by Anna Lowenthal
Anna Lowenthal is a junior from Larchmont, New York, double majoring in Political Science and Rhetoric and Communication Studies. The most interesting part of the project to her has been the process of making connections between past and present and learning more about the history of the University. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.
“Collegian Forum: The Dixie Resolution” written for The Collegian at the University of Richmond on November 5th, 1971 gives a direct insight into campus culture as the University of Richmond slowly became a more tolerant and inclusive place. While it may be hard to grasp what the campus rhetoric was by reading most articles or looking at pictures, this direct letter from a member of the Student Government Association (SGA)–Gaston Williams–provides a unique perspective. The fact that this is a letter stuck out to me because it is someone’s thoughts unedited; I can get an honest idea of how some people on campus felt.
The letter was written as a follow up to an announcement from the SGA that suggested that students on campus should stop playing the song “Dixie” and waving the Confederate flag because of the meaning that has been connotated with “Dixie.” A lot of the lyrics in “Dixie” were representative of old Southern sentiments. In addition, “the song became so popular in the south that it became generally accepted as the rallying song of the Confederacy” (“Ballad of America”). There was backlash to this suggestion and the SGA Senator felt the need to clarify the suggestion and further back it up. The fact that there even needed to be a follow up to the original announcement speaks volumes to the fact that the University of Richmond was not completely open to diversity yet. However, by comparing the University of Richmond in 1971 to the city of Richmond in 1971, interesting parallels emerge.
This article was written right in the middle of a time of transition for the city of Richmond. As described by Dr. Julian Hayter in his article “From Intent to Effect: Richmond, Virginia, and the Protracted Struggle for Voting Rights, 1965–1977,” the city of Richmond’s government was starting to look a little more like a lot of the people who actually lived in the city. Smack in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, Richmond was starting to become more accepting of diversity. However, there was still a lot of racial tension and injustice present. While some people in the city understood there was a need for something to change, others were not quite as enlightened.
This concept seems to apply to the University of Richmond as well in 1971. Based on the SGA Senator’s letter, clearly there were students attending UR who knew that the campus not only needed to look a little different, it needed to act a little different. In the letter, SGA Senator Gaston Williams illustrates the fact that the University had been trying to attract more black students The University did this by implementing a Black Student Recruitment Program. Part of this program was to try to change the image that many potential students of color thought of when they thought of the University of Richmond. The SGA identified that playing “Dixie” and waving the Confederate flag around was a vital thing that needed to change if the image was going to change. Implementing the change made for a welcoming environment for both black students and black faculty. This was one of the preliminary steps made by the University to become a more a tolerant and accepting campus.
As a whole, this article really shows how one campus can be filled with so many varying opinions about what is socially acceptable to do. To me, it is hard to fathom the idea that the Confederate flag was still being waved around the school I currently attend less than 50 years ago. I think Gaston Williams probably felt the same way. However, it is clear that some of his classmates saw no problem with this act. Unfortunately, the inequality and racial stereotyping that was present in 1971 is still not completely abolished. The University, and the city in general, still have many steps to take in order to reach full equality for all people.