by Keith Oddo
Keith Oddo is a junior from Roanoke, Virginia, double majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and History. He believes this project provided him with great research experience that will be valuable in his future academic work. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.
On February 11, 1966, Robert Edge wrote a personal letter in the University of Richmond’s campus newspaper The Collegian titled “RC Student Asks Classmates to Join Fight for Equality.” In his short letter, which made page two of the campus newspaper, Edge discussed the Richmond Human Relations Council Tutoring Program. In the mid 1960s, the United States was in the heart of the fight for racial equality, as black people were fighting relentlessly to have the same opportunities and fair treatment as white people across the country country. The struggle came with civil unrest. The Watts riots had just taken place in California where over 30,000 people were recorded participating in the riots and fighting with police, which left thirty-four people dead, 1,000 injured and 4,000 arrested. In the summer of 1966, which was only a few months after this article was published, the Hough riots (Cleveland), Hunter’s Point riot (San Francisco), and Division street riots (Chicago) all gained national attention (Mass).
The University of Richmond program dealt directly with the race issue, specifically in the city of Richmond, and attempted to make positive strides to finding a solution to this abysmal problem. Edge asked his peers to come help tutor students in the “slums of this city, of our city” that desperately needed help due to the lack of quality education and poverty. Considering most college students have their fair share of free time, especially on the weekends where they sleep in until noon and then party at nights, the least they could do was take a few hours and help out those that are not as fortunate as them. Not only would this have been a great opportunity to help out in the community, but this was a chance to pull two dividing races together. This was an opportunity to lend a hand and show that the color of an individual’s skin did not matter. This was an opportunity to change the culture of a city that had been defined and restrained by its segregated past for decades. There may have been some legitimate excuses or reasons for why students had not been attending at high rates, but Edge did his best to eliminate as many of those obstacles as he could. He offered transportation to any student that was willing to sacrifice his or her time to help the struggling students in the city of Richmond. “There is no excuse for the good people on this campus not to come out and help us.” Robert Edge needed help, but the students at the University of Richmond were stuck in their bubble and unable to break through a divided time with a simple action.
This article is fascinating because it deals with an uncomfortable topic for many people during this time period, and the brave actions of one individual to try and make a difference. Robert Edge probably faced backlash from many people around campus who were “stuck in the past.” However, this did not stop him from standing up for an issue that he believed could define our country, his generation, and the city of Richmond for years to come. It was disappointing to hear about the lack of support for his program, but it is not surprising at all, given the University of Richmond’s controversial race related past. It seems like the majority of pieces that have been discussed in class show that the University is stuck in the past and continuously fails to modernize its procedures and actions (Ex. HEW piece). There are not many positive stories of students getting out of their comfort zone and standing up for equality. However, the story of Robert Edge is different and should never fade away or get lost in the records of this campus. It should be praised for generations to come for the courage and fight that he displayed, even though he was outnumbered.