Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Delayed Victory

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Delayed Victory

Article excerpt


Southern University awards student protesters honorary degrees nearly 50 years after expulsion


Forty-four years after expelling them for participating in sit-ins at three racially segregated restaurants, Southern University invited the 16 former students back to the historically Black campus to receive honorary degrees at its spring commencement.

During the ceremony last month, Chancellor Edward Jackson paid tribute to the 16 former students who courageously dared the state laws that allowed racial segregation in restaurants in 1960.

"Some of them went to jail, and all of them, unfortunately, were expelled from the university," Jackson said.

The lawsuits filed over their arrests laid the legal groundwork for a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in privately owned restaurants.

"They sat down so we eould stand up," Jackson said.

The 16 expelled students were also banned from enrolling in other Louisiana public colleges, including Grambling State University.

Kenneth Lavon Johnson, who bounced back from his expulsion to become a circuit court judge in Baltimore, viewed the homecoming as a delayed victory.

"The university has finally admitted that we did something other than what we were charged with," Johnson said.

Johnson said the former protesters were all expelled for conduct bringing disgrace to the university.

"And today we are being honored for conduct that brought favor to the university, even though it was [the] same act," Johnson said.

"What I hope it shows is that you can stand against what you perceive to be an evil and you can lose, but tomorrow you may still win," Johnson said.

The former protesters, now in their 60s, are scattered all over the country.

"I used to wonder about all of those people who left because many of them never came back. If we wanted a college education, we had to go someplace else and get it," said Jo Ann Morris, who was a 19-year-old freshman when she was expelled for her part in the protest.

Morris was one of several Southern University protesters who transferred to Central State University in Ohio after their expulsion. Today, Morris teaches English at Alabama A&M University.

Morris said the key to the eventual success of the Baton Rouge sit-ins was its peaceful tone. …

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