Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 19, 1960

Guest post by Samuel Carter, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

On the cool spring morning of April 19, 1960, thousands of readers picked up their copy of the Chicago Defender newspaper. Inside, like me, they likely found an article detailing the stories from many aspects of segregation and discrimination on the Bloomington Campus of Indiana University. This article, titled, “Here Is The Story At Indiana University,” was the second article in a series of three articles titled, “Does ‘Jim Crow’ Still Exist In Midwest Colleges?” The series, written by Eddie L. Madison, explored different aspects of discrimination and segregation on college campuses, and, without asserting much of an opinion beyond that of antiracism, investigated the full situation associated with discrimination and segregation in a seemingly typical northern college campus town (click to view PDF).

To broaden the topic, and to help explain why I chose this article, I would like to first note that in choosing an article, I first had to decide on a newspaper. I chose the Daily Defender because this iconic American newspaper sits in history alongside some of the most influential people and as one of the most influential advocates for civil rights for all people. I recently acquired a book by Ethan Michaeli titled The Defender, which I have begun to read on the side. It is an amazing book which accurately and descriptively chronicles the Defender’s rise to fame and nearly all of the ways in which it helped to raise up the African-American people who lived in the shadows in the twentieth century. Having picked the Daily Defender, I felt it was only right to pick a year that included my date from the 1960’s, being in the civil rights movement era. Lastly, I read through a number of articles relating to discrimination on college campuses before finally settling on this detailed piece about lingering racism on northern college campuses.

Racism on college campuses really is a hard-hitting issue, even today, with situations such as the ousting of the University of Missouri’s president on the basis of discriminatory policy and lack of action against discrimination on campus. Even closer to home are the protests that sprang up last fall here at Iowa State. These students, inspired by what they had seen at the University of Missouri, wanted to voice their concerns regarding a similar perceived lack of action against discrimination and the lack of comment by the ISU president about certain incidents of racism on campus. One such incident involved racist comments by Iowa State football fans toward students protesting Donald Trump’s discriminatory remarks, controversial immigration plans, and overall his presence on campus. As for the article, I thought that the actions of these bold students, my fellow classmates, would compare well with the actions of students on northern campuses protesting discrimination and segregation on a more extreme level in the 1960s.

I was wrong. To fight years of segregation by seven local barber shops near the Indiana University campus, the student NAACP chapter, advised by an IU faculty member, Dr. John Liell, developed a four-step plan, with only the third step being the “negative” picketing that was used as a first step of action by students here at ISU. Comparatively, the students at Iowa State were up against a presidential candidate making discriminatory comments, while the NAACP at IU was trying to change the blatant discrimination and segregation within their own community. To say the least, this was far from what I expected. I thought that the 1960s NAACP members would have been much more extreme and used far more expansive tactics than that of regular students in the recent protests at Iowa State.

As I continued to read Eddie Madison’s article, I learned about a 1958 student council president who had vetoed a 3,000 to 2,000 majority vote by the student body for requiring social fraternities to eliminate discriminatory membership policies. This kind of injustice and utterly blatant discrimination, on a northern college campus of all places, was appalling to me. On the other hand, the article detailed the somewhat victorious remarks by Dr. Liell about managing, through peaceful negotiations, to turn six of the seven local segregated barbershops to unsegregated. Still, the question lingered, why were these students so comparably peaceful when their claims of injustice were comparably more severe.

The article continued on with more stories of discrimination in restaurants, taverns, a negro barber who only cut black men’s hair at night, and the occasional story of a hotel and tavern like the Van Arman Graham, which offered the “same courteous service” to all customers, regardless of race. However, at almost every step, the university leadership, and the majority of the students, seemed to be fully in support of the NAACP and against every occurrence of discrimination and segregation that occurred in the entire town of Bloomington. The holdout seemed, very clearly, on the university campus, to be the fraternities and sororities. Then, near the end of the article, something became very clear. The leaders of nearly every civil rights group on campus were white.

The dean of students, who was white, assured the daily student newspaper that the university was always looking out for the African-American population and pointing out discrimination and segregation in every area. Yet, somehow, the University of Indiana itself still had a policy of rooming “like with like” during the first year of living in residence halls on campus. However, the housing department at IU assured African-Americans that it was “for their benefit.” This single practice made something quite clear: the rights of the African-American population were being fought for in Bloomington, but at the pace of the white population. The advisor of the NAACP student chapter was white, the president of the club itself was often white, more than half of the club was white, the ACLU had white leadership, the student government had white leadership, the dean of students was white, and, of course, the president of the university was white, and there were only two African-American professors at the university. After all this, I realized why the responses of minority students to discrimination on IU’s campus in the 1960s was so different from what I witnessed last fall: the protests on university campuses last fall were orchestrated by minority students without the oversight or influence of white leadership.

This article’s marvelously simple, yet detailed, look into the lives of African-Americans on a northern college campus in the 1960s provided quite an interesting opportunity for comparison between the civil rights movements that continue today and those that occurred in the early 1960s. Overall, I think some of the insight that this article offered to me about the details of civil rights movements on college campuses really changed how I will view the present movements by students going forward. In summary, it is important to recognize that things are not always as they seem, and I truly believe this article offers a wonderful opportunity for the people of today, looking back, to see raw, true, historical fact, in the form of a simple newspaper article.

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