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“On, On, U of K …”

October 11, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

“On, On,  U of K…” go the lyrics to the well known sports fight song—then as now– with its mix of spondees, anapests and occasional iambs.  Such athletic occasions proved difficult for those of color who were neither involved nor included in anyway to participate fervently in that rally cry.

Thus, I created a makeshift directory which would serve, in part, to stave off some of the isolation the black students both on and off campus were socially experiencing. This group shared problems, opinions on various faculty members and the times of events that might be fruitful to attend.

Later on, I created a second small directory (academically-oriented this time).  It included a few marginalized whites who for one reason or another were not involved in the fraternities and sororities, and did not hang out at a fraternity or sorority house.  (The “houses” could become places where they could easily access and cross test files that had been saved from former teachers, as a few instructors were either too lazy or too busy to compose a new test or to secure the ones they had administered already.) Some simply administered them at a subsequent time. This phenomenon still occurs at many colleges nationwide today.

Both groups in my directories were listed by name and phone number so that they could confer with each other about such issues as forgotten dates of when assignments and tests were due.  A few met and had discussions in study groups, and provided their notes to someone who had missed a class upon request.

These group directories were very beneficial.  They especially helped me the semester I took 21 credit hours and worked two jobs (Jerry’s Restaurant on the Beltline and the YWCA on campus).  I missed a lot of class while studying intensely to keep up with each class, thus, I could cross notes and pretty well get full coverage of what went on during my absence. UK was not as strict on class attendance in those days, thank goodness.

“How Did You Do?”

Those four short, nosy but powerfully intimidating and intrusive words became a perpetual exit question uttered by students one to the other when exiting a class in which the teacher had distributed grades on exams or essays. Made no difference whether the inquirer knew you or not, and in those instances, whether you were white, black, blue or green.  At first I was shocked, then later angered, then I felt like saying “What’s it to you?” or simply “Pardon?” with raised eyebrows and an inflected voice as I felt that the question might be to establish themselves as ones with superior performance. But after enrolling in my second semester class in English, I was somewhat less reluctant as my papers always received the top grades with the top thoughtful comments.  Mr. S. really liked and appreciated my papers and sometimes put a final comment of “Too Deep” on them, much to the two helicoptering black seniors who lived across the way from where I stayed in Boyd.  (I mentioned them in my first post. They became my adopted guardians so to speak.)

After the jealousy of the others in that class became blatantly apparent, I learned to grab my papers and literally run because I felt that Mr. S. would garner as much heat as I, since I was the only black student in that class and the one who was making the top grades.

But It Didn’t Start Out That Way

English class didn’t start out that way first semester, however as I made what I deemed unsatisfactory grades on my first three papers under Ms. Z  I was devastated!   I had made straight A’s in English throughout my high school years, but I had never before written a single essay which is what the whole year of English at UK was all about.  All I had studied at my small “Negro” high school were nouns, pronouns, the other parts of speech, a limited amount of punctuation and literature.

“Soooo,” I said to myself:  “This must stop!”  As I began to meet my own challenge, I began to literally sleep with my college English text, especially on entire weekends when I decided to stay in while my roommate was away, and I was not particularly up to being social in the limited way UK afforded.  McCrimmons Writing and Usage, my text, became my pal. Indeed, as God would have it, learning to write decent essays would serve me and my offspring daughters, Jacinda Townsend and Akisha Townsend Eaton, who have achieved unbelievably nationally and internationally because of writing, for the remainder of our lives.

Bye, Bye U of K, For a Short While, Anyway

Accustomed by now to the rigors and nuances of what was then a not-long-ago integrated campus, tiring of attitudes on the part of teacher favoritism by some of them, disenfranchisement on the part of some organizations, and desiring a different experience before my four years as an undergraduate had expired, I sought a brief intermission, so that I could say that I had not spent my whole four years as an undergraduate student not knowing what was on the other side of the globe.

Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, only an hour away from my home in Bowling Green and one of the two top prestigious “Negro” institutions in the country would be my next nesting place, the vehicle to help me launch my mission to use mixed metaphors. After my high school “homeboy” who was currently attending Fisk, brought his yearbook by for me to view, there was no turning back.

To be continued.

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