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The United States National Student Association, a confederation of American college and university student governments, was founded in 1947 at a conference at the University of Wisconsin. It established its first headquarters in Madison, not far from the U. of Wisconsin campus. NSA was led by officers elected at its annual National Student Congress. It later opened an office at 2115 'S' St. in Washington, D.C. William Birenbaum, later provost at the New School and president of Antioch College, was an early leader of the Association.
Beginning in the late 1950s, NSA conducted an annual Southern Student Human Relations Seminar (SSHRS), educating Southern student leaders on issues relating to race and civil rights. In late 1959 the SSHRS leadership opened a year-round office in Atlanta.
The 1967 revelation of NSA's ties to the Central Intelligence Agency sparked a national scandal but did not measurably damage NSA with student governments. Provoked by the scandal, the NSA formally cut its ties with the CIA and began, for example, paying the rent for its Washington, D.C., office.
In 1969, the Association held its annual meeting in El Paso, Texas, where thousands of student delegates overwhelmed the city, particularly the Hotel Cortez, with music, drugs, and free love. NSA Executive Vice President, James Hercules Sutton, presented testimony in that year against an all-volunteer army to a Congressional panel that included General Gavin and General Omar Bradly, expressing the view that such an army would be racially imbalanced in enlisted ranks. Jim Graham, Washington D.C. City Councilman, was an NSA Vice President during this time.
NSA originally housed the United States Student Press Association (USSPA), and its news agency, College Press Service (CPS). It was American host for student Euro rail and air passes and served as American students' representative to IATA, the International Air Transport Association.
'Who co-opted whom?' was a little joke whispered by former officers of the National Student Association once they joined CIA to run Covert Action Staff's Branch 5—and thus took over the youth and student field in the Agency's larger campaign.
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