The experience of being a Kentucky black female transfer student from a large, predominantly white public institution to a small, predominantly private one of color during the civil rights era afforded me many unique and multifaceted perspectives.
Fisk University, the higher education institution to which I transferred and the one from whence I came, the University of Kentucky, were decidedly different in many areas, but certainly not all. Both were founded during approximately the same time period in history: U.K. in 1865 by John Bryan Bowman and Fisk, also, in 1865 by John Ogden, Reverend Erastus Cravath, and Reverend Edward Smith. It was named after General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedman’s Bureau. Fisk U. has remained a small private school while UK located has grown by leaps and bounds remaining large and public. Both, then, as higher level of learning institutions were highly ranked in their respective categories. Both had produced historically notable graduates, and both had achieved the status of University over the years.
Thenceforward, Characteristics Begin to Differ
In my case, starting with the application form for each institution, remarkable differences stood out. U.K. presented a regular run-of-the mill item. Despite their strong emphasis on writing within the curriculum, not one essay was required as they are at institutions of today. (My younger daughter applied to one institution which required six essays by the time one finished the a’s and b’s as additional segments!) Fisk, on the other hand wanted a listing of how many telephones and how many cars one had at his/her home abode. Seriously! Not sure why that was a request on the application form. No essay was required there either.
Whereas, many of UK’s notables centered on basketball sports figures, those at Fisk tended to be makers and shakers in civil rights history. Of course, there were notables outside of these realms, also.
Fisk, a Hotbed of Civil Rights Issues, etc.
Fisk University, located in Nashville, Tennessee was a hotbed of issues, protests, and activities during the 1950’s and 1960’s, with its students historically recognized for fighting injustices. As a Kentucky female of color arriving around 1962, by one year, I had missed the infamous lunch counter sit-ins that landed many females in my age group in jail., but the fumes were still hovering as groups of “Negroes” such as now Congressman John L. Lewis who had been severely beaten several times during such integrative excursions as “bloody Sunday,” went out on almost a daily basis with other young, black male students to integrate eating counters, restaurants, and other facilities in Nashville as they were about the business of breaking down racial barriers and challenging city inequities.
My arrival at the time I did in civil rights history afforded me to share the small campus with young blacks other than Congressman Lewis. One such student was the late Ronald Walters, a leading scholar of the problems race, politics and author of 13 books, one of which mapped a way to the White House for the first-ever black president whenever that should occur. Dr. Walters later became director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland and was oft quoted and interviewed on national television. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Congressional Black Caucus. The list of “notable” notables will be continued later in this blog.
Someone once remarked that, “Perhaps no single institution has played so central a role as Fisk University in the shaping of black learning and culture in America.” I agree.