50 years ago: Students participate in ‘Whip to White’

Trenton Abrego, Editor-In-Chief

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While a three-finger ‘W’ symbol might seem insignificant today, in 1969 at South Dakota State it was anything but.

The symbol represented the “Whip to White,” where South Dakota State students attempted to complete a seemingly impossible task: drink the town of White, South Dakota dry.

Almost 50 years ago, on May 17, 1969, South Dakota State students descended on White, a small community 15 miles northwest of Brookings, to attempt the task.

The event wasn’t the only one of its kind. From May 9 through May 11, North Dakota State students participated in an event that was dubbed “Zip to Zap.”

“Zip to Zap” was supposed to be a spring break diversion, instead it turned into a full-fledged riot. Tensions became so high in Zap, North Dakota, that the National Guard had to come in and shut it down.

To this day, it stands as the only riot to be defused in North Dakota.

The aftermath of the event created some anxiety among the SDSU Students’ Association. Especially, the then-president Bob Quinn.

“There’s no campus organized group promoting this and certainly not student government. Yet, if students do go to White it becomes their responsibility to maintain sanity,” Quinn told The Collegian.

When it was all said and done, two windows were broken (one was paid for immediately) and a bonfire was started (and quickly put out) on Main Street. Although the damage was more extensive than that.

“Students were messing around in yards, trampling gardens and breaking branches, breaking or carrying off lawn ornaments, and otherwise trashing private property,” Charles Woodard, who helped organize opposition to a second event, said in an email.

The trash combined for “three truckloads of trash” according to White Mayor Emmett Hurney.

The Collegian also reported that 550 cases of beer were consumed by 6:30.

Hurney was displeased with the stunt – to say the least.

In the May 22, 1969 edition of the White Leader, Hurney wrote “White certainly got a lot of publicity, but it sure isn’t anything to be proud of. I certainly hope White doesn’t have to contend with this sort of thing again, and I certainly don’t envy any other small community which might be visited.”

Hurney was right, the event did gain a lot of publicity. News organizations such as the ABC and CBS from Chicago turned up in White to cover the event.

Hurney also told The Brookings Register, that if White residents descended on Brookings, “we would have the following charges: public intoxication, driving while intoxicated, blocking main street and highway, disrupting right to do business, destruction of property, indecent exposure and littering streets.”

Despite the displeasure from Hurley, The Collegian reported that the event ended peacefully and even included a quote from a White Community Club president, Art Graslie.

While Graslie was pleased that the event was peaceful he hoped that “it doesn’t have to happen again.”

Despite the sentiments of the residents, students had planned to make this a yearly event.

White residents had a different idea.

According to Woodard, a petition circulated among White residents and received more than 200 notarized signatures (all but a few citizens of White signed the petition).

“We, the undersigned citizens of White, South Dakota, do hereby serve notice to all concerned that we are diametrically opposed to a repetition of the ‘Whip to White” day perpetrated by students of South Dakota State University on May 17 of last year, and pledge that we will take whatever legal measures necessary to prevent the recurrence of an event which we believe to be an insult to our community, an adverse moral influence on our young, a potentially traumatic experience for our elderly, and a violation of our citizen’s rights of privacy and personal dignity.”

The petition was made to have South Dakota State leaders and Brookings officials to discourage another event.

Despite the petition, students from SDSU and other colleges went to White but were met at the town entrances by the White Volunteer Fire Department, who told them that the event wouldn’t happen.

“A college beer bust, an outlet for spring fever, isn’t compatible with a small, rural community,” Woodard said at a Students’ Association meeting.