Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Civil Rights Act of 1964, UR Integration (1964-1973)

The actions of the University administration during the period of integration and its attitude toward black students combined with the racism in fraternities during this time created an exclusionary atmosphere for black students. The artifacts found in the University of Richmond yearbooks illustrate how normalized public racism at the University was as these racist items were chosen to be published because they were representative of the University of Richmond experience. The University’s struggle to comply with the Civil Rights Act and the “Dixie” controversy bring to light what life was life for black students who were admitted to a University that struggled to create an inclusive environment, and the racism in fraternities demonstrates why black students struggled with the absence of a social life and experiences of racial prejudice. 

UR's Struggle to Comply with the Civil Rights Act

On July 2, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. During this time period, the University was reluctant to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and struggled with its reputation as a predominantly white, Southern institution. In 1965, the University of Richmond approved a new open admission policy stating that the University will consider all applicants who meet the academic requirements regardless of race, color, or national origin. However, in the spring of 1968, Dr. Eloise Severinson, the Regional Civil Rights Director of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) demanded that changes be made as the University has failed to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In order to continue receiving federal funds, HEW suggested that the University make a greater effort to recruit black students. In the fall of 1968, the University became “truly integrated” as five full-time black students were admitted to the main campus with Barry Greene being the first black residential student. In a correspondence between HEW and the University in the fall of 1970, HEW stated that the University “still projects an image of an exclusive all-white ‘Southern’ institution” and was not making enough effort to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1972, student leaders of campus organizations created the organization, Students for a Well-Balanced Campus, to address President E. Bruce Heilman with concerns that there were few minority students enrolled at the University of Richmond and what actions needed to be taken to address this deficiency.

"Dixie" Controversy

In 1971, controversy over the playing of “Dixie” by the university band along with the waving of Confederate flags at events emerges as the University struggles to become a more inclusive place. The lyrics of “Dixie” represent sentiments of the Old South and the song is considered by some to be a rallying song of the Confederacy. Stanley Davis, a black student at the University, argued that “Dixie” was offensive, and it was a symbol of the Old South and repression, and that it would be difficult for Richmond to encourage black students to attend when it played and celebrated a song that created a certain kind of "attitude" and "image" about the University. The Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution that restricted the singing of “Dixie” by the university band as the SGA identified the playing of the song as antithetical to the University’s efforts to recruit black students. The Director of Bands, James Larkin, and other students and community members argued that the playing of “Dixie” and the display of the Confederate flag were not signs of racism and that a ban on “Dixie” was a violation of the First Amendment and a symbol of Richmond’s cultural heritage as the former capital of the Confederacy.

Kappa Alpha 1964

This photo from the Kappa Alpha spread in The Web 1964 features men dressed in what appears to be replica Confederate uniforms raising a Confederate flag. A band plays in the background and a crowd of adults and children watches the proceedings. 

Phi Delta Theta 1968

 

This photo from the Phi Delta Theta in The Web 1968 features a man wearing a Confederate flag vest on the far right. 

Sigma Phi Epsilon 1970

This photo from the Sigma Phi Epsilon spread in The Web 1970 features a fraternity brother standing on the roof in the upper lefthand side wrapped in a Confederate flag. 

Kappa Alpha 1970

This photo from the Kappa Alpha spread in The Web 1970 features a Confederate flag hanging in the background. 

Kappa Alpha 1971

This photo from the Kappa Alpha spread in The Web 1971 features the brothers of the Kappa Alpha fraternity holding a large Confederate flag in front of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The statue was erected in 1890. 

This text from the Kappa Alpha spread in The Web 1971 describes "Robert E. Lee on the mantle," "Old South," and "KA stomp to Dixie." The song "Dixie" was played at University events and was viewed as offensive and a symbol of the Old South by black students. A description of Kappa Alpha in The Web 1961 explains that Kappa Alpha was created at Washington and Lee University in 1865, and is the "only national fraternity which bases its principles upon the life of an actual person—Robert E. Lee." It goes on to assert that the fraternity "is Southern in the significant sense that its essential teaching is that its members shall cherish the ideal of the Gentleman, of which Robert E. Lee is the perfect expression." Kappa Alpha spreads in yearbooks from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s frequently exhibit Lost Cause ideology.

Kappa Alpha 1972 

This photo from the Kappa Alpha spread in The Web 1972 features fraternity brothers posing with a large Confederate flag. In the background is a picture of Robert E. Lee, who is listed as the 49th member in the bottom right. The description of Kappa Alpha mentions "Dixie", a song often played at University events that was viewed as offensive and a symbol of the Old South by black students.

Kappa Alpha 1973 

This photo from the Kappa Alpha spread of The Web 1973 features the fraternity brothers posing with a Confederate flag in front of them. 

 

Lambda Chi Alpha 1973

This text from the Lambda Chi Alpha spread of The Web 1973 features the phrase "Play 'Dixie', you turkeys." Two years earlier in 1971, the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) Senate voted to restrain the use of the song “Dixie” throughout the University.

Phi Gamma Delta 1973

This photo from the Phi Gamma Delta spread of The Web 1973 features fraternity brothers posing with a large Confederate flag.

Zeta Beta Tau 1970

This photo from the Zeta Beta Tau spread of The Web 1970 features the first black residential student at the University of Richmond, Barry Greene. In this photo, he poses with his fraternity brothers of Zeta Beta Tau, a historically Jewish fraternity. During Greene's senior year, he became vice president of Zeta Beta Tau. At this time there were no black fraternities, and there would not be until 1980 with the establishment of Phi Beta Sigma. Greene enrolled at the University in the fall of 1968.

Civil Rights Act of 1964, UR Integration (1964-1973)