Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

The Black Student Experience at the University of Richmond main campus: (1970 - 1992)

Introduction (1970 -1973):

 

The University of Richmond’s black student integration experience is a tale of feet dragging by the University administration, threats of defunding from the federal government, and some resistance from the student body.  University of Richmond jumped through hurdles to avoid integration and maintain federal funding after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, complete with creating University College to cater to the “nontraditional” student. In 1968 the University of Richmond had its first full time black student enrolled in Richmond College, Barry Greene. Black students at UR had to fight to cultivate spaces for themselves where their opinions were acknowledged as legitimate, and their experiences were not discredited within the predominately white institution.

In 1971 an article was published by the Collegian called, “Product of Neglect: The Absence of A Black Social Life,” in which students addressed the need for more black students on campus, claiming that students had to travel to neighboring universities for a social life. At the time of the article there were ten black men and three black women enrolled at UR.  University of Richmond branded itself as a white, Baptist, local, private university. As a result, it had trouble recruiting black students. Articles from the Collegian however, push for greater consideration on the amount of effort that was put into black student recruitment past what was necessary to receive federal funding. In 1973 the Collegian published an article called "Registrars Seek to Overcome 150 Years Of Black Exclusion." In the article the Director of Admissions at Westhampton College, Mary Allen Anderson, said, “We have more applicants now than we will ever have beds for, thus there is really no sensible reason for an active recruiting program.” In the same article, however it says that Richmond College participated in Project Access and the National Scholarship for Negro Students list in an attempt to recruit students.

Racism was not eradicated with the admission of the first black students to UR.  In 1971 the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) passed a resolution for the school band to stop playing Dixie at university functions. The song Dixie was born out of blackface minstrel shows and became the unofficial battle song of the Confederacy. The song is a symbol of segregation and slavery. The resolution was overturned however by a majority of the student body claiming the song was of “traditional historic value” according to an article called “366 Students Cheer ‘Dixie’,” published in 1971. Black students continued to feel ostracized by the song. Norman Williams claimed that the song reminded him of the Old south, slavery, and bondage. Instead of the University getting involved and distancing itself from symbols of the Confederacy, Thomas N. Pollard Jr., the Richmond College Registrar, in response to black students saying they would not have come to UR had they heard the song played on campus before their admission, said that black recruits would never find out the song is played, calling it a “so-so” issue.  Pollard’s response exemplifies the University’s indifference and lack of interest in creating an environment where black students were welcomed.

Not only did black students have to fight for acknowledgment and legitimacy from the administration, but also from their fellow peers. G. Edmond Massie in a Collegian Forum published in 1971 called “Bigotry from a Minority,” said, “The current furor over the playing of “Dixie” and any display of the Confederate flag…Both supposedly representing “racism” … is a prime example of bigotry in its most potent form: a minority attempting to force its will on the majority.” Additionally, 366 students voted against the Dixie resolution believing the song was of historical value while only 276 voted for it. Although the vote in support of Dixie won, almost half of the student body supported black students and voted against it.

Black students did not have spaces for themselves on campus where their feelings, opinions, and right to be students were not questioned. There were no black faculty or administrators on campus; the only black adult face students would have seen would have been the custodians or the gardeners. This exhibit will explore the acts of activism, intentional or not,  by black students through their experience at UR in their creation of clubs and organizations. Additionally, it will explore the tension that existed between black students and the administration in their attempt to be integrated into the campus.

 

 

Credits

Jennifer Munnings