A Courageous Stand: The Story of the Syracuse 8


The Syracuse 8 were part of an historic wave of student activism in American colleges and universities during the late 1960s to early 1970s. Syracuse University students protested the Vietnam War, notably in the May 1970 Student Strike, and Black students’ activism on campus brought about curriculum changes. The courageous stand peacefully made by Allen ‘72, Bulls, Godbolt ‘73, Harrell ‘71 G‘73, Lobon ‘73, McGill ‘72, Muhammad ‘71, Walker ‘80, and Womack ‘71 also resulted in change at Syracuse University, though not immediately.

Slow Change

In early January 1971, Chancellor Corbally brought the committee report’s recommendations to the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee. They in turn assigned a special committee to review the recommendations. Things moved slowly, but Corbally did oversee the establishment of the new Athletic Policy Board, comprising administrators, faculty, alumni, and students, that provided a better conduit for handling student-athlete grievances. By spring 1971 Chancellor Corbally had resigned, though he ensured all the boycotting athletes would keep their athletic scholarships. But only one of the Syracuse 8 went on to play for the Syracuse University football team the following year, and while many of them had been considered excellent prospects for professional football, they were blackballed by the NFL because of their activism.

Named Eastern Coach of the Year for the 1970 season, Ben Schwartzwalder continued coaching football at Syracuse University until he retired in 1973. Among the first actions taken by new head coach Frank Maloney in 1974 was to add Bill Spencer, a Black assistant coach from Cornell University, to his coaching staff. Spencer played a significant role in recruiting Art Monk ‘80, a Black student-athlete who became one of Syracuse’s football greats. In an interview with author David Marc, Monk remarked on how different his experience on the football team was in comparison to that of the Syracuse 8: “There was never any name-calling or anything like that. I’ve been asked about this before, and I can tell you that there wasn’t even any kind of subtle hint of racism that I could pick up….I never knew anything about the Syracuse Eight during my entire time as a student at Syracuse. The first time I ever even heard of them was at a reunion in 2005….I suppose in one way that’s good because it shows how different a place Syracuse had become in such a short time. But in another way, it’s kind of a shame. I had no idea for all those years of how much I owe those guys, and how much everyone owes them, for the sacrifices they made.”

Recognition at Last

Eventually the University did fully recognize the significance of the Syracuse 8’s actions and the necessity of the changes for which they fought. Members of the Syracuse 8 were invited back to campus in 2005 to speak about their experience at Coming Back Together, the triennial reunion for Black and Latinx alumni. The following year Syracuse University formally recognized the contributions made by the Syracuse 8 by awarding them the Chancellor’s Medal for Extraordinary Courage. Recognizing the change brought about by these nine alumni, Chancellor Nancy Cantor also extended a formal apology to them. John Lobon, one of the Syracuse 8, said about that day, “I forgave Syracuse University long ago…. But now I can make it part of my soul.”

“SU to revisit history with frank discussion of 1970 football boycott,” Syracuse Record, September 12, 2005. Syracuse University News and Public Affairs Reference Collection, University Archives.

Photograph of members of the Syracuse 8 participating in a panel discussion sponsored by the Syracuse University Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, October 2005. Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection, University Archives. Photograph by Steve Sartori.

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Syracuse University Chancellor’s Medal program, October 20, 2006. Syracuse 8 Collection, University Archives.

Photograph of members of the Syracuse 8 being honored at Syracuse University-Louisville football game half-time in the Carrier Dome, October 21, 2006. Left to right: Trustee Art Monk, Ronald Womack, Duane Walker, A. Alif Muhammad, Clarence “Bucky” McGill, Dana “D.J.” Harrell, John Lobon, Greg Allen, and Richard Bulls. Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection, University Archives. Photograph by Steve Sartori.