Monday, February 16, 2009

Allen Bldg Takeover & Race At Duke: Reflections

A Chronicle editorial today recalls:

Forty years ago last week 50 to 75 black Duke students walked into the Allen Building and refused to leave. They had with them a set of very specific demands for the University. . . .
I want to share with you three outstanding reflections by members of the Duke community.

The first two, written in response to TC’s Feb. 13 article – "Alumni Reflect On A Defining Moment In Duke History" – are posted on that article’s thread. The third reflection is in response to today's TC editorial and is posted on its thread.

First from Fact Checker - - -

Perhaps we can understand taking over Allen Building if we know a few facts of what Duke's black students in that era faced:

1) - - Douglas Knight arrived to be president of Duke University at the exact same time as the first black freshmen (the graduate and professional schools had admitted a couple blacks two years earlier).

Mr Knight -- who had a background surprisingly similar to Brodhead's with Yale degrees and Yale English department pedigree -- promptly joined the Hope Valley Country Club.

The club was a notorious segregated institution that many at Duke University -- for example, the entire health system then led by Dr Barnes Woodhall -- had refused for some years to patronize. In fact Dr Woodhall tearfully begged Knight not to join.

2) - - Though the first black students arrived in 1963, Duke U refused to recruit any blacks for its basketball team for several years. When the first black did arrive, it is because he walked on, and surprise, he made the team. Forget what opponents did; his teammates proceeded to taunt him with the N word for his entire career. At the end of his first year, he was not even invited to the team's banquet.

Also in sports, there was a sign at Duke Stadium (not yet called Wade) announcing a "Negro section" way by the goalposts three seasons after black students arrived. The athletic director refused to remove this sign; a few years later Duke named its indoor stadium after him.

3) - - For many years Duke U refused student suggestions and demands to invite Dr Martin Luther King Jr to speak. When Dr King won the Nobel Peace Prize, he could be denied no longer. But Dr King was relegated to Page Auditorium, refused the pulpit in Duke Chapel.

4) - - When Ray Charles performed on the quad, he was denied use of a university apartment and had to sleep overnight across the railroad tracks on the third floor of a walk up "hotel."

Class dismissed.

From Duke in the 1990s - -

American history teaches us that progress in in civil rights and racial reconciliation is indeed painful. The kind of progress Duke has undergone over the last 40 years is indeed painful, given that it was a school every bit a part of the tobacco and cotton picking South from which it had its birth.

I graduated from Duke in the 1990s and I was the first black student ever to have attended college from my family, and for that matter, to attend Duke from my high school in North Carolina.

At that time, Duke was still seen by blacks and whites as a Southern (Gothic) playground for rich white kids. Many questioned why I would ever consider attending.

Well, I attended because the school embraced me and while I did struggle at times financially, the school did not forsake their commitment to helping me finish, as long as I was able to my part.

For that very reason, I make sure I contribute financially to the school every year and I now look forward to the day when my own son will attend the school as well.

In 2009, I still see some obvious stumbles at Duke. For one, the school continues to do a terrible job at recruiting Hispanic students, the fastest growing segment of the US population.

Again, true progress is not the same as perfection and it is also sometimes painful, but what's most important is that it does come.

And Willow Wind today responding to TC editorial - - -

As an African-American, I was disappointed that so few, if any, of the AA faculty at Duke chose to join fellow AA James Coleman in denouncing the prosecutorial misconduct of the former Durham DA.

In fact, many of Duke's AA faculty seemed to be particularly susceptible to manipulation by the DA's deceptions into leading the rush to accuse the innocent Duke students.

It always seemed to me that African-Americans are the most vulnerable to corrupt DA's, and have the most to gain by demanding the following of proper procedure. Who knows how many innocent AA's in Durham have been railroaded into prison through the use of bogus evidence and faulty procedures.

But because those accused by the former Durham DA were white, and not black, many AA professors at Duke appeared to abandoned their principles of civil liberties, in favor of tolerating the very abusive practices, conducted in plain sight, that led to the DA's eventual disgrace and disbarment.

Until there is some process by which the African-American faculty at Duke can honestly self-assess its behavior, and provide something other than a "white-wash" (sorry for the reverse pun), I cannot accept that Duke has achieved much in the way of building a strong African-American faculty of which the entire university community can be proud.


scott huminski said...


When you have people receiving government payroll checks, they look out for each other. This is the way government works. They protect each other, even across party lines.

-- scott huminski