From Marion, Ala., to the Mountaintop of the Dream

Article excerpt

When the first issue of Ebony appeared in November 1945, I was a freshman, one of six Black students in Antioch College, where my older sister, Edythe, had enrolled as the first Black student two years before. My situation was unusual for an African-American in the mid-1940s, because I had daily interaction with White people on an ostensibly equal footing. This gave me a belief that relations between the races could be much better than what I and millions of Blacks had experienced.

Despite having experienced my share of racial discrimination and myriad indignities in the years leading up to college, I had some positive interracial experiences. I attended Lincoln High School, a semi-private school for Black, youngsters located in Marion, Ala. The faculty and administration at Lincoln were half-White and half-Black, and they lived together in integrated dormitories. At Lincoln I was exposed to genuinely caring White teachers who were dedicated to helping Blacks get a decent education. One of the teachers, Dr. Frances Thomas, remains a dear friend to this day. I had looked forward to the higher level of racial tolerance that was part of Antioch's reputation. My sister had written letters about her positive experiences. I also found the people at Antioch to be friendly and accepting, and there was a great spirit of community. But, in time, I learned that the attitudes of many of them had not escaped the deeply rooted racism of society.

My sister pointed out, for example, that she seemed to always be asked for her opinions about race relations issues and felt she was expected to be the spokesperson for the Black race. In one instance in my senior year, I was supposed to do some practice teaching at a public elementary school attended by White children. But my supervisor, who was reported to have once said that God never intended for the races to mix, informed me that I had to teach at an all-Black, segregated school nine miles away. She said that if we pushed to have me do my practice teaching at the public school, which had no Black teachers, Antioch could lose all of its practice teaching privileges. Unfortunately, the president of Antioch supported her, despite my protests.

I refused to teach at the segregated school, and I received some support from two faculty members (one White, and the only Black member) and a couple of students. Eventually, however, I had to accept a compromise, in which I was allowed to do my practice teaching at Antioch's private elementary school, for which I received a teaching certificate. This incident enhanced my determination to challenge racism, and I became active in the campus NAACP chapter and committees dealing with race relations and civil liberties.

About that time I remember a magazine in a friend's home catching my eye. As I read through it, I was pleased to find that this new magazine, so boldly titled Ebony, was not only about us and for us, but by us, as well. Just the fact that there was now a first-rate magazine that spoke to our experience provided a sense of racial pride and accomplishment. Ebony represented to me a significant milestone in the growth of our self-awareness and identity as a people, and I have read it regularly since then.

I left Antioch for Boston in 1951 to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, where there were only about 15 or so Black students. While I saw no "White only" signs in Boston, we did not feel welcome at many restaurants, clubs and social events.

In February 1952, 1 met a young postgraduate student, an ordained minister, who was working on his Ph.D. in systematic theology. We began a courtship, and I soon became aware that he was not only personally appealing, but also a creative thinker with an intense social consciousness. …