The SAS was founded in 1964 by members of Columbia College classes of 1967 and 1968. For several years, the SAS claimed a small membership; most of Columbia’s black students did not join, focusing on their own extra-curricular activities or participating in off-campus political activist groups based in Harlem.
On February 18, 1968, the University broke ground on its proposed athletic complex in Morningside Park. The SAS found its galvanizing issue in the gym, arguing that Columbia effectively stole the land from the predominantly black community that had traditionally used Morningside Park. Led by juniors Cicero Wilson and Ray Brown, the organization enlisted the support of the Harlem community and of New York’s leading black activists, and spoke out publicly against the complex, labeling the project “Gym Crow.”