protested in the admission office, filling up the entrance hall and waiting rooms. Just minutes after they arrived, they were asked to leave. However, the protest was not finished. These students subsequently marched towards the John Carter Brown Library where 50 other Third World students had begun a sit-in. The crowd of 200 were soon after joined by 100 white students.

The Coalition emphasized that even though the sit-in was a commemoration of the 1975 events, it was not a takeover. They also addressed their choice of libraries saying that “we have chosen this, The John Carter Brown library, as the location of our action. This library, named after the family who made their fortune on the slave trading of African people, our ancestors…”

A couple of hours after the sit-in started, a university attorney received a temporary restraining order from the Rhode Island Superior Court requiring that the students voluntarily leave the library before 5 pm. If they did not comply, the students would be forcibly removed by court order. The restraining order was ultimately not needed as the Coalition and the administration held successful negotiations. Most of the agreements included creating committees to address the life of Third World students and the hiring of Third World faculty.

These promises were not met, though, which is why protests would continue on campus the following academic year (see the Brown timeline and Brown’s Black Student Protest Story).