Racism revisited

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Last night I was privileged to attend a screening of the documentary Black Thursday Remembered: An Oral History Project. After the viewing a panel comprised some of the students involved with faculty and a reporter who covered the story participated in a Q&A session.

Seeing the still photos from the campus back then and especially during moments from the events of that day where profound. They put the concept of the civil rights movement and institutionalized racism into reality. I grew up learning of the civil rights events but it wasn't until I saw events occur at local locations I know and drive by every day did I gain a deeper perspective.

The word conservative was bandied around all evening. The context it was used in made it synonymous with bigoted or racist. Even now it seems sugar coating the truth on an evening of harsh truths had to occur.

Some of the 94 students or the 94 as they are referred to were able to show up in addition to the panel members. Many of those had not returned to campus since they were forced to leave campus hours after expulsion.

The black students on campus tried bringing up different issues with the university and were told they were not a sanctioned student group so they could not be recognized by the administration. This resulted in the Black Student Union being formed.

During the 20 Nov 1968 meeting they discussed their frustration, anger and dismay on not issues of bigotry. The topics included physical safety on and off campus, the availability of housing, verbal harassment and more. major issue was lack of proper housing being supplied to them. Other issues included safety of black students from physical harm After much heated discussions they formed their plan.

The next morning almost all of the 114 registered black students on campus met for breakfast at the dining hall. This caused quite a stir around campus. The majority of them went from there to the the President of the universities office.

They handed over a list of demands asking for President Guiles to sign off that he acknowledges and will take action to help alleviate the problems. The list covered issues like equal and fair housing, adding courses like Black History and having ethic food from the black community as options on the campus menu.

Guiles refused sign anything under duress. The tension increased to an unbearable point during this standoff. Some of the students began trashing the place for roughly five minutes. The police were called.

Police from multiple counties assembled with riot gear. They formed a corridor with police on both sides down the hall and out to waiting trucks outside. Under the guise of telling the students they were there to protect them from the demonstrations that were occurring outside they loaded them into trucks and took them in to be arrested.

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They had to call family to be bailed out. A Catholic priest who was a civil rights activist named Father Groppi arrived to help raise the funds to bail out the students. Regardless of being present or participating in the act of rioting they were expelled. Upon learning of their expulsion they had just hours to leave campus.

I was lucky enough to speak to one of them, a Dr. Juanita **** who teaches Street Law (consumer law) in Milwaukee. She shared with me how it felt to pull off the highway into Oshkosh for the first time since then. The feelings stirred up walking on campus.

The conversation evolved to modern day civil rights and the landmark election for President Elect Obama. Her eyes lit up when telling of the voter registration drives she worked tirelessly on leading into Nov 4. The pride in her voice talking about her students and how this generation was being proactive in their own future.

She represented what was right back in 1968 and what is right now in 2008. She strongly advised mentoring the youth. Leadership by example and guidance through compassion. She will be the first person I think of during my recollections of the evening.

It is a shame this give and take was a one night event. This is the type of knowledge and emotion that more of our High School and College students should be exposed to and hopefully learn from. In my opinion the older a person is when it comes to views on intolerance and equality the harder it is for them to change. Teaching our youth todayy will go a long way to ensure a better tomorrow.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

~The Dad

To learn more on this topic I recommend the article from the student run paper the UWO Advance-Titan.