Remembering Race at Brown

Inspired by Brown’s 250th anniversary, the sophomore seminar Race and Remembering collaborated to critically examine race at Brown University. This digital exhibit highlights University legacies of erasure and histories of resistance. This is a call to REMEMBER.

Tag: Brown University

The Day of the Black Walkout

The Black men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University and Black women of Pembroke College walk out December 5th, 1968.

The Black men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University and Black women of Pembroke College walk out on December 5th, 1968. [1]

The student-administration efforts had so far not produced the desired results of increased Black enrollment. In addition to the administration lacking in urgency, they misrepresented the demand of having 11% Black students in the incoming class as a racial quota system and undermined student power. This act of resistance became known as the 1968 Black walkout.

The Afro-American Society stated, “We, the [B]lack men at Brown University have therefore decided to dissociate ourselves from the University as of 12:00 noon…”[2]

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[1] From 1968 to Now | Brown 250. December 5, 1968. Imagine 250+, Brown University, Providence. Accessed December 1, 1968. http://250.brown.edu/

[2] The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University. Letter to the editor, Brown Daily Herald, December 5th, 1968.

The Public Sphere

The Evening Bulletin newspaper article titled, “Perplexing,” published December 4th, 1968. [1]

This article justified the Brown administration’s resistance to the demands of its Black students. By highlighting the administration’s attempts to keep communication open, the writer attempted to subvert the reasons for the walkout, and draw negative attention away from the administration. The demands were further characterized as irrational when the writer appraised administration and questioned student demands.

“I’m puzzled by their action…I feel that there has been real progress made this fall, especially among the black students here.”

Brown President Ray L. Heffner, December 4th, 1968. [2]

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[1] “Perplexing.” The Evening Bulletin. December 4, 1968, Ray Lorenzo Heffner files, Box 35, U.A.

[2] Ibid.

Town vs. Gown Tensions

This article exemplifies tensions between the local Cape Verdean community, Brown University, and government urban renewal developers. Fox Point residents feared their neighborhood would be taken over as University professionals and students moved in, forcing locals out. Many couldn’t pay higher rents, and the neighborhood collapsed to gentrification. As a result, families abandoned Fox Point and took the neighborhood’s Cape Verdean Creole culture with them.

This article exemplifies tensions between the local Cape Verdean community, Brown University, and government urban renewal developers. Fox Point residents feared their neighborhood would be taken over as University professionals and students moved in, forcing locals out. Many couldn’t pay higher rents and the neighborhood collapsed to gentrification. As a result, families abandoned Fox Point and took the neighborhood’s Cape Verdean Creole culture with them.

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The I-195

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I-195 Route

This map shows the planned, and eventually constructed, route of I-195, which cut directly through Fox Point and divided Cape Verdeans from the waterfront. This construction required the demolition of entire blocks of Cape Verdean-owned homes and businesses. Highway builders were instructed to plan routes through the cheapest land, which disproportionately affected communities of color. Local outsiders and developers viewed Fox Point as a slum unworthy of consideration when bulldozers shattered the community. [1]


[1] “It was the dirtiest town, there was so much coal dust pouring into everything and it was pretty run down, the historic district, it was pretty much a slum.” Interview with John Carter Brown. Gorman, Lauren. “Fox Point: The Disintegration of a Neighborhood.” PhD diss., Brown University, 1998, 20.

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Gentrification

The angry and frightened residents of Fox Point are up against a process that is seemingly as inexorable as any catastrophic natural force: that is, the glacial spread of a university, any university, into the surrounding neighborhood.

The Providence Bulletin (Providence), 1969.

Neighborhoods and communities had something very valuable about them. Streets which looked very crowded and dirty to planner and their ramshackle houses brought together in very important human ways and created human values of care and solidarity… almost no one perceived what would be lost by the eradication of whole neighborhoods.

PBS Video. The World the Moses Built. Los Angeles: Public Broadcasting Service, 1989.

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“Which said piece of land contains about four acres, and became the property of us, said Moses and John Brown, by a deed of bargain and sale from …the present grantor’s great-grandfather, who received it by descent from his father Chad Brown, who was one of the original proprietors after the native Indians of whom it was purchased….” 

                                           -The Charter of Brown University, 1765

 

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Remembering the 1968 Walkout

Undermining the student activism of the 1968 Black Walkout and the Brown 250+ Celebration


Today, the popular conception of Brown University as a historical supporter of student activism requires further examination. In 1968, the admissions office refused the Afro-American Society’s main demand of increased Black enrollment to 11%. [1] The administration undermined student demands and impeded their efforts by arguing that a ‘racial quota’ would admit Blacks, “for the sake of reaching a percent-age figure.” [2] However, the students’ intention was a minimum goal. [3] Frustrated with the slow “concerted effort” the administration offered that increased enrollment less than 1%, Black students from Brown and Pembroke walked out on December 5th, 1968. [4]

The University has had more than enough time to change…We will not wait any longer.”

—The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University,  December 5th, 1968. [5]

For Brown’s 250+ Celebration, several panels were displayed around campus. The John Hay Library exhibit presented a panel on the 1968 walkout that portrayed a succinct event in which a problem arose, and with minor adjustments, the administration was able to solve the issue quickly. It states that through organized student protests and administrative support, “Brown evolved…[to a] diverse student body.” [6] In this way, the panel minimized tensions inherent in the administration’s early reluctance to adhere to student demands. Contrary to this easy evolution, we must remember the Black student protest and the administration resistance to the 1968 walkout. It is crucial to understand the history of students of color at Brown, whose contributions in shaping University values of social change must not be forgotten.

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[1] The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University, letter to the editor, Brown Daily Herald, December 5th, 1968.

[2] Alberta F. Brown to Black Women in Pembroke College, 1 November 1968, Ray Lorenzo Heffner files, Box 35, U.A.

[3] “Negroes at Brown U. Begin a Boycott of Classes.” The New York Times. 6 December 1968, Ray Lorenzo Heffner files, Box 35, U.A.

[4] The Black Men of the Afro-American Society at Brown University, letter to the editor, Brown Daily Herald, December 5th, 1968.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Elements of Tradition and Change: Brown University’s First 250 Years.” John Hay Library. Brown University. 11 November 2014.

Forgotten Fox Point

The Expansion of Brown University & Displacement of the Cape Verdean Fox Point Community

Brown University moved to College Hill in Providence, RI in 1770, and has significantly impacted the surrounding communities of color ever since. The University’s need for land and space to grow resulted in devastating consequences for communities of color, such as displacement through gentrification and urban renewal projects, and erasure from University history. Starting in the 1920s, Cape Verdean immigrants created a tightly knit, family-oriented, Creole community in Fox Point, College Hill’s southeastern neighbor. Originally from an island nation famous for seafaring, many Cape Verdean families settled around the Providence and Seekonk Rivers and took jobs as dock workers and fishermen. As the University expanded throughout the 20th century, Cape Verdean families were forced out of Fox Point.

“I don’t think there is anything that speaks to

how peaceable a kingdom it was.”

– Janet Walsh [1]

In the 1950s, the University and state government bought cheap tracts of land in Cape Verdean Fox Point, razed all buildings they deemed unworthy of saving, and rebuilt new structures for college students and faculty, who could afford higher rents. [2] Additionally, the construction of I-195 cut directly through the Cape Verdean neighborhood, destroying existing houses and businesses, despite community-led resistance.

“They priced you right out, so we moved.

We didn’t move because we wanted to move, we loved the place…”

– Charles Andrade [3]

Besides losing a diversity of residents, the Fox Point neighborhood lost a community that once felt like an extended family, where everyone knew and looked after each other. Thus, the intricate network of Fox Point became a diaspora of Cape Verdeans.

In recent years, there have been reclamation efforts of the erased history of Cape Verdeans in Fox Point. Remembering this history of gentrification is crucial as Brown celebrates its 250th anniversary, and continues to expand into and wield significant influence over the city of Providence.

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[1] Interview with Janet Walsh, former Fox Point resident, Portuguese descent. October 10, 1997. Gorman, Lauren. “Fox Point: The Disintegration of a Neighborhood.” PhD diss., Brown University, 1998, 72.

[2] Gorman, Lauren. “Fox Point: The Disintegration of a Neighborhood.” PhD diss., Brown University, 1998.

[3] Interview with Charles Andrade, former Fox Point residents, Cape Verdean descent, current Deacon of St. Joseph’s Paris. Interview was conducted at the Fox Point Boys Club Reunion, November 2, 1997.

 

Columbus Day at Brown: The Holiday as Memorial

“…Native American people, have always occupied the lands of the United States farther back than any history can record or dispute. Indigenous in fact means to be ‘beget’ of a certain land or place – to have always been there, to belong to a place. You cannot logically ‘discover’ a land that already fully belonged to someone else.”

Founder of Honoring Our Own Power, Wanda Jean Lord, October 7, 2008 rally at Brown University

On October 7, 2008, Brown University students and community leaders in Native American activism rallied against Brown’s observance of Columbus Day.[1] They marched through campus to challenge the celebration of Christopher Columbus, a man who enforced genocide and slavery on indigenous peoples of the Americas. At the rally, Reiko Koyama ‘11 proclaimed that “Continuing to celebrate … a conqueror driven with greed, cruelty, and self-righteousness, over 500 years later is unacceptable. Continuing the practice at a progressive, socially-conscious institution such as Brown … is reprehensible.”[2]

In April 2009, the University agreed to eliminate the holiday from the academic calendar.[3] Many students approved the decision, but a national debate arose when news sources ridiculed this activism as a disgrace to American history. Thus, even after the elimination of the holiday, full retribution for the pain caused by Columbus Day at Brown has yet to be attained.

In October 2014, the John Carter Brown Library started a lecture series called “The Earliest Americas: A New Initiative in Indigenous Studies.”[4] The initiative launched with a lecture by historian Ned Blackhawk, who encouraged the public to “expos[e] limitations in existing narratives” by having continuous conversations to understand the pain inflicted upon Native peoples by celebrations of Columbus Day. “Earliest Americas” is a significant example of a space for these conversations. But as Blackhawk states, whatever the effort to reconcile the narratives silenced by Brown’s histories of violence, that effort must continue on.

“We are now at a point in our nation’s history where we are really, for the first time, able to … rediscover America.”

Historian, Ned Blackhawk, October 2014 Lecture at John Carter Brown Library

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[1] Reiko Koyama, “Speak-Out Against Columbus Day” (program flyer, Brown University, 2008).

[2] Reiko Koyama, “Reiko’s Columbus Day Speech” (program speech notes, Brown University, 2008).

[3] Lauren Fedor, “Columbus Change Spurs Response,” Brown Daily Herald, April 14, 2009, accessed November 3, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2009/04/14/columbus-change-spurs-response/.

[4] Kerri Colfer, “‘Earliest America’ Initiative Rethinks History,” Brown Daily Herald, October 14, 2014, accessed November 29, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/10/14/earliest-america-initiative-rethinks-history/.

The Events of October 29, 2013

On October 29, 2013, Brown University students and Providence community members from groups Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) protested a controversial lecture on campus. Protestors were outraged by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions’ decision to select Raymond “Ray” Kelly, New York City Police Department’s Commissioner, as the speaker for the lecture.[1] Protestors held cardboard signs that read “(RAY)CIST KELLY” and chants such as “Ray Kelly you can’t hide, we charge you with homicide!” were heard. The event was cancelled when protestors in the audience continually silenced Kelly. Despite criticism from President Christina Paxson and Brown community members, Kelly’s silencing was inevitable due to tensions on and off campus.

Although it seems that conflict tensions arose when Kelly was announced as speaker, conflict between the University and student activists actually began after President Paxson’s announcement that Brown would not divest from companies that use coal despite student outcries.[2] This announcement came a day before Director of the Taubman Center, Marrion Orr, informed a protest leader that the lecture would continue as planned regardless of cancellation demands.[3] This decision intensified feelings on campus and provoked students to protest.

Aside from the issues on campus, there were also off-campus issues that provoked students to protest Kelly’s lecture. Promotional materials advertising the lecture did not mention controversial policing strategies such as Stop and Frisk, which is known to perpetuate racial profiling against minorities.[4] Kelly’s lecture was announced two months after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, which combined both off-campus racial tension with on-campus frustrations that climaxed when Kelly was silenced by student protesters.

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[1] Committee on the Events of October 29, 2013, Report of the Committee on the Events of October 29, 2013, February 2014, 3.

[2] Christina Paxson, “Coal Divestment Update,” October 27, 2014.

[3] Committee on the Events of October 29, 2013, Report of the Committee on the Events of October 29, 2013, February 2014, 4-5.

[4] Primary Source II: PROACTIVE POLICING