Commemorating 50 Years of Integration
“Integration is not just about percentages of X or Y or Z group,” President Kent Chabotar said Tuesday. “It’s how those groups are treated. It’s how those groups have access to power. It’s how those groups have respect.”
Other speakers at the the first event in a yearlong series— Journeys in Blackness — to commemorate the 50th anniversary of integration at Guilford included the College’s first African-American student, James McCorkle ’66; the first black RA and theatre major, Minnette Coleman ’73; Africana Community Coordinator Jada Drew; and the presidents of Community Senate and the Student Government Association.
Jada provided a brief history of integration at the College.
“In August (of 1962), Mr. James McCorkle, a Winston Salem, N.C., native, was admitted as the first African-American student to attend Guilford College,” said Jada. “In that same year, two Kenyan students also enrolled in the College.
“Two hundred forty-five students who enrolled between 1962 and 1977 succeeded them. Of those 245, 33 black students graduated. And during that time, from 1970 to 1988, the first black faculty member, James McMillan taught in the Art Department, which is also a collective milestone in our collective history.”
Kent also reflected on the history of integration, acknowledging that Guilford was not quick to integrate.
“Back in ’62, when we were integrating, they were also just beginning to integrate at the University of Mississippi,” he said. “Those of us of a certain age remember Ross Barnett, the governor of Mississippi, was making all kinds of excuses why James Meredith was not allowed to register. There was violence against U.S. Marshals and finally he was allowed to register after a big deal. This is the same year that Guilford decided to integrate.
“So we didn’t do it in a timely way, but we did it, and hopefully we’ve made up for lost time in the last 50 years by trying to do the job as best we can.”
The event also honored various black faculty and staff members, and featured a live interview with James and Minnette. The pair reflected on their time at Guilford, giving firsthand accounts of the College during this period. They shared both positive and neutral memories.
“The professors recognized my existence and that I was here, but I don’t remember any special thing being done because I was here,” said James. “It was sort of the attitude of, ‘He’s here, and we’re not going to make a big hoopla about him being here or not being here.’”
“The students were pretty receptive to having more black students on campus,” Minnette said. “I made a lot of friends, and I lived in Founders after a while and made a lot friends there and kind of felt that I fit in. So all my friends weren’t all people of color.”
Both also reflected on the negative aspects of their experiences.
“Those that may not have felt good about my being here, they didn’t speak,” James said. “They were silent. So I didn’t receive any negative input from that, except that perhaps, as we know, as a black person, one of the ways (discrimination works is) by … an invisible treatment. You’re not here, they don’t have to recognize or acknowledge your presence.”
“I got a good reception in every department I went in except for history,” Minnette said. “My story is that I was given a D in American history for the semester, and when I approached the professor and asked her why, she told me because I went to an all-black high school and I couldn’t be as smart as a white girl.”
She spoke about her decision to graduate early.
“Coming to an environment where there are people very subtly telling you that they don’t like you, there’s something about the way they’re doing things,” Minnette said. “You start to recognize and you start to see. I graduated a semester early, and when the dean asked me why I wanted to leave a semester early, I said, ‘I understand this is how the real world is, and I’m ready to be in it.’”
She noted that racism is still an issue, and something we all must face.
“When I see that things haven’t changed, I mention to people that the struggle is still there,” she said. “It’s not just a struggle for black people; it’s a struggle for everybody.”
James acknowledged the diversity efforts on campus.
“Since I was the first … I’m just thankful for all the things that happened afterward,” he said. “It’s really good to know the things that are going on on campus now.”
Kent also reflected on these efforts, noting both Guilford’s achievements and the ground that is still left for us to cover.
“We’ve come a long way, and today we’re kicking off a celebration to look backward at what we’ve accomplished, but also looking forward at what else we need to do,” he said. “For that I thank everyone here, because you’re all going to be a part of that effort. Thanks a lot.”
Story by David Pferdekamper ’12