A Campus Divided exhibit opening event at the University of Minnesota

A Campus Divided exhibit opening event at the University of Minnesota


>>Good evening, everyone. I’m Wendy Lougee, the
University Librarian here. And it’s gratifying to see so
many of you come out to reflect on a very powerful exhibit that I hope you’ve had a
chance to look at as well. It’s entitled — it’s up in our
atrium gallery, “Campus Divided, Progressives, Anticommunists,
Racism, and Antisemitism at the University of
Minnesota 1930 to ’42”. Now the libraries,
as we believe, have a unique intellectual
space — a place where you can
explore controversial issues, the University’s history and to
engage scholars and all of you in the community
in a conversation. Drawing on the University
Archives institutional records housed during Anderson
Library Curator Riv-Ellen Prell and Co-Curator Sarah
Atwood-Hoffman have revealed the historic documentation
of activities that cast a disturbing shadow
in the post-World War I period. Activities that bear
examining in today’s light. Now before introducing our
speakers for this evening, I would like to read a letter
from President Eric Kaler. President Kaler had a prior
commitment and is out of town but he very much wanted to be a
part of this important program. “Dear friends, our University
of Minnesota is founded on the belief that all people
are enriched by understanding. Our university is dedicated
to the advancement of learning and the search for truth, to
the sharing of this knowledge through education for a diverse
community and to the application of this knowledge to benefit the
people of the state, the nation and indeed, the world. Thus it is part of
our mission to examine and acknowledge our own history. “A Campus Divided, Progressives,
Anti-Communists and Antisemitism at the University of Minnesota,
1930 to ’42,” sheds light on a critical piece
of our history that some may find
unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It highlights the actions
by some in the past that we would condemn today. As an institution of
learning and respect, we must acknowledge our past
and commit each and every day to our mission of education and
progress for all Minnesotans. Furthermore, we owe it to the
courageous figures who fought for change to not forgive
the inequities they overcame and the progress they made. To continue our examination
of the University’s past and guide our responses
going forward, Provost Hansen and I today asked the
Twin Cities College of Liberal Arts Dean
John Coleman to chair and assemble the Presidents
and Provosts Advisory Committee on University History
to guide our thinking and about appropriate
modern responses to historical issues
on our campuses. Our Committee on University
History will include our University Historian, University
Archivist, faculty, students, and other representatives
from all of our campuses and representatives from
University Services, the University of
Minnesota Alumni Association, and the University of
Minnesota Foundation. Dean Coleman will lead the
system-wide conversation and research and he will bring
recommendations to the Provost and me, that we will then
discuss with senior leaders and as appropriate
the Board of Regents. Thank you to Co-Curators
Emerita Riv-Ellen Prell and PhD candidate Sarah
Atwood for their scholarship and to other members
of the advisory team who helped make Campus
Divided possible and powerful. By reflecting on our past, we can and we will
continue to move forward. Sincerely, Eric Kaler,
President.” Our first speaker this evening
is Executive Vice-President and Provost Karen Hanson
and next, we will hear from Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor
Emerita of American Studies and Immediate Past
Director of the Center for Jewish Studies
here at the University. And she will be joined by
Co-Curator and PhD candidate in American Studies Sarah
Atwood-Hoffman and finally, John Wright, Professor
of African-American and African Studies
and a former University of Minnesota student activist,
so a very full program. So let’s begin. Provost Hanson? [ Applause ]>>Thank you, Wendy. And first, I want
to add my thanks to Professor Riv-Ellen Prell and PhD candidate
Sarah Atwood-Hoffman, for their archival work
in the construction of this stunning exhibit and acknowledge the staff
of the Libraries too. For the help they gave
to Riv-Ellen and Sarah in preparing an exhibition
of the shocking, too little known thread in the
history of this institution. And I want to thank,
belatedly, the student activists and their allies who
believed in the promise and the animating ideals of this
land grant university and who, against the elements that
failed to honor these ideals, kept pushing to make
this a better place. I say the elements that
failed to honor our ideals. Does that mean the particular
individuals, administrators, university personnel and members of the Minnesota community
who behaved so badly? Or were the elements that
failed more general, abstract, somehow more social
and environmental, state and federal laws or
their absence, university rules and regulations or
their absence, or the morally deficient
historical error? I meant to denote both the
particular and the general, both individuals and
the social system. Racism is the original
sin of the United States and it’s the shame, the
enduring stain of racism and the antisemitism and
other forms of bigotry and vile discrimination that
set a context for the actions and events chronicled
in this exhibit. But it is also individual
people who failed, Coffman and Nicholson most saliently. But also every other member
of the University community, faculty and students
and administrators who knew what some of
these people were doing and who were perhaps
helping them in the process and who didn’t think
it was wrong, or did think this discrimination
was wrong but still acquiesced, didn’t object, didn’t stand up against these policies
and this behavior. There may be many who were
caught in this web of failure and that’s worth pondering. Laying blame, however, is not typically the
most constructive act nor the bravest. So let us return to the more
constructive side of gratitude for the work of those
who uncovered and developed this history
and this exhibition, especially Riv-Ellen
and Sarah, and the brave and principled efforts
of the special heroes and heroines they
have chronicled. They have all made this
University a better institution. The activists whose stories
are told here contributed indisputably to institutional
progress. And now we have the
opportunity to acknowledge them, and celebrate, and
embrace that progress. But every step forward such as
this leaves us in new territory, sometimes without clear
navigational tools. How do we now find our way through this unsettling
territory illuminated by the revelation that we
have, as an institution, not only failed badly during
parts of our history but also that we have as an institution
celebrated figures whose histories, whose institutional
histories are so problematic. I should, of course, acknowledge
that all of us are flawed, imperfect, capable of and soiled by not only occasional
bad judgment but also moral failings. But what is crucial here is that those individual
failings infected and indeed to some extent, directed
the way some of these individuals did
their jobs as University of Minnesota administrators. And thus shaped our
institution and its history. And that, in turn,
means we now have to see our implication
in these histories. This is our University
of Minnesota. And though it’s an ever-evolving
institution, its history, its institutional history
cannot be denied once it’s made visible, it cannot or at any
rate, should not be overlooked. What should we, what will
we make of this, our past? The U.S. as a nation
is in a heated period of reflection on its history. Since Charlottesville, the pace
of removal of Confederate flags and monuments in the
South has quickened, animated by a recognition
of their meaning and often, a more honest acknowledgement of their temporal origin
and political animus. The elements of these
stories of Coffman and Nicholson presented here in this exhibit are
frankly, horrifying. Are these elements honored and
memorialized in the namesake — in their namesake buildings? Just as the flying of the
Confederate flag in the 1950s and to this day, is inevitably
and usually correctly, read as a symbol of racism,
did the intemperature over our Student Union carved with Coffman’s name then
signify, or does it now, or will it in the future,
signify an institutional embrace of racism and antisemitism? We are probably not
yet to the point in our collective
conception of the man or the memorial to
have an answer. But we have to ponder
these questions. We have to ask how personally
oppressive the name carved in stone will be to
some or all of us. We have to ask what it says
about our institutional identity if we now know that the building
that houses our Department of Classical and
Near-Eastern Studies and our own Honors
Program is named for a man who worked actively
to marginalize and harm Jewish students,
African-Americans and political activists. What does it say about
our institutional identity that our Student
Union, the building in which our various
cultural groups meet and hold activities is named
for a man who sought actively to sustain racial segregation
and diminish opportunities for racial minorities? Thinking beyond our campus,
beyond the current struggles of our nation, we must
acknowledge that most of the historical greats
had blind spots and vices. Indeed, historical
greatness can sometimes seem to require a single-mindedness
or a drive that can run roughshod over
ordinary human decency. And again, we’re all flawed and even our best institutions
created by us and thus liable to inflection by our
flaws, are also not perfect. But we should always
strive to do better, both personally and
institutionally. What does that mean right now
contemplating what we know from the work that’s
been done here and contemplating what we
know both about human frailty and the power and effects
of cultural commemoration? Each of us will tend to his or her own individual
soul or moral character. But what will we do together? What will we do institutionally? This is something
we have to discover, construct deliberately together. I look forward to this effort. [ Applause ]>>In 1924, President Lotus D.
Coffman appointed a commission of seven to plan the
future educational mission of both the state’s
secondary school system and the University of Minnesota. He believed in the
centrality of education to the future development of
the state and its citizens. The committee produced a
report that appeared to hue to the high standards of
scientific investigation. After three years of labor, the committee compiled extensive
demographic data, in part drawn from a 1920 census about
Minnesota students, parents’ occupations, local
versus out-of-state residents, among many other factors. Ultimately, the report
advanced a commitment to create equal opportunity
for all students who entered the University
regardless of class or geographic location. However, as Mark Soderstrom
noted in his dissertation about Science and
Segregation at the University and in the Big Ten in the
First Half of the 20th Century, the committee used
the 1920 census data for its report selectively and simply excluded the
state’s entire African-American population of almost 10,000
people, a larger population than other ethnic
groups included. Neither President Coffman nor
the committee envisioned the state’s African-American
citizens as a group who would be central
to the future and the growth of the state. It would be no surprise then that President Coffman
became the architect of racially-segregated taxpayer
funded student dormitories and cottages from 1931
until his death in 1938. “African-American students
had access to the classroom and University events,” Coffman
explained in a 1931 letter to the head of the NAACP, “but
social segregation between them and white students was the
bedrock of University life,” in a vision that he declared
was “entirely wholesome.” Scientific management
was anything but neutral. President Coffman
counted enrolments and student needs
in telling ways. The files marked “Negro”
and “Jew” in the papers of University Presidents
and Deans of Students included documents that monitored freshmen
students’ physicals specifically for the enrolment of
Negro and Jewish students. Out-of-state student
housing needs were assessed with special attention
to how many of these students were Negroes. Counting out-of-state Jewish
students included a special category for New York Jews who the administration likely
feared would pack radicalism in their suitcases along with
their clothing and notebooks. This paradox that racism and antisemitism were
deeply embedded in a vision for public education
and the liberal arts is at the core of this exhibition. Students and faculty
were certainly aware of those contradictions when
their activism focused on racial and religious equality
and the nature of a just society in the 1930s. Certainly, they were on President Guy Stanton
Ford’s mind when in 1937, he stopped the exclusion of
African-American students from housing and called
out its injustice as soon as he was made Acting President. Edward E. Nicholson, who
became the first Dean of Student Affairs in 1917,
embodied a similar paradox. Affectionately known as
Dean Nick, he was praised for his concern for men students
and his effort to keep them in school during the Depression. However, Nicholson also believed
that his job required him to limit student rights. As Dean of Student Affairs,
he decided for example, which student organizations
were politically acceptable, what information was propaganda
and could not be circulated, and who on the student staff of the Minnesota Daily
exercised undue influence. Dean Nicholson wanted to do
more than control students. He sought secretly to
influence Minnesota politics and passed information to a Republican politician whose
Ray Chase Institute built a case that the University of Minnesota
was invaded by communists and its faculty and students
were taking direct orders from the Soviet Union. The names of those
faculty and students, along with their political
activities and whether or not they were Jews, not
only ended up on dossiers in Chase’s files, but he and Nicholson passed
them along to the FBI. It was the late historian
Hy Berman, whose work on political
antisemitism in 1938 that uncovered those
lists and surveillance that was the beginning
of this project for me. Nicholson experienced
no contradiction between his responsibilities
to students in a public liberal arts
university and his conviction that America must
be for Americans. And the progressive politics
of the former Labor Party of Minnesota in the
’30s should be defeated. Projects that raised
the question of memory are often asked, is
it fair to look to the past through the lens of the present? Is it appropriate to bring
into focus decisions taken by leaders in another time? If we believe that in
the 1930s, most colleges or universities practiced
racial segregation in some form or that antisemitism
was broadly accepted, it is we who have distorted
that context and time period. This exhibit reveals
that racism, antisemitism and American First
ideologies were debated avidly and made the subject of
campus political activism. Lotus D. Coffman, Walter Coffey and Guy Stanton Ford were
university presidents of the same era in the same
region and of the same race. Two of them enforced segregation but Guy Stanton Ford
rejected it. Which of these men do we count
as representative of an era? All of them, or two of
them, or one of them? Were the spokesmen in
African-American Newspaper or the American Jewish
World or the Minnesota Daily of this period not
part of this era? They carried the stories that
were ultimately buried with time that revealed how
contested this period was and how many voices
were present. It is not hindsight
that drives us to remember how problematic
segregation was. Were we to accept the racial
hierarchy of the ’30s as normal, we would erase the dozens,
then hundreds, then thousands of people who opposed it at
the University of Minnesota between 1931 and 1942. We would forget the leaders
of the African-American and Jewish communities who had
little more than moral strength to stand up to those
in power in Minnesota. Historical memory requires all
of us to know what happened to all groups in our society. The range and variety of voices that revealed the past
are key to history. At the same time,
we are also called on to understand how
those relationships between the powerful and those with less power shape how
we look back on the past. We risk the double injury of an
erasure of what happened as much as how we recall it
if we fail to do that. And that is a grave danger. Let me just say a
few words of thanks. I am so grateful for the
opportunity to engage memory and I would like to thank the
groups that made it possible. Kate Dietrick of the Upper
Midwest Jewish Archive took on the project and with the
cooperation of all of those at Andersen Library made it
possible to create the exhibit as part of the University of Minnesota Libraries
and Archives. The Center for Jewish Studies,
the College of Liberal Arts and the Graduate
School provided support for three graduate students
to work on this exhibit, one of them, Sarah Atwood
has become the Co-Curator of the exhibit. And I’m very happy
to announce today that we have launched the first
phase of a digital version of the exhibit so when the
panels come down in November, the exhibit will continue. You can view it at
[email protected]edu. You can view it in the Atrium
after the panel and honestly, you can even look at
it on your iPhone. I’m truly grateful to
the Beverly Foundation, the Pertzik Foundation
and individual donors who funded this first
phase, along with the Center for Jewish Studies, the
Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, CLA and the Graduate
School for this support. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Hi, I’m Sarah Atwood. It is so wonderful to see
all of you here tonight. Thank you for coming and working
off the clock for those of you who are on campus or
paying for parking. It’s just — it’s
very heartening. So first and foremost,
thank you to everyone who has made this happen,
particularly University Archives and the Library System and
the community organizations who also helped fund this and
made the logistics possible. So I also want to thank our
advisory board whose enthusiasm and insight has helped
us to reach such a large audience
with this project. And they really helped us
strengthen the framework and the scope of the project. I want to thank the Library
staff, in particular, Kate Dietrick and Erik Moore,
who are our archivists here at the University
and Darren Terpstra who designed the exhibit. And all of those — all of
those people have been with us from the beginning as
we’ve been learning how to create an exhibit
from the bottom-up. Particularly Kate of the Upper
Midwest — she’s right there — Jewish Archives has been
a boon to this project and we have amazing libraries
here at the University. If you haven’t used
them, you should. They are just so amazing that
we are so lucky to have them. I would also like to
thank the undergrad and the grad researchers who
did the work that Riv-Ellen and I didn’t have time to
do so that’s Rose Miron, Rachel Hertzberg, Patrick
Wiltz and Jae Yates. And then finally, I would
like to thank Riv-Ellen, who trusted me to bring her or
to bring me on to this project as we delved into it early on. Riv-Ellen spent countless
hours on this project and has tirelessly worked to see
it to fruition, both the exhibit and the digital exhibit. And she deserves a very long
vacation [laughter] free of Google Docs and PDFs
and this is all done because she’s worked
so hard on it. Public history is for the
public and by the public. And it took a lot
of us to get here. So as you all know, there’s
a current movement calling for revisiting monuments
and sites that commemorate individuals
and individuals and particularly with histories who
have been violent — which have been violent
towards people of color and indigenous populations. The conversations
about memorialization and renaming have captured
the public’s attention, I would say, to a
newfound degree. And multiple standpoints
have emerged. Tear a monument down,
leave it up or change its name are among
just a few of the perspectives. We did anticipate that some of these discussions
may reverberate after the exhibit went up. And prompting these
conversations though was not necessarily our primary goal
even though it was something of interest to us. Naming is such a hot topic
so it should be no surprise that we’re talking about it now. So questions such as what’s
next, what do we do now that we know this information
and who should be memorialized and how are some
of these questions. A star [inaudible] story which
some of you may have seen, was posted yesterday and
has already solicited some of these responses. But as many of us who
engage with digital media, in particular in news stories
or Facebook, we always know that you should never
read the –>>Comments.>>Comments! Never read the comments,
right [laughter]. As a public historian perhaps,
I’m a glutton for punishment but I do read the
comments, okay. And we should. I don’t enjoy it but I think
that as a public historian and educator and
community member, these comments can be
very real albeit acerbic and vile and ignorant. But they do reflect a
portion of public opinion. There’s a really good chance
that students who walk into my classroom, their
family members, or friends, or even people that I meet at
the grocery store, share in some of those perspectives. And so, in this context,
comments actually do matter and we should be reading them. So already, some of the
comments with this exhibit that I found were along the
lines of this is in the past, no one was innocent, let’s
get over it and move on. These commenters ironically
enough, I would argue at least, are hypothesized
cling to documents and laws made over
200 years ago. They form the cornerstone
of American democracy and daily life in
the United States. Even the Morrill Land Grant Act
which secured the University of Minnesota and funded
programs like this are documents of the past and events
of the past. And yet, we continue
to commemorate those and actually invoke
them in our daily lives. So unable to reconcile these
very real contradictions of belief, calls
for getting over, and moving past events is a
form of selective memory at best and at worst — at worst, it’s
a choice to conveniently forget and strategically forget
histories which are troublesome, uncomfortable and disturbing. Similarly are [inaudible]
that this is dredging up history are moot because
historians such as Hy Berman, Linda Schloff, Mark
Soderstrom, Clayton Tenquist, and Lora Weber have
all worked on material that intersects with
our exhibit. They have been working on
this material for years and so nothing is new. Finally, those who left campus,
the people in the exhibit due to discrimination, or who were
surveilled or faced threats of physical violence, to them
and their family members, these are not new
stories at all. They were not long ago but
rather unsavory examples of how some university community
members sanctioned surveillance, exclusion and at times,
persecution of students and staff with whom
they disagreed. These Minnesotans
deliberately worked to shape their own version
of campus that reflected, put bluntly, anti-black,
anti-Semitic, and anti-communist values. These are the facts and
there is no disputing that while a product of their
time such actions were nefarious and borderline, if
not fully, illegal. The lives affected by
administrative policies and practices are
featured in this exhibit. But countless others
have been lost to time. This is what we have
to work with today. And if we are to get — and
you know, this is what we have to get a full picture
of the period. Again, these stories are
not new but rather some of us are encountering
them for the first time. Finally and perhaps the
most common dichotomy in these comments that I saw
online exist between those who wish to remove monuments
and those who do not. So of course, not even 48 hours into the exhibit
being posted online, such comments have emerged. In fact, the majority
of comments, if you go on to [inaudible]
on Facebook, were precisely about renaming buildings
here on campus and elsewhere. But I would argue that
to simply make this about renaming is not enough. For one, renaming can provide
a false illusion that a one and done removal of a memorial
fully acknowledges injustices in the past. But simply removing names alters
actual historical artifacts such as buildings, that when
we can closely examine them and rigorously and
responsibly discuss them, offer us complex texts
that exemplify the ways in which the ascent to power such as Dean Nicholson’s
power renders those who challenged his
status quo invisible. As I was holed up
in the archives, renaming buildings was
the last thing on my mind. In fact, I located
vast lists of students and often noted conspicuously
absent groups of students like American Indian
students and Asian-Americans. I actually became
engrossed in the students and finding out more about them. With each new name
came the recognition that their stories are the
fundamental counterparts to the brick-and-mortar
memorials that we inhabit today. Most of these students
have passed. They are now untraceable so we
can’t hear directly from them. They can’t be here to speak for
themselves and we can’t speak for them but we can honor
the work that they did. They came to the University because it was a nationally
respected institution and they knew they would be able to secure a good
education at a fair price. They had family members
or friends who suggested that they come to Minnesota. In fact, in some instances,
insisted that at Minnesota, they would be able
to gain the skills and the knowledge necessary
for a strong future. Some did call themselves
activists and some did not. But what I came to understand is that both groups of
students mattered. Both those who were in local
hotels, unionizing housekeepers, writing to other campuses about
integrated housing as well as those who, by the
virtue of the bodies that they were born into, repeatedly confronted the
injustices and prejudice of their time and
were given no choice but to advocate for themselves. Activists and non-activists
alike matter because their collective
work in classrooms, on campus and in the community,
it coalesced to push public consciousness,
campus policy and the state forward. Through the purposeful and pointed collaboration
amongst students, staff and community members,
these individuals recognized that the University had
vast potential as a living and reflexive institution. They firmly believed that it
could be more than a bastion of racial, ethnic, religious
and economic privilege. Unlike many today who
say, simply get over it, or those of us who say,
don’t read the comments, those seeking a more
equitable campus in the 1930s and ’40s understood that they
could not simply ameliorate or ignore policies and practices
that were unjust or troubling. But rather, they had a
responsibility and they took that responsibility
seriously to fully and thoughtfully engage
those policies and practices. Through the individual
politics — or though their individual
politics and positionalities were
diverse, they were allied and committed to the public good and tirelessly worked
during their time here to shape a university
that would reflect a world in which they hoped to inhabit. It’s a privilege and remember — or it’s a privilege to
remember them tonight. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Good afternoon.>>Good afternoon.>>I, too, would like to begin by thanking the driving
forces behind this exhibit. Riv-Ellen has labored
intensively, rigorously, passionately and with
Sarah’s help and the help of the other students and staff
in the archives and elsewhere, have again, created an exhibit that clearly your
presence helps to tell us. It reverberates far beyond
what we initially anticipated. And from the impact already
on campus, we already have at least one course
that has been created to pursue the implications
of the exhibit and several departments
and entities are already — have already begun to
explore the implications for their own self-images. So it’s a process that we
certainly want to applaud and we hope that
institutionally, that the University of Minnesota
will take this not so much as a stain on its escutcheon
but as essentially as a stimulus to self-reflection
and examination. I want us to start with
a quote, a simple quote. It’s from a scholar, a
historian who was raised in a single-parent family in
Bedford-Stuyvesant community in New York who struggled his
way through community college but eventually on
to university status and who earned a PhD in History. And who ultimately, well,
probing archives in Columbia and elsewhere about
15 years ago. Curious about the
behavior of colleges and universities towards people
of color and particularly of slaves in the past,
began turning up documents that eventually culminated
— that’s three years ago, in a book calledEbony and Ivy
, all right, subtitledRace,Slavery and the
Troubled history
of American Universities. That book has played a
significant role in the process of self-examination
that so many private and now public universities in this country had
been forced to undergo. Some reluctantly and
some with fervor. Craig Steven Wilder was
also powerfully influenced by the example of
Browning University and by President Ruth Simmons who was the first
African-American president of an Ivy League University, who
in facing the anecdotal history of Brown’s implication
in slavery, forthrightly commissioned a
massive archival enterprise to indeed establish all the
facts about that history. And it kind of set a model
for institutions elsewhere. And over the course of the
last decade and a half now, a long stream of major
institutions have begun probing the past, uncovering hidden
and suppressed histories and spurring us to reimagine
who we are by confronting who, in fact, we have been. Professor Stevens as he
has toured the country since the publication of
his book, needless to say, has confronted similar
issues campus after campus. And his own comments was
a superb article in March in the Chronicle
of Higher Education about his scholarly work
and again, the dialogues that he’s been involved
in at the colleges and universities
around the country. He has repeatedly said — once
again, I’m going to quote now about this, particularly I
said it concerns men the matter of monuments, memorials and so
forth, “Campuses are not museums for the emotional and
psychological bigotries of their administrators
and alumni.” Campuses are not
museums for the emotional and psychological bigotries of
their administrators and alumni. [Inaudible] was capsulized
in that phrase and he has deployed it in a
variety of contexts, all right. At Yale University, for
instance, where John C. Calhoun, the college after John
C. Calhoun has become one of the pivot points in its
debates about its history of involvement with slavery. Right, there’s a long
series of institutions where basically he has again and
again confronted these matters. About his own work which
initially faced a good deal of dismissal or quibbling
about some of the minor details of his work, he says, first
of all, that critiques that have focused on a polemical
motive behind what he’s doing, very much missed the point. And that if indeed, it
was revenge or some kind of political advantage he was
seeking that the hard realities that historical scholarship is
a very poor tool for revenge. [ Laughter ] What he has insisted on wherever
he has gone and I’m certain that in the context of
this public university — this public land
grant university. That he would say as well,
that the implications here of our own probing, our
painful past are such that without facing what has
been hidden, evaded, diminished and so forth. We will continue to replicate
the issues generation after generation of
students who confront — as they inevitably will, the
breaks in the veneer of civility that again, the story here, this exhibit tells has now
been revealed publicly. My own approach to
this enterprise, on the one hand is you know,
is a scholarly approach. I have tried to scholarly in
talking with Riv-Ellen and Sarah and others and so forth. But it’s also very
personal at another level. I’m a fourth-generation
Minnesotan. And my father and my
aunt were students on this campus in the 1930s. And were engaged in
battling with Lotus Coffman and the administrators, and
professors, and so forth on this campus on a
variety of fronts. And I grew up hearing
anecdotally and within my family and from their friends
who were here, stories about Lotus Coffman. All right, and Nicholson
and an array of professors whose
names I can’t mention. The exhibit hasn’t been
able to go into details about what took place
in the classrooms. It’s alluded to some
of the kinds of insults and humiliations that
athletes suffered and so forth. And of course, the bar
is put up at fraternities and sororities and so on. But this was a time again when a global perspective
was being forced on students, particularly students of
color who also had their eye on what was happening
in Germany, some of the events
again of this — this exhibit points to are
clearly paralleled obviously by the rise of the Third Reich. And one of the exhibit points
here has to do, in fact, with one of the ministers of
the government of Adolf Hitler who was invited to this campus
at the same time that figures of the opposing perspective
were denied public access and a voice. My — part of the stories that
I was told again, early on, had to do with my aunt and
there is a picture or a couple of pictures of her
in the enterprise. Her name was Martha Wright. And she was an extraordinary
young woman. She had been the class
valedictorian of North High, Class of 1934 at the time
when North High unlike today, which is considered to be
largely quote, “a black school”, and there was only in 1934
about this many black students in North High and she was
the class valedictorian. And started at this
university in the fall of 1934 at the age of 16. And she was in what was then
called the School of Technology. And she was one of, if I
can tell, only about two, possibly three women
in the school. But she came from
a family background that had been engaged deeply with the struggle
for social justice. And her mother, my grandmother
had been an organizer for A. Philip Randolph
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Earlier had allied herself
with Fredrick McGhee, again the local African-American
lawyer who W. E .B. Du Bois
said was the real origin of the Niagara Movement
and of the NAACP. She had created a club called
the Pioneer Colored Woman’s Economic Development
Club, all right. That was lauded again in the
Messenger Magazine in 1927 by A. Philip Randolph
and Chandler Owen lauded for its forthrightness
and its dedication again, to economic autonomy
for black women. At any rate, she came from a
family context where struggle for education, where
personal integrity were all cardinal virtues. And she would ultimately become
again in 1937 the president of the Council of Negro Students
which the exhibit points to was again the first,
as far as we know, the first political organization of African-American
students on this campus. And they battled President
Coffman, and Nicholson, and Middlebrook, and
Wiley, and the others again over these issues again of
exclusion from the dormitories and the social life elsewhere
on campus, did so intensively. And unfortunately,
was much too modest from my vantage point
about those efforts. She and some of her other
friends who became parts of the Omega — I’m sorry, of
the Omega Psi Phi fraternity for black men and the
Alpha Kappa Kappa sorority for black women. Of which we have a
picture of two of those in the exhibit here, were part
again of the tight network of social clubs and
organizations in an African-American community
that in the 1920s and ’30s in this country was one of the most highly
educated and aspirational. And unfortunately,
many of their peers — and this part of the story
can’t be told easily — did not come to the University
of Minnesota precisely because of the policies and the
practices and philosophy again of the president, and
the deans, and so forth. And routinely went instead again to the historical black
colleges and universities. Ironically, [inaudible]
migrating South into southern deep Jim
Crow for personal autonomy, and achievement, and
profession, all right. Dick Gregory, the comic activist
and vernacular philosopher who passed away last month. Back in 1970, when he was asked
to talk about the differences between black life in the South
and black life in the North, had this very recordable thing
to say, that in the South, they don’t care how close I get
as long as I don’t get too big. In the North, they don’t
care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close. Okay, the same year, 1970, a book that still has
powerful value, I think for us, calledWhite Racism,A Psychohistoryby
Joel Kovel was published. And it worked what Dick Gregory
said vernacular framing provided into a loftier psychoanalytic
framework. And the southern framework
was what Kovel referred to as dominative racism, the kind that was made possible
again by the traditional history of slavery and its violently
oppressive institutions. And which enabled again
warm relationships or potentially hot relationships
between slave masters and slaves and so forth. And also close physical
proximity. There was no need for physical
separation of this sort in the plantation south. Aversive racism was what
the name that he gave for northern style Jim Crow,
all right, in which distance and again, aversion
and building walls and barriers became
characteristic down this northern
style enterprise. But of which it worked in this
exhibit is basically the working of this northern aversive form
of racism, again of the fear of black folks getting too close
rather than too big as it were. We don’t know much
at this point. I was — did a little
exploring myself about that, about President Coffman, for
instance and Edward Nicholson about their backgrounds. Neither of them were
Southerners, all right. Both Midwesterners. Nicholson was an Ohioan and
trained in Kansas, and Nebraska, and so on and so forth. And Lotus Coffman was
born in Salem, Indiana, a small rural community. But one of those communities
that in Indiana in the years of his adolescence and
early adulthood was process of becoming the national capital
of the revived Ku Klux Klan. And which in the
early ’20s, all right, elected as its governor
a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. Coffman’s biographers have not
explored these kinds of issues and part because the history
and biographies we have of him have not pointed
at all in this direction. Whether in fact we can
connect President Coffman, the reason for the kind of
statements we have in print for him to that kind of environmental
influence remains a matter for some other graduate
students, researchers ahead. But it does it again, open up
some questions, some new kind of explorations again about
this phenomenon again. Midwesterners not
Deep Southerners, not born in the Jim Crow. So about the monuments,
the buildings — monuments and their names, one of the important documents
we have from this era, the ’30s and ’40s is not provided by a
formal card-carrying historian but by a novelist, African-American novelist
Ralph Ellison whose 1952 novelInvisible Manis a kind
of meditation on the history of the 1930s and the 1940s. It begins literally in 1930 and
ends in 1950 through the kind of looping boomeranging
of history that Ellison’s narrative
describes. One of the things that he
describes is a migration from the Deep South
into the North in the early part of the novel. And when the lead
character, Jack the Bear, leaves his southern black
college and heads north, he ends up working in a place
called the Liberty Paints factory where his main job is to
assist in making a special paint for which this particular
factory is best known. It’s called optic white. And it prides itself
on its purity. But ironically, the purity of
the optic white paint comes from a small portion of a blackish substance
that’s infiltrated in drops into the paint formula. The prime buyers of optic
paint are governmental agencies who use it to paint
public buildings, monuments, and statues. The worker in the story with whom Jack the
Bear ultimately battles when a labor conflict breaks
out refers to optic paint in the vernacular way
as whitewash [laughter]. And to some extent, part of
what again the enterprises that have been taking
place in this country and over this past year,
have been spurred by events in Charlottesville and the
resurgence here of the Neo Nazis and et cetera, [inaudible]
all part of this phenomenon that we are now facing. And that this exhibit again,
we hope will get us to reflect on again, more carefully,
more tenaciously again about our own uncovered past. I think I have probably already
exceeded my allotted time [laughter] and Riv-Ellen
chastised me in advance.>>I’m in charge
of that [laughter].>>About rambling on too long
so I’ll close simply again by quoting one more time, all
right, Craig Steven Wilder from Ebony and Ivy,
“Campuses are not museums for the emotional and
psychological bigotries of their administrators
and alumni.” Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Well, I’d like to
thank all of our speakers. It’s given us a great
deal to think about. I hope you will all join
us out on the Atrium. We have a reception and also
an opportunity for you to go up and view the exhibit and
to talk with one another. We have a lot to think about. Thank you all for
coming [applause]. [ Music ]

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