Newt 1968: Gingrich led protests against nude censorship

Newt Gingrich as professor at West Georgia College, circa 1975. 

In the continuing spirit of our recent posts on the 2012 Republican candidates, we give you this nice piece of reporting yestersday from Reuters, sent to us by the Free Expression Network (FEN).  Enjoy… 

(Reuters) – Republican candidate Newt Gingrich attacks President Barack Obama as a “radical” and “community organizer,” but as a Tulane University graduate student in 1968, he helped lead an anti-censorship protest in defense of sexually explicit photographs.

While Republican foe Mitt Romney steered clear of the college campus tumult that year by doing Mormon missionary work in France, (see our post Mitt Romney Part III, the next “Baby Boomer” President? )  Gingrich warned Tulane’s president of an impending “clash of wills” over the university administrator’s decision to ban publication of explicit photographs in “Sophia,” a literary supplement for the student newspaper “The Tulane Hullabaloo.”


The episode illustrates some of the same pugnaciousness that Gingrich now displays as a candidate for the Republican nomination.

It also underscores a sharp evolution in his views on civil protest, an issue that has played out during the campaign because of the growing strength of the Occupy Wall Street movement. During a forum last November, Gingrich suggested that participants in the Wall Street protests, “Go get a job, right after you take a bath.”

.  ….


A spokesman for Gingrich’s presidential campaign did not respond to an email requesting comment.


Accounts published by the Hullabaloo, retrieved from university archives, describe the standoff over two artistic images the literary magazine sought to publish.


HUMAN BODY PARTS

One photo showed a Baton Rouge sculptor posing beside what was described as a “mechanized box” carrying “symbolic descriptions” of human body parts, including sex organs. The second image showed a naked sculptor posing with a statue that depicted what Hullabaloo described as “male and female figures with enlarged sexual organs.”


A proposed caption described one photograph as “an ironical statement on the fad for nudism.”


Tulane authorities at the time, including President Herbert Longenecker, banned publication, argued that the images “are considered to be obscene” and could expose the university to “criminal prosecution.”


Demonstrations erupted, including a picket of Longenecker’s residence.  Within days, the movement split into factions. Gingrich’s group called itself Mobilization of Responsible Tulane Students, otherwise known as MORTS.  The same day that MORTS announced its formation, student picket lines spread to the New Orleans offices of Merrill Lynch, a local bank, a  department store and a local TV station.


On March 11, 1968, MORTS leaders, including Gingrich, met with  Longenecker and other college officials. Typewritten minutes held in college archives show that Gingrich was one of the more outspoken leaders at the meeting, employing the kind of bombastic rhetoric that has been a trademark of his national political career.


“It is now a question of power and if the student body wants to demonstrate until May – we are down to a clash of wills,” Gingrich told Longenecker, according to the minutes, which were obtained by Reuters.  As the meeting concluded, Gingrich warned: “There will be increasing attempts of the student body … to test the guide-lines and test the administration. As long as the student body is aroused it will meet.”


Eventually, the protests waned and the university held firm on the photograph ban. Some members of Gingrich’s protest group later went on to form the Tulane Liberation Front, which occupied a student center and demanded that the swimming pool be opened to the general public.


Though college campuses were hotbeds for political dissent into the 1970s, Gingrich’s student activism waned. University records show that by the summer of 1969, his protest days were behind him. He had
persuaded Tulane to allow him to teach a non-credit course in futurology called “When You are 49; The Year 2000.”


Reporting By Mark Hosenball in Washington; additional reporting by Kathy Finn in New Orleans; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Philip Barbara  http://blogs.reuters.com/search/journalist.php?edition=us&n=philip.barb

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