Race and the University: A Memoir

Article excerpt

Race and the University: A Memoir, by George Henderson. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010, 272 pp., $24.95, paperback.

The Civil Rights Era can be seen as a time of Blacks moralizing Whites, a time when discontented Blacks led conscientious Whites on a Jeremiad journey toward racial harmony and fraternal love. The story is one of memory of how a smaU coUective of progressives changed the moral consciousness of die University of Oklahoma. Race and the University chronicles Henderson's time spent as a faculty member with OU's Sociology department. At the core, die book is essentiaUy another story of civU rights struggle in higher education and Henderson and other Black students fought bigotry, discrimination, and racism by studying theoretical strategies and tactics. The book reflects the deep pain and resentment still felt by those involved, but also explains die strategies and tactics employed to change discriminatory practices of a racist university.

Most African American coUege students today cannot imagine the early civU rights struggles that paved the way for the many benefits received as a direct result of struggles endured by Black university students and faculty members as well as Whites. With Henderson's memoir we return to a history of systemic racism and overt discrimination in higher education.

Nine chapters cover much of Henderson's chronological story of turmoil and struggle. The otoer chapters merely lay bare toe testimony of Henderson's goal and mission to change toe racial climate of toe university in which he is employed, and toe town in which he Uved. Henderson begins his memoir with a brief history of his humble beginnings, but toe book is not lost in frivolous biography. Henderson is brief and gets to the point about toe business of what is to come. Although he skims over his early Ufe, he does make interesting pivotal moment mentions. The best of toe chapter moves chronologically through undergraduate and graduate school, marriage and onto how he came to accept a full-time professorship at Oklahoma State University. He discusses toe mixed (but mostly racist) reactions of Norman's White community.

Henderson's family settles into toe Norman community and toe OU elite, and immediately confronts the racist administration and discriminatory procedures toat have been embedded deeply in the structure and politics of OU. Henderson becomes "toe new sheriff in town."

Chapter 2 reveals toe development and seasoning processes of Henderson's grassroots activism. He served as a consultant to several Detroit activists, learning much from leaders like Jean Washington, Lena Blevins, and legendary civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks. …