This Week in the Archive: “Black Students Day Planned”

by Erin Tyra

Erin Tyra is a senior from Santa Fe, New Mexico, double majoring in Psychology and Rhetoric and Communication Studies. For Erin, this project has shed light on how the racial history of the University has directly impacted its present culture. Additionally, Erin feels the connections between the University and the city of Richmond provide an even more interesting perspective on how racial tensions have evolved over time. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

On March 19, 1971, The Collegian published an article titled “Black Students Day Planned” on the first page of the 58th issue. The article outlines the details of the upcoming “black student day” that students from the University of Richmond organized. Their goal for the event was to “familiarize the blacks with the University of Richmond and make them realize that Richmond has something to offer them.” One student who helped plan and execute the event was the Richmond Student Government Association president Steve Knock, who specifically noted that his goal for the event was to help “end the white, Southern reputation Richmond has developed over the years.” One hundred students from Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico were scheduled to spend the entire day on UR’s campus where they would attend  classes, eat lunch, attend the raft debate, and socialize with Richmond College and Westhampton College students. The article mentions that during this time, the University only had 12 black students attending (6 in each college), and that since this event brings high school students to the campus, black students day is also used as a recruitment tool, alluding to how the University was responding to the city’s struggle with school integration and diversification.

The 1970s were a crucial time for not only the University as an institution, but also for the city of Richmond’s public school system. During the early to mid-1970’s, the city of Richmond underwent dramatic reconstruction and integration specifically within schools. In response to the Brown v. Board court ruling , Richmond attempted to take control of its own integration reformations. The “freedom of choice” policy in 1966 allowed both black and white students to apply to the school of their choice, but due to the city of Richmond’s racially segregated housing and lack of bus transportation, it was unrealistic and impractical for students to attend integrated schools (Benjamin Campbell, Richmond’s Unhealed History, 2011, page 167). By 1968, the freedom of choice act was no longer acceptable and more concrete plans developed. After a failed attempt to pair black and white schools by the Richmond School Board, Judge Merhige “concluded that Richmond could not or would not integrate its schools without a more drastic solution” (Campbell, 167). In 1971, Judge Merhige implemented “cross-town bussing” which gave the Richmond schools a better opportunity to reach its court-mandated integration goal of “seventy percent black and thirty percent white” by providing school buses to help transport students from all parts of the city to their respective schools (Campbell, 167). This chain of events happening within the city of Richmond certainly had an impact on the University of Richmond’s student body and campus identity. While the city actively took progressive steps toward integrating its public schools, the University physically brought students from that demographic to its campus, aiding in such integration process. In fact, black students day targeted students from Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico, all counties that the new integration policies also targeted due to their “ninety-percent white” populations (Campbell, 167).

The year 1971 was also important for the University of Richmond because E. Bruce Heilman took over as the University’s president. According to Alley’s University of Richmond, during Heilman’s tenure, “the student body became much more geographically diverse” (103). Heilman’s presidency helped set the tone for the University’s administration to support and encourage diversity. As cited in The Collegian article, both the Westhampton College president, Nancy Benfield, and the Richmond College director of admissions, Thomas N. Pollard, Jr., expressed their excitement and support for the event, making it evident that diversifying the college campus was a priority for the administration. In fact, The Collegian reported how Pollard explicitly noted that the University’s low application numbers from black students was in direct result of “a long history of being segregated–in fact we’re one of the last private institutions in Virginia to integrate.”

A follow-up Collegian article from May 14, 1971 provides a preliminary review of the success and impact of black students day, citing that this event was one of many explicit recruitment methods the University implemented. The same article mentions a nine-day tour of the Northeast the Richmond admissions counselor was taking to speak to high school counselors about recruiting their students. The information the “Black Students Day Planned” article shows that members of the student body and administration wanted to actively participate in integrating the University, and that events like black students day were a step in the right direction towards making UR’s campus a more inclusive, diverse environment.

For more information on “Black Students Day” and other efforts to recruit black students at the university in the early 1970s, check out the exhibit “Resistance & Compliance” at memory.richmond.edu

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