By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
The #BlackOnCampus hashtag makes student protests look like a trending topic. After all, the hashtag had already received at least 65,000 tweets by Nov. 12 only a few days after it was created by University of Missouri students. But do you remember the hashtag #Ferguson?
“Twitter conversation about Ferguson started soon after (Michael) Brown’s death,” according to an Aug. 20, 2014 report by the Pew Research Center. “On its peak day so far, Thursday, August 14, there were more than 3.6 million tweets about the events in Ferguson.”
The point is a similar pattern unfolded in Greensboro on Feb. 1, 1960. Black university students sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter. Service was denied to all four. Social media did not even exist in the 1960s; yet, the Greensboro protest quickly spread through North Carolina to Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and soon involved a total of 15 cities.
This is how the New York Times explained the impact of the Greensboro sit-in on Feb. 15, 1960, which was about two weeks after the four students sat down at the segregated lunch counter: “The demonstrations were generally dismissed at first as another college fad of the ‘panty-raid’ variety. This opinion lost adherents. . .Some whites wrote off the episodes as the work of ‘outside agitators.’ But even they conceded that the seeds of dissent had fallen in fertile soil.”
Black students waving signs and yelling into microphones is not new, in other words. From the May 17, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to the August 9, 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, brown, white, and Black feet have pounded the pavement in an effort to launch change.
“What we were protesting against (in the 1960s) was our inability to attend these same schools,” said the Rev. Dr. Joseph Green.
He recalled how his race prevented him from being able to swim in the campus pool at the University of the South, which he attended from 1958-1963.
“And now that we are there (enrolled as students in predominantly white schools) we find we are not fully accepted,” Green said. “There are issues of race still present in the student body and the administration. We were protesting segregation (in the 1960s) and so are they.”
Green, who returned to Sewanee, Tenn., in 2013 to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of the South, said, “I am very interested in the movement that is going on now.”
“It all kind of grew out of Ferguson. We discovered some attitudes that are still present. They affect the institutions we are trying to be a part of,” Green said.
Green served four years on the Norfolk School Board, 20 years on the Norfolk City Council and 10 years as the vice mayor of Norfolk. He pastored Grace Episcopal Church for 30 years before retiring in 1994. In 2009, Tidewater Community College named its 70,000 square-foot District Administration Building after him. Last month, the New Journal and Guide honored him with its Impacting Lives Lifetime Achievement Award.
Green’s experiences at the University of the South bring a moth-eaten issue into sharp focus. Specifically, racial hostility has not even remotely evaporated into thin air. For example look at the chain of events at the University of Missouri. Recently student protesters pushed the president to resign. And the chancellor of the flagship campus said he would step down to a less prominent role at the end of the year.
But look at what came on the heels of the president’s resignation. The NAACP recently set up a new confidential telephone hotline for University of Missouri students to report threats after violent warnings appeared on social media.
Nimrod Chapel, president of the Jefferson City NAACP, said students can report threats to 844-NAACP-HELP. The number is for students who may not feel comfortable reporting threats to law enforcement authorities, who have an “abysmal” record of prosecuting hate crimes, Chapel told the Huffington Post.
“If you look at the history of the Civil Rights Movement, when concessions are made for equality and respect for human dignity, there have always been individuals who feel as though their liberty is being stifled,” Chapel said in a statement.
Black students said they continue to encounter racial hostility at the University of Missouri. Lakea Gray, a freshman, told the Huffington Post she may transfer to an HBCU to escape the hostility she says she faces at Mizzou. She said some white students question her high GPA and use the n-word loosely while under the influence.
Jovan Russell, a senior at Mizzou, said racial tension seems to have worsened since the protests started in September. He told HuffPost that he’s even heard the rallies referred to as a “nigfest.”
“I’ve heard so much bigotry and racist comments that I thought I’d never hear from my peers,” Russell said. “People have just been extremely racist ever since this has all happened. And it’s pretty sickening to me, the lack of compassion and empathy that my peers are showing.”