First, a word about Tougaloo. My sister Dorie and I transferred to Tougaloo in 1961 after we were expelled from nearby Jackson State College for organizing a civil rights demonstration. We felt that we had died and gone to heaven when we arrived on the campus of this small liberal arts college located in the middle of the most racist state in the United States. Tougaloo is where I discovered liberal education, studied philosophy, literature, and attended monthly Social Science Forums where speakers like Martin Luther King and Ralph Bunche spoke. It was at Tougaloo that I learned the importance of using knowledge to promote social change. Professors at Tougaloo encouraged us to explore languages, the decolonization on the African continent, participate in Crossroads Africa, join the Peace Corps, and to apply for graduate and professional schools. Tougaloo students continue to enter graduate, medical,[add comma] and law schools in disproportionate numbers compared to its peer institutions.
Perhaps no other college in the South played as central a role in the Movement than Tougaloo. Founded over a century ago, Tougaloo was always a leader in human rights. It provided a liberal education to black students not found anywhere else in the state. In 1961, it found itself at the forefront when the "Tougaloo Nine" students staged the first sit-in in Mississippi at the all-white Hinds County (Jackson) Public Library. Tougaloo hosted civil rights activists from the Freedom Riders in 1961 to the Meredith March in 1966. Prominent leaders and ordinary citizens found safe haven at Tougaloo which was called "an oasis in the desert" because it was the only place where integrated groups could gather. Prominent individuals such as Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokeley Carmichael, Fannie Lou Hamer, Julian Bond, Joan Baez, and Congressman John Lewis spoke at its historic Woodworth Chapel. . Students, faculty and staff were arrested for protesting racial discrimination at segregated white churches, the city auditorium, and were beaten at the F.W. Woolworth store. We students routinely conducted voter registration drives across the state, a boycott against Jackson businesses, and some of us were deeply involved with SNCC, COFO and the Freedom Democratic Party.
Tougaloo paid a heavy price for its involvement. It was dubbed "Cancer College" by whites, and the Mississippi State Legislature's attempted to revoke its charter. Dr. Dan Beittel, its President during these difficult years, was ultimately fired by the board of trustees for Tougaloo's pivotal role in the movement.
In this proud tradition as a leader in the struggle for human rights, it is fitting that Tougaloo College continue its role in the movement by establishing this endowed Chair. It will allow the college to bring to the campus the kind of nationally known scholar the students deserve the right to have as part of their education. Such a professor will be a role model for faculty colleagues as well as students. This endowed chair will help retain an impressive faculty member or to recruit a nationally renowned professor who will provide distinction to the College. This chair will also enable the College to continue its proud tradition as a leader in the struggle for human rights, as a continuing legacy. I hope that contributing to the Civil Rights Chair may strike a chord with you. You have always supported civil rights for all, including the African American population of Mississippi, perhaps the downest of all America's down-and-out, and this is a wonderful way to continue that support today.
Recently Tougaloo came in tenth in the ranking of all black colleges by US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT. Of all the schools in the top twenty, Tougaloo charges the least, primarily because it serves some of the poorest students in the poorest state. In addition, all that many young people in Mississippi know of the Civil Rights Movement is "Martin Luther King Jr." And he played only a minor role in Mississippi! Simply establishing a Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Chair will honor and remember a great cause, a magnificent campaign.
My hope is that at this point in our lives, many of us who felt civil rights for all as a priority in our youth (and perhaps throughout our lives) would like to revisit that priority once more. This chair offers an important way to do so.
Please send your contributions or pledges to:
Office of Institutional Advancement
500 W. County Line Rd.
Tougaloo, MS 39174
Mark your contribution "Civil Rights Chair."