Remembrances in Black: Personal Perspectives of the African American Experience at the University of Arkansas
Kean, Melissa, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly
Remembrances in Black: Personal Perspectives of the African American Experience at the University of Arkansas. Edited by Charles F. Robinson and Lonnie R. Williams. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010. Pp. xxx, 358. Acknowledgments, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00.)
Remembrances in Black is an extraordinary volume. Working from interviews and lengthy questionnaires, its editors, Charles Robinson and Lonnie Williams, have compiled dozens of narratives of the African- American experience at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The narratives vary greatly in length, scope, and tone; they are clearly deeply personal and in some cases also clearly cathartic. The narratives are arranged chronologically from the earliest days of the school's desegregation to nearly the present and are divided into chapters that help the reader grasp the broad outlines of the institution's racial evolution. Importantly, the participants include faculty and even staff-usually the most overlooked people on any campus-as well as students. These stories provide both significant primary evidence of how events unfolded and stark reminders of the human cost of change.
Taken individually, these stories are deeply interesting and astonishingly varied. Each is well worth reading on its own. Taken together they provide a meaningful look at critical developments in the history of American higher education from a perspective that has rarely been taken into account. For understandable reasons, untangling the history of the desegregation of southern colleges and universities has so far focused largely on policy decisions that were forced on the politicians and boards who controlled these institutions. With regard to the process of desegregation, the University of Arkansas was in some respects unique. Understanding very early that the movement to end racial segregation in southern education would prove unstoppable, the leadership of the university and the state grudgingly allowed the admission of black students to the university's law and medical schools in 1948. This early date, though, should not be taken as evidence of an early desire for racial fairness.
The grudging and even angry nature of Arkansas's decision to desegregate is deeply felt in the stories of the earliest black students. The narratives in the first several chapters of this book are often anguished, even all these years later. …