Final Reflection

This course has been so critical to my understanding of Amherst College history and its connection to the present. My project in particular has been immensely important to understanding the way that my experience at Amherst as a black transgender person has connected me to a community of other black queer and trans people throughout this college’s history. I spent my semester in the archives trying to find out what black queer life has been like over the decades. My research question was: what are the varied experiences of Black queer and transgender people at Amherst College? My research included looking at Harold Wade’s Black Men of Amherst, Mavis Campbell’s Black Women of Amherst College, Eric Thalasinos’ Gay History of Amherst College, Olio club photos, GALA records and surveys, and Rainbow Room/ Queer Resource Center archives.

From The Gay History of Amherst College I was able to uncover a few different perspectives on Black queer life, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. One Black gay alum from the class of 1971 stated, “The black students at Amherst, when I was there, felt that black gay people had no place in the black liberation movement. This was the period of H. Rap Brown, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Bobbie Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, etc. [So] I put myself in a closet, thus delaying the actualization of my African American gay maleness.” During the same time period, a white gay male professor teaching at the College reflected, “A disproportionate percentage of people who were out at Amherst were African American, although that boils down to very few people. They had just given more thought to their social adjustment… Or, to put it negatively, they couldn’t blend in anyway.” I found that these Black queer alums’ lives after Amherst were just as varied as their experiences while on campus—from alums who became Senior Vice President of Merrill Lynch & Co. to alums who became pastors.

What most struck me about my findings was that there has been such a range of experience for queer and transgender people here at Amherst throughout its time. It became quite clear that there was no one cohesive narrative of the Black queer experience at Amherst, even at one particular time, much less over the span of decades. This is something I expected going in, but reading so many different accounts of people’s time here made it that much more evident.

In the end, I’m left with very few answers, which is okay because I’m also left with some key questions and a lot of future research. I’m left wondering 1) why/ why aren’t black queer people’s experiences present in the Amherst College archives and 2) what is the significance of having one’s story present in the archives? Going forward, there is so much more work to be done. I barely captured the tip of the iceberg of information that is out there on Black LGBTQQIA people at Amherst College. I think one interesting way to approach this topic in the future would be to look at how queerness has presented itself in the archives of BSU, ACSU, in Black Studies courses, and in Drew House over the decades.

What I’ve valued most about this Special Topics course has been the opportunity I’ve had to see how my Black queer experience is connected with so many others before me. When I entered the LGBT space on campus–what was then called the Rainbow Room– during my first day of orientation, I remember looking at one poster on the wall in particular. It was for a group called Pride & Color. I was told that Pride & Color was an inactive LGBT group for people of color in the Five College Consortium. I remember thinking about how awesome it would be to have a space like that. As time has gone on, that space where I first encountered Pride & Color has changed drastically, just as I have. The Rainbow Room is now the Queer Resource Center, a fully funded resource center on campus with a director and student staff. I’ve worked at the QRC for the last three years and one of my favorite programs I’ve had the privilege of creating and facilitating is the QTPOC Dinner, a monthly meeting space for queer and transgender people of color in the Five College Consortium.

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Pride & Color (2010-2011), QTPOC Social Dinner (2014-present)

Interview with Harold Haizlip (Amherst ’57)

05/10/16

How would you summarize your experience at Dunbar High School in D.C.? At Amherst?

Outstanding…I was a serious student, almost an all A student for the whole time I was at Dunbar…I was very much involved in the activities of the school…I had a good relationship with the principal and the faculty members there…I had good circle of friends….a special experience.”

There was no question that they wanted and expected me to go to college. They were going the extra mile to ensure that I was ready for college, particularly interested and supportive, above and beyond the minimal requirements for teachers.”

What was your relationship like with other men from Dunbar who decided to attend Amherst College?
(For example: Atkinson ’56, Greene ’56, Hayes ’59, Burwell ’59, Jason ’59, Neal ’61)

“I interacted a great deal with Karl Atkinson, both members of Phi Psi fraternity, both from Washington, D.C. We had that history in common, we also liked each other…Larry Burwell….not terribly close but we we’re friends…I acknowledged him as a man who shared a high school history.”

 What specific factors encouraged you to attend Amherst College?
(For example: Amherst alumni, Dunbar teachers, Amherst College admission deans, etc.)

“Her name was Nora Gregory…[she] was Charles Drew’s sister. She was my 5th grade teacher in Washington D.C. I remained in touch with her. She said many times over that you need to go to Amherst College. One day, she called me to meet her at her home…I, of course went…she was very supportive of me…my father had died, I had a difficult time growing up, anything she asked me to do I always did…[There was a] very nice white gentlemen Eugene Wilson…he was the admission dean [of Amherst College]… I had been accepted at Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Williams, and Dartmouth…I knew I was going to college, I didn’t know which one. After that…I made my decision to go to Amherst. He was very honest with me…He could see whether he could help…I could not get a room for race reasons [for] my girlfriend at the time also from Dunbar, a class behind me (Class of 1958) stayed at Dean Wilson’s house for three or four days…That was 1953 I think.”

“He was especially warm and welcoming when recruiting but also after students had made a decision to attend Amherst. He called me in for meetings to discuss whatever was on my mind, whether I was having any problems or challenges, how my academic work was going…A wonderful man, I really liked him a great deal.”

“The admission officers were aware of the students that they were preparing for college…there he was at my fifth grade teacher’s house…the dean of admission! there was quite a history [of the Dunbar-Amherst connection]! I feel like I benefited from that history. There were reasons for the relationship [between Dunbar and Amherst]. There was a positive relationship. This was at a time when it was unusual for college administrators, and white college administrators, to be so aggressive…they knew they were only going to take two…so they went the extra mile to find the best two. I’m sure they knew Nora Gregory’s lineage. It was her son who became the first African-American astronaut, Frederick Gregory. He was a nephew of Charles Drew. His mother who was so instrumental in making sure that I was aware of Amherst and that you had applied for admission.”

How would you describe your experience as a black student at Amherst in the 1950s?

I liked Amherst a great deal. I liked the academic challenges of the courses I was taking. There were some courses such as the American Studies course that I particularly enjoyed. I became very involved with the Classics Department and became a Classics major ultimately….I was very active…I joined Phi Alpha Psi fraternity (the first fraternity to accept a Negro student and was thrown out of the organization for doing so)…I was very active [in the fraternity], I was elected president during my senior year. I was involved in a lot of activities. I enjoyed the madrigals group in our fraternity…We performed and competed as madrigal singers, I enjoyed that very much. I don’t recall any professor that I disliked. For me, the professorial staff at Amherst was a very positive experience. I became very close to the professors…”

I really loved Amherst. It was a great place for me. I was plunged in and I got involved…Dick Button was hired to teach figure skating for the first year of the skating rink’s operation, I’ve been figure skating ever since, I do still figure skate for recreation….”

At the time I was Amherst, there were only two Negro students for each class. There were never more than eight Negro students on campus at one time….It was a good thing and a bad thing for me. I developed relationships with all Negro students …I wanted to know who they were…some such as Greene and Burwell…our Dunbar connection was an opener for our relationship…We developed interests and associations that grew out of our shared experiences and interests at Amherst…I had a number of guys who became very close friends who were white…some I’m friendly with to this very day, fifty plus years later…My very best friend is a white guy who lives in South Salem, New York who I met my first day at Amherst…we were at each others weddings, he became engaged and got married…and I fell in love with a woman at Wellesley and we became a very close foursome…I used to go to South Salem…[During my time at Amherst] he and his parents invited me to their home if the holiday wasn’t long enough for me to go home to Washington…We became extremely close and we still are…We’ve had a life of the usual things…Everyone knows that we are extremely close and that was very unusual for a Negro student and a white student at that time…I recall going to a party with members of the Classics department in New York City…“You speak our english so well, what country are you from?”…I was out and about in the dean’s circle and all sorts of things….[and] active with my singing group….”

I was not blind that I was in a racist environment. It was 1953, 1954….while the law had changed, the people hadn’t, the institution hadn’t.Those things had to be addressed…the Negro students were always assigned to single rooms, somebody assumed that they couldn’t anticipate how the student would relate to other white students and vice verse. The solution was to put negro students in single rooms. When I arrived at Amherst, my room was 409 in Morrow Dorm. I’m a full scholarship student and it never occurred to me…I thought it was a luxury, a private room! Yeah, that’s great.

I had been active in all sorts of organizations at Dunbar…We had exchange visits from students at white schools…We had various activities and programs at government agencies…at the Pentagon for example and places like that…black and white students were brought together for purposes of an event…Being black or being white was not the purpose…They made sure to create a diverse audience of students…When I went to Amherst, I knew at least three or four white students from Washington, D.C. who were also going to Amherst. Charles Lofton was the principal of Dunbar when I was there…a very special, gregarious, astute, very intelligent, well-dressed, well-spoken, black man…a role model for us as students…he would often call several students to his office that would involve our integrating with students from other schools and he wanted us to participate and represent our school, we were the ambassadors for Dunbar…He arranged for events like that  for us to participate in….on the train to amherst, were two white guys who I knew.”

 

Interview with Ray Hayes (Amherst ’59)

03/02/16

Where are you currently residing?

My year is divided equally in Silver Spring, MD and Woods Hole, MA. I am currently in Maryland.

How would you summarize your experience at Dunbar High School in D.C.?

My high school years were great. Dunbar provided an excellent education with positive feedback from faculty and administration. Dunbar was a supportive and comfortable setting for all students aspiring to go on to college.

What specific factors encouraged you to attend Amherst?

I was recruited and positively influenced by Chauncey Larry, Percy Barnes and Montague Cobb, all black alumni from Amherst and friends of my family. My visit to the college positively reinforced my choice of a small liberal arts college, thus leading to my decision to attend Amherst.

What was your relationship like with Lawrence Burwell and Robert S. Jason before, during, and after your college years? (From my research, these men were the two other Dunbar graduates from the Amherst class of 1959.)

Larry, Bob and I were very close friends. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Washington, DC, were all interested in science and medicine and were encouraged by the opportunity to attend Amherst together.

Did you also happen to know Harold Cornelius Haizlip (Dunbar ’53, Amherst ’57)?

Yes, very well. His experience at the college was a factor in my decision.

Did you also happen to know Mansfield Castleton Neal (Dunbar ‘57, Amherst ’61)?

Yes, very well. In fact, I had a chance to spend the day with Manny and his wife a couple of years ago at a book signing on Martha’s Vineyard.

Final Reflection

As a math major, I rarely get the chance for my personal and academic interests to collide. So this course has been a blessing to my academic and personal development and has provided plenty of perspective as my Amherst career comes to a close. I can truly leave this campus feeling that I have made a mark and left a legacy. At Amherst we are constantly working and constantly pushing for change, but we often fail to recognize where we came from and learn from those who came before us. Looking at the 1969 demands from the Afro-American Society demands I noticed how similar they were to the Amherst Uprising demands. I couldn’t help but think about how much the student body would have benefited if we had read them and been aware of the rich history of student activism on campus. This course gave me the unique opportunity to learn about black leaders and trailblazers from Amherst College and for that I am forever grateful.

If any space on campus holds importance to this thing we call the “Black experience at Amherst”, it is the Octagon. So with that being said there is so much left to do for this project. There are endless hidden treasures that have yet to be researched and explored. For example the mural across from Kevin Soltau’s remains a mystery. I would love to expand the project and research that mural. I would also like to look at other spaces on campus, like Charles Drew and eventually the Multicultural Resource Center.

After speaking with Sarah Smith from the library, I hope to make a small book that guides. It would include brief biographies about the faces on the mural as well as some general history of the Octagon and its development. Copies would present in the Octagon, Archives and possibly even the Multicultural Resource Center. The book would be a guide for future students to learn about alumni and another way to document black history at Amherst. In addition, I am currently working to set up a fundraising campaign for the Octagon and this will be an ongoing project the Black Student Union will take over in the fall. The money raised will go to renovating the Gerald Penny Center, including but not limited to repairing the heating system, purchasing new furniture, getting a dry erase board. Throughout my research, I found the Olio yearbooks, bio-files and building information folders to be particularly helpful. But this project also made me recognize the limitations of the archives and the power we have as students to ensure our stories are present in the archives. So another part of my project beyond this semester will be to ensure that documents found in the Octagon are placed into the archives for proper preservation.

A common thread that connected all parts of my research was power, resistance, perseverance and above all unity. Everything thing black students received on campus had to be fought for. Students had to place pressure on the administration and hold them accountable. But they recognized the power they possessed as a united student body. They banded together and made things happen. Now that I know what can be accomplished, I am excited for the possibilities of the Black Student Union and the Amherst black community.

Reflection #5

This week I really wanted to find more information about the Black Cultural Center library. I began to think about the importance of a library. At a recent BSU Meeting, we did a privilege walk and one of the statements was, “I grew up with more than 20 books in the house.” Many students stepped forward and I began to think about the importance of the presence of literature and printed materials in a home. In a lot of ways, the mere existence of and access to books in a home setting initiates a person’s relationship with reading and writing. Home reading was how I learned about black history since I was not being taught about those topics in school.

The Black Cultural Center was a second home for many students. On a campus built for white men, it was so crucial for black students to have a space with books written for and by people of color. So now I am able to understand how important it was for The Black Cultural Center to have its own library and this is reflected in the documents I have found thus far.

Back from one of my first responses, I listed the Afro-American Society demands from 1969. The library was included in the original vision of the space:

“III. Black Cultural Center

  1. Authorization to name rooms in the Center after prominent black people.
  2. Establishment of a budget of at least $15,000 for the yearly maintenance of the Center.
  3. Books for the library
  4. Records for record collection
  5. Speakers
  6. Artifacts
  7. All funds needed by the Afro-American Society for the completion of its plans now in the Dean’s office be allocated by Spring Vacation.
  8. Complete control of the Black Cultural Center”

Also on December 12, 1975, Janice C. Denton wrote a note to the Afro-American Society detailing a proposal for the development of the library. There was to be a book selection committee, which was to consist of the college librarian, a staff member, and a faculty member of the Black Studies Department. The letter also listed the types of books to be purchased, which include introductory Black Studies course books, periodicals and newspaper (which explains the stacks of newspapers in the Octagon) and advanced monographs. The students hoped the Back Cultural Center library would not only be regulated by Frost but also integrated into the Amherst College Library system.

While searching through the Octagon I found a series of documents dated back to December 6, 1980, titled “The Posner Fund”. One letter details the financial status of the library. In 1969 the Posner Family pledged $5,000 to be used for the purchase of books for the Black Cultural Center Library. This money was pledged in honor of Stanley I. Posner ’30, whose son, Lawrence D. Posner, also attended Amherst and graduated in 1959. The Lillian and Stanley Posner Foundation actually still exists, now under the name Posner-Wallace Foundation. When the gift was first given, the money was not established as an endowed fund. At the time, the criterion for an endowed fund was $3,000. But books were purchased leaving the balance at $1,833.75. So in April 1978 the president added $1,166 and established it as an endowed fund. The annual yield of the fund was $166, which allowed the group to pay for subscriptions and to continuously expand the library. Next week I will look into what happened to that fund and look more into the Posner family to understand their interest and connection to the Black Cultural Center.

Reflection #4

This week I looked through documents in the Octagon mural with Matt. We found a ton of interesting documents about the Afro- American Society/ Black Student Union. There are also loads of documents left to sort through.

 

I was able to find correspondence between Dean Jean Moss, The Office of the Dean of Students and The Black Student Union from 1988. There was discussion about the renovation of the Octagon, which included purchasing of equipment and the refurbishment of existing materials. From the letters I have read, Dean Moss appears to be the channel through which the students of the BSU connected with the administration. There is a letter for Dean Moss from June 9, 1988, where she shows support of the renovations and also emphasizes the lack of investment from the school for the center. She writes, “Indeed, if the students maintain their exemplary maintenance record, the college can enjoy another long period of low investment with high returns.”

 

Some of the requests include Security and Fire Protection, window replacement, adequate storage space, painted walls, carpeting, couches, chairs, wall outlets, a television, VCR, and a camera. I have actually have images of the furniture that was ordered, along with cost estimates. What I thought was funny was that Request #10 calls for the heating of the Octagon to be fixed. The students from 1988 state: “Currently during presentations, discussions, and other events the excessive noise from the heating pipes becomes disruptive. In order to make the GPCC more functional as a cultural center where presentations and other events take place we request this problem be corrected.” That request was never addressed since the heating in Octagon continues to rumble to the point where we can barely hear ourselves in meetings. Almost 30 years later, we still have the same issues. I also found the response from Dick Falcon (not sure of this official title) where he agrees to some renovations.

 

Something funny and interesting also came out of the Octagon images. I work for the MRC and for the last year we have been trying to find information about some artifacts (a shield and spear). I actually located the artifacts on the wall of the Octagon in some photos I found. Not sure of what year they are from but I believe it was 1988. I have contacted Adrianna Turner from the MRC and I am hoping to return those artifacts to the Gerald Penny Center this week.

 

I was also able to find a videotape of the dedication of the Black Cultural Center to Gerald Penny on October 12, 1974. I will bring the videotape to the Archives on Monday so we can view it. It is a Scotch videotape so the archives should most likely have the technology to view the tape.

 

The Octagon was dedicated the Black Cultural Center in the spring of 1968. Renovations began in the fall of 1969. I have not been able to find much visual information about the space from 1968-1988 so this upcoming week I hope to fill the twenty-year gap of information I am missing. Hopefully the dedication video will allow me to visually get a sense of the Octagon space in the 1970s.

Reflection #3

This week I pulled all the bio files of those depicted on the Octagon mural. I created a document of their current employment, hometown, major at Amherst and some interesting facts about each person. Below is the information I have so far. I will continue this research in the upcoming week. I also plan to add their dorms and campus involvement.

 

Bonnie Jenkins ‘82

Major(s): Black Studies, Psychology

Current Employment: Coordinator of Threat Reduction Program, US Department of State: Bureau of International Security

Bonnie Jenkins was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in June 2009. She has focused on U.S. coordinated efforts on threat reduction in Africa, and works closely with the World Health Organization, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the International Criminal Police Organization. She’s led a successful career in politics, serving as General Counsel to the U.S. Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government, a legal advisor to the Office of General Council at the ACDA, and the chair of the IAEA NUclear Security Training and SUpport Center Network.

 

Lisa Evans ‘85

Major(s): Black Studies; Political Science

Current Employment:

Evans worked as a paralegal for the Brooklyn office of the Legal Aid Society for four years before entering Columbia University of Law. During Evans’ time at Columbia, she was involved with various civil rights activities such as working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Evans was also named the Charles Evans Hughes Fellow and recipient of the C. Bainbridge Smith Fund. Evans worked as a Pro Se Law Clerk for a bit before getting selected by the Attorney General’s Honors Program of the United States Department of Justice to become a Trial Attorney in the Civil Rights Division. In 1996, Attorney General Reno presented her with a “Special Achievement award in appreciate and recognition of meritorious acts for service performed on behalf of the Department.”

 

Allison Moore-Lake ‘82

Major(s): Sociology

Current Employment: Deputy Director for Westchester Children

Upon graduating from Amherst, Moore-Lake pursued a myriad of public service opportunities both in the United States and abroad. For three years, she served for the Peace Corps in West Africa, working as a Community Development Analyst. Upon coming back to New York City, she worked for numerous nonprofit organizations such as “City Volunteer Corps” and the “National Civic League”, providing support to the urban youth and community development projects. She received her Master of Business Administration degree in Finance and International Business from New York University. After a stint in the finance sector working for Toronto Dominion Bank, Moore-Lake wanted to get back into the nonprofit sector and community-based programming. After doing some consultancy work for nonprofits in New York City, Moore-Lake is now working as a director for Westchester Children.

 

Margaret Vendryes ‘84

Major(s): Fine Arts

Current Employment: Distinguished Lecturer at CUNY: York College

Vendryes received her M.A. in Art History from Tulane University and her PhD from Princeton University. Her dissertation looked at expressions of race, religion and sexual orientation in the art of America’s most celebrated black sculptor Richmond Barte.

 

Edward Jones ‘26 

Major(s): Chemistry

Jones is the first acknowledged, “out-in-the-open” Negro to graduate from college in the United States. Jones entered Amherst in 1822, the second year of the college’s existence. He came from Charleston, South Carolina. where his father was a “respectable freedman of that city, and kept a first class hotel on Broad Street next to St. Michael’s Church”. After college, Jones attended Andover Theological Seminary and the African Mission School in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1830 he was ordained a priest of the Episcopal church. Edward Jones died in England in 1864.

 

William Hastie ‘26 

Major(s): Political Science

William Hastie was born on November 17, 1904 in Knoxville, Tennessee. From 1937 until 1939, Hastie served as Federal Judge for the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands. This appointment marked the first time that a black held the position of federal judge: only 74 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and the 154th year of the Republic.

 

Mercer Cook ‘25

Major(s): French

Mercer Book, born in Washington, D.C. in 1903, graduated from Dunbar High School in 1920 and from Amherst, Phi Beta Kappa in the class of 1925. He later became a United States Ambassador, scholar, leading authority on African and French literature, and a professor at Howard University for over forty years.

 

Cuthbert Tuffy Simpkins ‘69

Major(s): Chemistry

Cuthbert Simpkins was born on August 20, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. Simpkins was one of the original officers of the Amherst College Afro-American Society.  He is a physician, biographer and inventor, best known for his work on shock and violence prevention and for his 1975 biography of the jazz musician John Coltrane.

 

Charles Drew ‘26 

Major(s):

Charles Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. While at Amherst, Drew was captain of the Amherst varsity track team and narrowly missed a spot on the United States Olympic Team.  He was an African-American physician who developed ways to process and store blood plasma in “blood banks.” He directed the blood plasma programs of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, but resigned after a ruling that the blood of African-Americans would be segregated. He died on April 1, 1950.

 

Tara (Fuller)  Lamourt ‘80

Major(s): Psychology

Current Employment: Teacher/Tutor at St. Benedict’s Prep School through Catapult Learning

When she entered Amherst, she was very naive about the realities of elite college environments. However, she managed to meet challenges head on, in her sophomore year becoming the first black women to be elected to the student assembly. She was also the first black woman to write for The Amherst Student, reporting primarily on racism on campus. In her junior year, she was elected to be the first black woman to serve as an advisor to a dormitory. Although her major was psychology, she also studied acting, becoming the first black woman to have performed in the Weston Theater Playhouse. After graduation, she took up a position as an instructor for autistic children at the Teacher-Therapist Developmental Institute in Chicago. She later graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1983. Finding a passion in education, Ms. Lamourt has taught at a Red Cross Shelter and the Saturday Art Program in New York City’s School of Visual Arts. Recently, she’s been an Art Teacher at the St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, Newark, New Jersey.

 

Denise Francois ‘80 

Major(s): Political Science

After graduating in 1980, Denise deferred going to law school for a year and worked as an investigator tor for the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services. She graduated from the University of San Diego in May of 1984 with the J.D. degree. She is a member of both the State Bar of California and the Virgin Islands Bar Association, becoming president of the latter since January of 1996. As president, she also serves on the Judicial Council of the Virgin Islands. Francois is a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the American Bar Association.

 

Sonya Clark ‘89

Major(s): Psychology with concentration in African Studies

As an undergraduate she was interned in social psychology, specifically identity formation. After graduating from Amherst in the Spring of 1980, she found herself in West Africa, at Cote d’Ivorie, where she entered a program at The Parsons School of Design, and studied art, music, religion, and traditional textile designs. SHe enrolled with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and in May of 1993 obtained the B.A. degree in Fine Arts.

 

In addition this week the BSU E-Board and I cleaned the Octagon closet. We found a ton of old newspapers and images. We spent time just moving all of the documents so this upcoming week I plan to begin to look through all the material in the Octagon. Just from the few things I saw, there is definitely some interesting information in the Octagon files.

Reflection #2

Last week I focused on the Octagon before it became the Black Cultural Center. I was able to find tons of images of the Octagon when it was Woods Cabinet. There are images of all Edward Hitchcock’s geological findings and tons of images of the Babbott room. So this week I looked for information and images of the Octagon closer to the 1960s. Interestingly enough, once we hit the 1960s (when the Octagon became the Black Cultural Center) there are no images available of the interior of the Octagon in the Archives. I believe there are some images inside of the Octagon storage closet so this week I plan to look through that. I was able to find an article written about the Afro-American Society on September 30, 1968 in the Amherst Student. The article is entitled “Afro-Am Making Plans for Cultural Center”. The article details the early planning process. The approval by the Space Committee was given in the spring of 1968. Jesse War and two of his classmates began the planning process shortly there after. The original vision for the space was the main room being a social and exhibit room for African artifacts. There was also an idea for a mural depicting themes of Black life in America. Dana Chandler was hired to draw up the basic plan of the Black Cultural Center, so I going to try and find her contact information.

The Afro- American Society presented a list of demands to the Instruction Committee of the Board of Trustees at 10:30 am on Saturday, February 22, 1969. I was able to find the original list of demands in the Amherst Student. The demands include renovation of the advisory system, hiring of a black dean, curricular changes, establishment of a black studies program, summer immersion programs, etc. But more directed at my topic, the students demanded several things in regard to a Black Cultural Center. Here is an excerpt:

“III. Black Cultural Center

  1. Authorization to name rooms in the Center after prominent black people.
  2. Establishment of a budget of at least $15,000 for the yearly maintenance of the Center.
  3. Books for the library
  4. Records for record collection
  5. Speakers
  6. Artifacts
  7. All funds needed by the Afro-American Society for the completion of its plans now in the Dean’s office be allocated by Spring Vacation.
  8. Complete control of the Black Cultural Center”

These demands were not acted on immediately since I found another article written in November 1969 where the students continued to ask for funding for the Black Cultural Center in addition to complete control of the center.

In addition this week I continued to identify the missing faces on the mural located in the Gerald Penny Center of the Octagon. I was able to make significant progress in this identification by scrolling through past Olio’s. Unfortunately I am still missing one face. He was originally labeled as William Davis Jr, ’63, who was a trustee of the college. But after doing some research I realized that the photographs didn’t match up. I believe the image was commissioned by Dean Boykin East in 2007 and completed by a local artist, so I should be able to get the information about the last image soon. Currently in the archives, there is limited information about the Octagon murals, so the labeled image on the next page will eventually be a great addition to the archives. Next week I will also look in the documents of the Octagon closet to find articles and information written about  the other mural in the Octagon.

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Reflection #1

I started by looking into the Octagon before it became the Black Cultural Center. The Octagon was built in 1847-1848 and was designed by Henry A. Sykes who was an architect and contractor. Former Amherst College President Edward Hitchcock was largely responsible for the construction of the Octagon. Hitchcock describes the Octagon (Woods Cabinet): “It was not until the erection of the Woods Cabinet [the Octagon] in 1 848, that an exhibition of good taste in the buildings where young men are educated, was thought promotive of the main object instead of needless waste.” The list of donors can be found on a plaque in the Octagon and a total of $8,437 dollars was raised to build the Octagon. The Octagon housed the College’s scientific collection and the Lawrence Observatory. The original building included only the octagonal tower and the two-story cabinet. The one-story octagonal room (the room with the television) and the wooden wing at the east (restroom space) were later additions. For this information I referenced The Story of the Campus and Buildings of Amherst College by Stanley King.

I also focused on the mural located in the Gerald Penny Center of the Octagon. This week the original artist returned to campus, so I used the Alumni List Serv and the help of Kevin Soltau ’01 to identify each person depicted. I have attached the image below, which has the mural labeled. There are still a few faces that I need to investigate. I was also able to find some information about their time at Amherst. For example, I learned that the first black woman to be a resident counselor was Tara (Fuller) Lamourt ’80, who is depicted on the mural. Also her twin sister was the co-creator of the Sabrina’s A cappella Group.

I also learned that the Octagon was a venue for several weddings of Amherst College students. For example Uthman Muhammad ‘70 and his wife were married in the space. So this upcoming week I hope to really look into publications about the Octagon and how the repurposing of the space was portrayed to the Amherst community. I also hope to continue looking for flyers, event posters, to get a sense of how the space was used.

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Final Research Reflection

05/12/16

Harold Haizlip, Nora Gregory, and Eugene Wilson

After my research, I can confidently assert that the Dunbar-Amherst Connection sustained itself through an intergenerational cycle of motivation and matriculation in which older generations of Dunbar-Amherst men encouraged younger generations of Dunbar men to attend the College. But is the story of Dunbar and Amherst really that simple? Since I started this research project, I hoped to encounter evidence of how Amherst College might have made an intentional effort to recruit Dunbar students, but finding the right primary sources proved to be somewhat complex. If I could do it over again, I certainly would have spent more time searching for primary sources that could reveal how admission deans were not only aware of the Dunbar-Amherst connection, but strengthened it themselves.

However, I had my second and final phone interview earlier this week with Harold Haizlip ’59 (I interviewed Raymond Hayes ’59 earlier this semester) and I learned how far one admission dean in particular went to reach out to men at Dunbar. Eugene Wilson (1905-1981), starting his career at Amherst’s Office of Admission in 1946 and retiring in 1972, brought a holistic approach to the college admission process as well as a belief in the importance of a diverse student body. One journalist writes that Wilson accepted the admissions post “on the condition that the college set no racial or other kinds of quotas for the students being enrolled (The Amherst News, February 26, 1981).”

In an excerpt from our conversation below, Haizlip remembers how Nora Gregory (the sister of a notable Dunbar-Amherst man, Charles Drew ’26) invited him to her house to meet Office of Admission Dean Eugene Wilson who was visiting Washington, D.C. From his story, it is clear that more than the aforementioned Dunbar-Amherst alumni network motivated Dunbar men to attend Amherst. My theory of the intergenerational cycle of motivation and matriculation should have included more than just the Dunbar-Amherst men themselves. Not just older Dunbar-Amherst alumni, but family members, friends, and even Amherst deans themselves were invested in the Dunbar-Amherst tradition. Clearly, those black Washingtonians connected with Dunbar like Nora Gregory in knew of the success achieved by those Dunbar men who studied at Amherst throughout the early twentieth century. Many prestigious colleges accepted Haizlip and he knew he would attend a northern institution, but the influence of others led him to choose Amherst:

 “Her name was Nora Gregory…[she] was Charles Drew’s sister. She was my 5th grade teacher in Washington D.C. I remained in touch with her. She said many times over that you need to go to Amherst College. One day, she called me to meet her at her home…I, of course went…she was very supportive of me…my father had died, I had a difficult time growing up, anything she asked me to do I always did…[There was a] very nice white gentlemen Eugene Wilson…he was the admission dean [of Amherst College]… I had been accepted at Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Williams, and Dartmouth…I knew I was going to college, I didn’t know which one. After that…I made my decision to go to Amherst. He was very honest with me…He could see whether he could help…I could not get a room for race reasons [for] my girlfriend at the time also from Dunbar, a class behind me (Class of 1958) stayed at Dean Wilson’s house for three or four days…That was 1953 I think.”

“He was especially warm and welcoming when recruiting but also after students had made a decision to attend Amherst. He called me in for meetings to discuss whatever was on my mind, whether I was having any problems or challenges, how my academic work was going…A wonderful man, I really liked him a great deal.”

“The admission officers were aware of the students that they were preparing for college…there he was at my fifth grade teacher’s house…the dean of admission! there was quite a history [of the Dunbar-Amherst connection]! I feel like I benefited from that history. There were reasons for the relationship [between Dunbar and Amherst]. There was a positive relationship. This was at a time when it was unusual for college administrators, and white college administrators, to be so aggressive…they knew they were only going to take two…so they went the extra mile to find the best two. I’m sure they knew Nora Gregory’s lineage. It was her son who became the first African-American astronaut, Frederick Gregory. He was a nephew of Charles Drew. His mother who was so instrumental in making sure that I was aware of Amherst and that you had applied for admission.”

 

-Harold Haizlip, ’57 (excerpted from a phone interview conducted on 05/10/16 by Matt Randolph ’16) (in response to the question- “What specific factors encouraged you to attend Amherst College?”) (The photo is from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections and features a picture of a young Harold Haizlip ’57).

haizlip


Research Process

My research incorporated information and images gathered from “bio-files” (every student who attends Amherst College has a file that can be requested from Amherst College Archives and Special Collections). In addition to the standard Amherst College records which provide basic details like residence and relatives, a bio-file could contain an assortment of newspaper clippings and even funeral pamphlets. Even if you don’t find too much, a bio-file can springboard you to further sources of information. The Olio, Amherst’s yearbook, not only helped me put faces to names, but it also helped me understand what extracurricular activities and student organizations the Dunbar-Amherst men participated in during their time at the College.

If you want to research Amherst College alumni, I highly recommend that you start with bio-files and yearbooks. The Higgins Room in the Archives contains an original copy of every single Olio and there are also digitized versions available through ACDC (Amherst College Digital Collections). My most important secondary sources included the two foundational texts for this special topics course (Black Men of Amherst by Harold Wade; Black Women of Amherst College by Mavis Campbell) as well as First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School by Alison Stewart and The Dunbar Story (1870-1955) by Mary Gibson Hundley.

I have also deeply appreciated the opportunity to interview a couple of the Dunbar-Amherst men still living today for my research project. Of course, the capacity to do an oral history project depends on the chronological scope of your research. Even though many of the Dunbar-Amherst men had passed away, I was able to connect with some of the men who we’re at Amherst in the 1950s and still living today. Most alumni are more than happy to share their stories if you reach out to them by email. You can typically find up-to-date contact information for alumni through the College’s Alumni Directory. Just make sure that you have clear and specific questions for them! Although it is important to be mindful of an inherent degree of unreliability with oral history, what I learned from these conversations has been incredibly enlightening and gave me a greater appreciation for the Dunbar-Amherst story in a way that written documents never can.


Final Words

Why does my research on the Dunbar-Amherst connection matter? For the institutional history of both Amherst College and Dunbar High School, as writer Evan Albright puts it, this story that I am exploring is important because “Amherst College graduated more Dunbar students than any other college outside of the nation’s capital (“A Slice of History”, Amherst College Magazine, Winter 2007).” The Dunbar High School of 2016 is quite different from the Dunbar of the early part of the past century but the school is trying to return to its glory days and Amherst could be a critical partner in this process. I would love to see the Dunbar-Amherst connection revived and reimagined in the twenty-first century, perhaps one day through a scholarship program to intentionally bring Dunbar students to Amherst so that they can learn about the historical relationship between the institutions and consider the prospect of attending a liberal arts college like Amherst. I intend to correspond with the Amherst College Office of Admission as well as Dunbar High School itself so we can gradually reach such a goal. A first step could be recruiting some of the brightest students from Dunbar to one of Amherst’s annual Diversity Open House weekends this fall.

However, this research should matter to the student body at Amherst College as well. We cannot fully understand our problems on campus in the present unless we look back to the past. The Dunbar-Amherst Connection reveals the historic importance of structures of support for students of color. Some Dunbar-Amherst men enrolled at Amherst as part of a cohort with one or two other students from their graduating class at Dunbar (or at the very least, they knew Dunbar-Amherst men already at the college and/or in the alumni circle). Administrators who cared about black students also helped to ensure their success, stability, and comfort at Amherst. In reflecting on his college years in the 1950s, Haizlip recalls how Wilson “called me in for meetings to discuss whatever was on my mind, whether I was having any problems or challenges, how my academic work was going.” Wilson was a white admission dean but still did his best to make Amherst a welcoming environment for Haizlip.

I firmly believe that supportive mentors are essential to retaining diversity in higher education after qualified students of underrepresented backgrounds arrive on campus. What was true in the 1950s is true today. In the twenty-first century, students of color still need culturally competent and supportive administrators and faculty members, regardless of their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Without the support of Dean Boykin-East during my first year (and later the guidance of my academic advisor Vanessa Walker), I don’t know if I would be writing this reflection today as a senior at Amherst, with almost a week left before graduation. During my first semester at Amherst, Dean Boykin East gave me an academic planner and advice on how to succeed in my classes. More importantly, she made me feel like I belonged at Amherst and that I had both the potential and the right to thrive here.

I encourage future generations of Amherst students not to shy away from merging the personal and the academic spheres. Some of the best scholarship can come from tapping into our own stories and lived experiences. When we feel personally connected to our research, we develop a drive and passion that empowers us but also inspires others in our communities. With a grandfather who graduated from Dunbar in 1943, this research has been instrumental in learning a little bit about his story and connecting more with my own family’s past. And, although my grandfather never graduated from college, I find it beautiful that in some way we have our own Dunbar-Amherst connection, even if it took a couple generations. My Dunbar grandfather will live to see the day when his grandson graduates from Amherst College this May.