Join the Rutgers community for Black on the Banks: African-American Students at Rutgers in the 1960s: A public conversation on the struggle for equity and access in higher education featuring African-American alumni from Rutgers College and Douglass College, Classes of 1964 through 1973 on the occasion of Rutgers' 250th Anniversary.
The conference takes place November 6–7, 2015, at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, and is free and open to the public. Learn more about each panel session below.
Conference registration is now closed.
Friday, November 6, 2015
Location: All events on Friday will be held at Neilson Dining Hall, 177 Ryders Lane, G.H. Cook Campus, New Brunswick | Get Directions | Event parking is available in lots 76, 99C and 99D.
1–1:30 p.m. Registration
1:30–2 p.m. Welcome and Introductions
2:00–3:30 p.m. African Americans in a White University, Part 1: Black Student Life at Rutgers College and Douglass College, 1961–1965
Moderated by Cheryl A. Wall Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English. Panelists: Wilma Harris DC'66, Tom Ashley RC'64, Joe Charles RC'64, Juanita Wade Wilson DC'66, Frank McClellan RC'67
This is the first of two panel discussions about the environment that entering African-American students faced at Rutgers College and Douglass College in the 1960s. Students of color today have little sense of how different the place was 50 years ago. More than half of Rutgers students now identify as non-white, although only about 7 percent identify as African American. We should set the scene in this first panel so that students and others in the audience have some sense of what it meant to be black here when less than 1 percent of Rutgers and Douglass students were African American. Events moved very quickly in the 1960s, of course, and the experiences of those who arrived just as Kennedy assumed the presidency were quite different than those of young black men and women who arrived after Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech and Kennedy’s death. In addition, as low as black enrollment was in the later years of the decade, it was infinitesimal before then. Most of the alumni on this first panel arrived here before the March on Washington in August 1963. The mood of white America and New Jersey was a long way from being sympathetic to the aspirations of African-American fellow citizens in these years. White attitudes ranged, instead, all the way from overt racism to covert racism. As James Baldwin put it at the time, white folks in the North never thought about black folks at all while white folks in the South couldn’t think about anything else.
3:30–4 p.m. Coffee and Refreshments
4–5:30 p.m. African Americans in a White University, Part 2: Black Student Life at Rutgers College and Douglass College, 1966–1971
Moderated by Carolyn Brown, Associate Professor of History. Panelists: Greg Montgomery RC'68, Patricia Felton-Montgomery DC'68, Lynn Whatley RC'70, Barbara Morrison-Rodriguez DC'71, Greg Stewart RC'71, Curt Morrison RC'71
By the fall of 1964, when the Class of 1968 arrived in the segregated city of New Brunswick, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed. The Civil Rights Movement was making almost daily national news. In August of that summer, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the bodies of the murdered SNCC workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, had been discovered outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Bloody Sunday in Selma was the next February and, although little noticed by white people, Malcolm X was assassinated just a few weeks later. The Voting Rights Act passed the next summer, only a hundred years late. At Rutgers and Douglass, the number of black students had increased only a little (although there were fewer black women in the Douglass Class of 1968 than in the Class of 1966). The Class of 1969 showed up within weeks of the uprising in Watts in 1965, and Newark and New Jersey had their own rebellion in July 1967. The social and cultural context of life for black students was shifting rapidly and dramatically, and this second panel will explore that shift, which intensified after the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968. At Rutgers itself, Muhammad Ali spoke in Records Hall in the fall of 1967, and he linked racial injustice at home to the ever-widening war in Vietnam. Rutgers and the country were changing, and in many directions simultaneously. The purpose of these first two panels, in other words, is to consider sequentially the patterns of African-American student life in a white, northern, and public university whose acknowledgement of race and racism had been mostly non-existent. Although Rutgers’ most accomplished living alumnus, Paul Robeson, was an African American, it remained a white institution in every important respect but one: the number of black students was increasing slowly, steadily, and inadequately: Rutgers College was 1.7% African American in 1968. Douglass’ enrollment was 4% African American. The state of New Jersey was about 11% black that year. All of this had profound implications for how students interacted with each other. Fraternities at Rutgers College were more important than they are now, for example. They dominated social life and were usually bastions of racism. Prohibitions on “interracial” marriage were still constitutionally protected until 1967. What did that signify for the dating scene among black students? The blatant and subtle ways in which racism expressed itself in student life at both Douglass and Rutgers and how African-American students responded to it should be at the center of this discussion. If the question of race had barely been raised at Rutgers before 1963, media attention on “race relations” after that must also have influenced the social lives of African-American students at Rutgers and Douglass. How?
Saturday, November 7, 2015
Location: All events on Saturday will be held at Voorhees Hall, Room 105, 71 Hamilton Street, College Avenue Campus, New Brunswick | Get Directions | Event parking is available in lots 1, 16, and 11.
8:30–9:15 a.m. Continental Breakfast
9:15–10:45 a.m. Intercollegiate Athletics and Black Students at Rutgers College in the 1960s
Moderated by Edward Ramsamy, Associate Professor of Africana Studies. Panelists: Ernest Edwards RC'69, Siddeeq-El Amin RC'68, Bryant Mitchell RC'69, Michael Chavies RC'71, Byron Raysor RC'74, Charles Bowers RC'69
A panel discussion among classmates who played varsity sports at Rutgers in the mid-60s. The atmosphere around sports at Rutgers College in the 1960s is a world away from what it is now, and the role of black athletes was different too. All the varsity athletes were men since Rutgers College was all-male and Douglass did not have varsity sports. Title IX, which eventually transformed intercollegiate athletics, was still in the future. Today, of course, athletics include both women’s and men’s teams, and the entire program is bigger in every sense and also more controversial than it was then. Now the cost of high-end athletic programs at Rutgers and elsewhere—and their vexed relationship to the larger academic mission—are matters of concern to faculty, students, and alumni alike. They also touch state politics very directly. In the '60s, when Rutgers was playing in a liberal arts college/Ivy League world, intercollegiate sports looked quite different, and that had an important relationship to the academic circumstances of varsity athletes. This conference will take place on the weekend of the Rutgers-Michigan game in Ann Arbor; in the '60s, when the most important game of a football season was against Princeton, the idea of playing Big Ten-style sports was literally unthinkable. Rutgers, it was said, was a “public Ivy.” The university behaved that way, and expectations for its athletes were shaped by that ethos. There were no athletic scholarships for example. As a result, Rutgers varsity athletes were really student-athletes. Sports were also potentially an arena for the expression of racial identity and for the defiance of white supremacy. Jackie Robinson was still alive, and Rutgers’ black athletes knew his story and could identify with his struggle. In the summer of 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics, medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos expressed their solidarity with the struggle at home. Examples like Ali, Smith, and Carlos, as well as Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Curt Flood did not go unnoticed either, and their influence surely affected Rutgers student athletes as well. In what way and to what end? In addition, we should pay attention to how sports both expressed and opposed institutional racism, as well as to what it was like for black men at Rutgers in the 1960s to play for white coaches with mostly white teammates against mostly white opponents in front of mostly white fans.
10:45–11 a.m. Coffee Break
11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. African American Students and Academic Life at Rutgers College and Douglass College in the 1960s
Moderated by Deborah Gray White, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History. Panelists: Jeffrey T. Sammons RC'71, Joy Stewart Williams DC'68, Bruce Hubbard RC'69, Paulette Sapp Peterson DC'71, Carole Sampson-Landers DC'69, Michael Jackson RC'71
A panel discussion of the academic environment in the 1960s addressing two linked but separable sets of questions. The first has to do with the general academic environment and whether it seemed hostile, welcoming, or neutral toward the small minority of black students here in the mid-60s. How much overt racism was expressed by faculty members and white students toward African-American students? In what more subtle ways did racism influence the academic experience? What differences were there between the academic experience in the humanities and social sciences, on the one hand, and physical and biological sciences, on the other? The second set of questions has to do with the utter lack of courses on African-American subjects. In 1968, a white professor taught the first course on “The Negro in American History,” but there weren’t any other courses on African-American themes in the history department. Perhaps there were some in other departments, but there were surely not many. How did white professors initially respond to calls for a broader selection of courses on African-American topics? In “mainstream” courses, were African-American subjects addressed without prompting from students? There were also a few African-American faculty members and administrators at Rutgers and at Douglass. What role did they play in the academic lives of African-American students?
2:15 p.m.–4:15 p.m. Protest, Rebellion, and the Transformation of Rutgers and Douglass
Moderated by Mia Bay, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity. Panelists: Jerry Harris RC'69, Leon Green RC'71, Joyce Harley DC'72, Maxene Vaughters Summey DC'70, Jocelyn Francis-White DC'72, Randy Green, RC'72
A panel discussion of the events of 1968 and 1969, as well as of the aftermath. There is a small book on this subject by Richard P. McCormick, The Black Student Protest Movement at Rutgers (1990), for which some conference attendees were interviewed. Readers of the book, however, sense that its portrait of African-American life and politics at Rutgers is incomplete. This panel should be an opportunity to fill in some of the blanks. It may also be a moment when the different ways in which different participants remember the times can be addressed. There are first the historian’s sort of questions: What were the essential issues with which the movement sought to deal? How did leadership and organizational presence emerge? It is easy to see how it concluded, but movements don’t happen overnight. How should the story of the rise of black protest at Rutgers be told? There is also the larger set of questions about this university that the movement sought to address, as well as the tactics it used to force Rutgers to recognize them. At many other universities student protest used different tactics and received different, sometimes violent, responses from university administrators. What was the relationship between black student protest and white protest (which focused mainly on Vietnam)? Were there attempts to make common cause that failed? If so, why? From the perspective of years, the black student protests at Rutgers were among the most successful at any college in terms of their long-term impact on the university. What was the relationship of the Conklin Hall takeover in Newark in February of 1969 to the protests in New Brunswick that followed it? What was the relationship between the student movement and Mason Gross? How much of what was accomplished can be attributed to the combination of militancy and tactical skill of student leaders and how much can be explained by the good fortune of having Gross in Old Queens when so many other institutions eventually called in the police, always to disastrous effect. We know that these were transformative moments. But what precisely were the transformations and did they match the goals that the student movements on the two campuses had set? What precisely were the long- and short-term changes that the 60s generation of African-American students brought to the University? By the early 70s many of those who had pressed for change had graduated. In 1972, Rutgers College became co-educational. By 1979, when a new round of protests began, Livingston College was a decade old. On a percentage basis Livingston had the largest black enrollment in that year; 866 men and women, 25 percent of all black students in the entire university, were enrolled at Livingston. Almost 12 percent of the students in the university were African American, a number that closely tracks the percentage African Americans in the state that year. This percentage appears to be the highest black enrollment on a proportional basis in the history of the university, before or since.
4:15–4:30 p.m. Summation and Conclusion