Retired Durham policeman recalls Allen Building Takeover

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 05:33 PM

I received a call Friday from a man who said he was there during the Allen Building Takeover, the dramatic 1969 civil rights moment on Duke University campus that we wrote about this week. Except he wasn't a student guarding the doors or putting flowers on policemen's badges. 

He was wearing the badge.

G. Edward Lee was a sergeant with the Durham Police Department in 1969, already having served a decade on the force.

Now, at 75 years old, Lee recalls lining up for hours with three riot squads in front of the Allen Building, waiting on orders on what to do next.

"We were just on display," Lee said, as students from Duke, UNC and N.C. Central surrounded them, fueled by the tense situation. About 60 black Duke students were inside the Allen Building and took over the Central Records Office. They made demands of the university, which ranged from the creation of a black dorm to an end to police harrassment.

Lee said female students would walk up to them and stick flowers in their badges.

"No one at the front was giving us any trouble," he said. "We didn't know we were going to be involved in a riot, even though we were prepared for one."

Unlike the recollection in Friday's Herald-Sun story, which quoted someone as saying tear gas was used after students threw flowers at the officers, Lee said someone climbed up to a rooftop and ended up throwing a brick.

The brick hit one of the officers on their helmets, injuring them, Lee added, and "We charged...We chased the crowd back" after people started throwing rocks and bottles.

The police presence wasn't "organized properly," he said, and police officers were "getting surrounded."

He retired from the Durham Police Department in the late '80s as a major. He lived the "riotous atmosphere" of the civil rights era.