On June 8,1964 Walter Carpenter became the first African-American to receive a degree from the University of Richmond through the institution’s University College division. This overlooked historic occurrence predates the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the arrival of Barry Greene (the first black undergraduate student) on campus in 1968. Yet I would urge caution against identifying this milestone as an indication of progressiveness on the part of the university. Instead, Walter Carpenter’s story underscores the cumbersomeness of the university’s segregation policy.
When Carpenter began taking a graduate class sponsored by the university at Ft. Lee, University of Richmond administrators did not revoke their pro-segregationist stance. Ft. Lee, a military post in Virginia, and the rest of the armed forces formally integrated in 1948 under Executive Order 9981. Since the class was being held at Ft. Lee it is presumed that the university did not have jurisdiction over who was allowed to enroll. Although Carpenter was a civilian employee, he benefitted from desegregation at Ft. Lee. For an unknown reason, Carpenter’s class was eventually shifted to University College, the University of Richmond’s downtown division, in 1962. At its semi-annual meeting in February of 1963, the university’s Board of Trustees reaffirmed the school’s policy of racial segregation but opened certain graduate and professional classes to black students. To the uncritical eye, it would seem that the university took a meaningful step toward openness and integration but in actuality, the university simply forged a very narrow path to progress in one place and double downed its segregation efforts everywhere else, which made for a deceptively open yet still very racist admissions policy.
In February of 1964, the university issued a statement announcing classes sponsored by the American Institute of Banking were open to black people and that 12 or more had been enrolled in classes. The Collegian article reporting this decision made no mention of Carpenter, whose course of study was not part of the American Institute of Banking. In fact, Carpenter had completed his degree requirements for the masters of commerce before the university issued the statement. The university’s statement only slightly widened the path to integration because it just opened courses sponsored by one entity. At this point University College was not completely integrated; only certain courses were, including the ones sponsored by the American Institute of Banking. Again it seems that the university was trying to give the illusion of an open admissions policy while still being pro-segregation.
Carpenter’s story is one of unanswered questions. For instance, why was Carpenter allowed to continue the class when it moved to University College? Why did the class move at all? Why did the university actually confer the degree? Did they not have the authority to withhold it?
This week’s episode takes a step back from the archive and offers a perspective on the recent election.
To be frank I didn’t want to write about the outcome of the election. I didn’t want to have to give it more than half a second of thought. I didn’t want to seriously confront the reality that is before us. In the days following the election a wave of indignation flooded over me and I found myself not even wanting to talk about the results. I felt as though I didn’t owe anyone my insight or a report on how I was feeling. Instead I chose to consume. I gorged on every tweet, op-ed, podcast, Facebook post, etc. that I could find and as I sought to make sense of what had happened I came to understand that my silence was not an option.
In my search for answers I was reminded that although shocking a Trump presidency should not come as surprise. Trump is tragically symptomatic of what America really is. The results of the election are in no way ahistorical. America was, is, and has been cradled in a sordid legacy of racism and discrimination. The very foundation of who we are rests upon the same foundation upon which Donald Trump built his campaign, the preservation of white supremacy. And sure, there’s room to acknowledge the ways in which progress has been made in this country but there is obviously still so much more work to do.
We here in the ivory tower are not immune to the existing structures of larger society. Masked as bastions of progress and innovative thinking, higher education institutions often replicate patterns of injustice. The University of Richmond is no stranger to the replication process, whether we turn to the on-campus minstrel shows of the 50s, resistance to integration in the 60s, or the fight to maintain “Dixie” and the Confederate flag as university symbols in the 70s. Although the University has begun to move from its reputation as an exclusive, all-white, Southern institution it still posits the stories and contributions of white men as central to the narrative and neglects to acknowledge the vital role that people from minority groups have played in the University’s success. That privileging of whiteness in University history does little to dismantle the underbelly of white supremacy.
Now more than ever projects like this matter. People need to know and understand actual silenced voices. People need to confront the University’s racist past and its implications in the present. We need to reclaim that history and uncover the stories of those who currently exist on the margins. We, myself included, must continue to publicly engage in questions of the past in order to continue the undoing of racial inequality.
In light of new evidence found in the archive, this week’s episode revisits the 1971 controversy surrounding the now-defunct University Band’s use of the song “Dixie”.
Despite having integrated downtown night courses in 1964, the University of Richmond remained segregated on its main campus until 1968. Early that year the Board of Trustees approved a measure to accept federal funding for projects outside of capital construction. In part, the funding meant that the University had to comply with federal statutes such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program receiving federal funds. Although the aid would not have been available until the following school year the University had to prepare to meet prerequisite qualifications for certain grants. Part of those prerequisite qualifications was compliance with the Civil Rights Act. During this time attitudes toward integration on campus greatly differed with some calling for swift action and others dragging their feet into the inevitable.
Conversely, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), one of the federal agencies charged with enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was steadfast and exacting in its mission to integrate schools. HEW officials in Virginia began pressuring the University to integrate not only its student body but also its faculty. An editorial published in The Collegian on September 20, 1968 echoed HEW’s plea for faculty integration. Writing on behalf of The Collegian staff, this editorialist noted that The Collegian’s stance on integration was not meant to be seditious or in vogue with the times but rather earnestly rooted in the belief that University of Richmond students did not have enough contact with people of other races and “have never been fortunate enough to really get to know the educated Negro.” The editorialist went on to contend that the university could not claim to be liberal arts if it did not expose students to those of different “races, creeds, colors and social backgrounds.”
Interestingly, the editorialist made no appeal to claims of justice or civil rights even though the push for integration of any kind was propelled by civil rights legislation. Moreover, the piece presents white students as the main beneficiaries of faculty integration and does not address the implications of this on black faculty. The sentiment there is ‘if we hire black faculty or do a faculty exchange with a historically black college or university then all will be well.’ The piece does little to nuance the argument and paints the issue as black and white.
The accompanying cartoon functions similarly. The artist chose to depict faculty integration with scientific imagery. In the image an apparatus holds two glass bulbs labeled “instructors”. One bulb contains black molecules and the other contains white molecules, which are taken to represent black and white faculty respectively. At the bottom of the image a flask labeled “U of R Faculty” contains a fairly equal mix of both black and white molecules. The choice to represent faculty integration with an image that evokes scientific study suggests that there can be a “science” to the process in a way that strips the problem of its context and sordid history. The hands with no body attached also evoke a detachment from the lived human experience of fighting for integration. Although the written piece makes appeals to humanity and improvement thereof, the appeals are limited to conceptualizations of white humanity. Both the editorial and the cartoon function to create the illusion of an alchemy of integration in a way that does not humanize the actual experience of integration for black people.