ANY QUESTIONS: What did the shantytown protests in the 1980s look like?

Friday, December 13, 2013 | 6:01 p.m. CST; updated 3:10 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 13, 2014
Chris Brashear, left, reconstructs a shanty that was destroyed after two attacks on the protest. All but one of the buildings were torn down in December 1986.

Have a question about goings-on around town? This is part of a project called "Any Questions?" that takes on community questions and curiosities. Submit your questions to

Missourian reader Angela Allen asked us this week about the shantytown protests on the quad at MU in the 1980s. She had seen our coverage of MU working to help preserve the history of the apartheid era and said this as a follow-up:

"Speaking of archives and Mandela, haven't been able to find shanty town on the quad photos on the net," she said. "Just a suggestion for an article and Nelson Mandela rememberance."

We pulled several photos from our own photo archives, and here's some background on what happened: According to newspaper archives and an Associated Press article, from 1986 to 1987 a group of MU students protested the $127.5 million the university had in investments in companies that did business in South Africa during apartheid. 

These students built a shantytown on Francis Quadrangle symbolizing the living conditions of blacks in South Africa. The shanties were dismantled and rebuilt several times as students continued to protest the investment of university funds in South Africa and urged the university to divest those investments.

Here is a series of photos from our archive, showing various aspects of the MU students' protesting during 1986 and 1987.

BELOW: Major Jack Watring of MU Police calls in other officers during shantytown protests in February of 1987.

BELOW: Shantytown protesters march on the Quad. Photo by Patrick Nichols

BELOW: Jack Pooker, Beth Boring, Addae Ahmad and Tom Manning support divestment at an MU meeting in December 1987. Photo by Jerry Casey.

BELOW: Derick Amos of MU police holds back a crowd of anti-apartheid demonstrators at a Board of Curators meeting in July of 1985. Photo by Jim Kelly.

BELOW: Protesters held a rally at MU on April 27, 1987. The protesters compared racism at MU to the apartheid government of South Africa. Photo by Christopher Flinchpaugh.

BELOW: Students in favor of divesting university funds from companies doing business in South Africa during apartheid gather outside the Fine Arts Building at MU on February 1987.

BELOW: Anti-shantytown protesters make their message known in front of Jesse Hall in July 1987. Photo by Patrick Nichols.

BELOW: Shantytown structures were knocked down with protesters inside.

Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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Michael Williams December 13, 2013 | 7:37 p.m.


We did cardboard boxes and THEN did streaking.

Match that and get in the big leagues..........

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 13, 2013 | 10:14 p.m.

Photos look like what our students, faculty and alumni imagine MU normally looks like, either in the 1980s or today. Of course we don't claim to very imaginative. :)

Joe Miner

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 14, 2013 | 7:58 a.m.

Damn! MU in the 1980s may have come up with something MS&T can make good use of in the present.

Since MS&T is now operating at more than anyone believed was its maximum capacity (either for classrooms or student housing), the shanty-town cardboard housing thing just might provide us with a temporary solution.

For example, cardboard shanties could be erected on our north-south mall, in which our math department might teach calculus and differential equations, while (when they complete drilling of the deep wells for our new geothermal power plant) our east-west mall could have cardboard shanties housing classes in thermodynamics and stratigraphy :)

(Report Comment)

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