The Impact

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Photo published in the 1970 edition of the Clemson University anual, Taps. Features members of the Southern Student Organizing Committee--a driving force in protesting the American presence in Vietnam. President Robert Whitney is seen at the center holding a sign reading “Support our boys in Vietnam, BRING THEM HOME NOW!”

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Photo by Patricia Griggs of the Independent Mail File. Clemson University students, faculty, and visitors joined in a pro-life march, pausing in the Union Plaza on campus in January, 1985.

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Photo by Patrick Wright of the Independent Mail File. Two students standing on the ledge of their Johnstone Hall dormitory holding a sign "The wrong Bill has resigned! Academics over athletics" in March, 1985.

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Photo by Patrick Wright of the Independent Mail File. A student raises a sign "Impeach the Trustees" joining more than 1,500 students rally in the Union Plaza at Clemson University to hear speeches by students in support of resigning President Bill Atchley on March 6, 1985.

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Photo by Patrick Wright of the Independent Mail File. Students held signs criticizing the Board of Trustees, and voiced their displeasure stemming from a struggle between athletics and academics. 

Universities are a breeding ground for free thought and over time have been key instigators of movements for social justice. Clemson University is no stranger to movements of student expression and protest of social issues–and Johnstone, being the center of student life on campus, played a monumental role in activism itself as well as the impact that Clemson would have on the world. 

Notably, Clemson University was at the center of race relations in the South. The University has a long and treacherous history of unfairly treating Black and Brown individuals, but student activism has been responsible for creating a more equitable and inclusive Clemson. 

During the fall of 1968, racial tensions ran high in the state of South Carolina. In the wake of both the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Orangeburg massacre, students in the Clemson community became more aware than ever of the increasingly relevant topic of racial equality. The semester was marked by social changes nationwide–many of which were anything from dinner conversations to acts of violence. For example, one such event occurred at the Johnstone complex in 1968. A group of white students launched a homemade bomb into the window of a Black RA in the Johnstone complex named Ron Berry. Berry kept the window to his dorm open, as the dorms lacked air conditioning until later in the 1970s. Campus police investigated the incident and called in additional expertise from authors at SLED who found enough explosive material in possession of the perpetrators to cause damage to an entire residential complex. 

Throughout Clemson’s time as a University, Johnstone has also been at the center of student protest. Several controversial figures and traditions occurred until recently; these traditions include the Tiger Band playing Dixie, the mascot being colloquially referred to as “The Country Gentlemen,” and waving a large Confederate flag as the football team ran down the hill and into Memorial Stadium. The Black community at Clemson has historically been opposed to Confederate and other white supremacist symbols and has sought to have them removed from Clemson athletics and other facilities. During the fall semester of 1969, the Student League for Black Identity officially released a statement calling for the discriminatory traditions to be ended, and this resulted in a plethora of racially charged posters being hung up outside of dorm windows including those at the Johnstone complex. The tense disagreement on campus also resulted in numerous altercations between white and Black students behind the Johnstone dorms–while no physical harm was inflicted, many students came to the event armed with weapons and racial slurs. 

Students at Johnstone were not only active in the campus community but in the social and political climate of the nation at large. The University has notoriously stayed impartial and does not deal with student involvement in national affairs. Clemson students, while supportive of the loosening of social and academic rules, tended toward a politically conservative approach when it came to national issues. For example, throughout much of the late 20th Century, students on campus were involved in rallies and marches in support of the Pro-Life Movement. Typically, Johnstone was the starting point for marches due to its proximity to campus and its status as being the hub for culture and community. Students also took a more conservative approach when expressing their strong support for the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968. One example of political protest from students was during the Vietnam War. Many students had concerns that the U.S. had become gradually engaged in conflict, and students opposing the war planned an unannounced anti-war rally involving about 200 people. The event began on the Johnstone Hall quadrangle and drew the attention of the 2,000 male residents of Johnstone, many of whom climbed through their windows to the ledges. Eventually, police arrived and removed many of the protestors from the quadrangle.

Most recently, Johnstone was at the center of a series of student protests against the Clemson University board of trustees and President Bill Atchley. Students gathered in the thousands, holding signs criticizing the board members, and voiced their displeasure stemming from a struggle between athletics and academics. Many felt that decisions being made were disproportionately benefiting athletes at the expense of the student population, and thus calls for the resignation of board members and the president was vocally outspoken. More times than not, students gathered at Johnstone to protest and advocate for more large-scale issues, however, this does not negate nor downplay the role that students have played in university issues as well.

All in all, Johnstone was the center of life on campus because of the community it fostered. Being known as one of the most social locations on campus, Johnstone allowed students to form deep relationships, make connections, and grow the culture and community of the University during the 20th Century. The movements and memories of Johnstone impact Clemson to this day. While the University and its subsidiaries have a long way to go to make the community as inclusive and inviting as it should be, each step along the way has played a pivotal role in making progress in the right direction.

Staff, T. G. N. (2020, August 4). Photos of Clemson students protesting over the years. Greenville Online. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

Reel, J. V. (2013). The high seminary: Volume 2: A history of Clemson University. Clemson University Press.

"Johnstone" Image Collection: Clemson Libraries. Clemson University Digital Collections. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2022, from