Another Light on the Hill Black Students at Tufts


A group of students chat outside, 1978

Throughout the 1970s, the Afro-American Society and the Afro-American Center became the prime foci of most Black students' life. According to one Society officer, the organization was one in which “Black students can be involved in whatever areas their interests lie,” both on-campus and off-campus. The Society began sponsoring the annual celebration of Kwanzaa, sponsored a 1973 cause dinner to benefit victims of the drought in West Africa, co-sponsored a Stevie Wonder Concert in 1974, and provided funding to the Committee for Black Involvement in Drama (CBID), a student organization that sought to encourage more opportunities for Black students in Drama Department productions. The Society was also involved in several off-campus activities. During the early 1970s the Society sponsored a summer institute for school-age youngsters from Dorchester and Roxbury. In addition, the organization maintained tutoring programs for Black children and adolescents in Roxbury and West Medford, helped set up cultural programs in the Columbia Point Housing project, initiated a sickle cell anemia testing program on-campus and off-campus, and worked with Black inmates incarcerated in local prisons.

The Afro-American Cultural Center, renamed the African-American Cultural Center and relocated in Capen House in 1977, emerged from a series of spring 1969 meetings between officers of the Afro-American Society and members of the Committee on Student Life and university administrators. Afro-American Society officers stressed the need for a Center to “provide facilities to augment research opportunities in Afro-American history and culture” and to “enrich the social and cultural experience of black [sic] students at Tufts.” Following an affirmative vote by committee members and an immediate endorsement by the university administration, the proposed center was created and initially was to consist of two residential houses (one female and one male) with a resource library in African and African-American history as well as several meeting rooms.

The Afro-American Cultural Center opened in the fall of 1969 with the establishment of co-educational resident facilities. The student living units in the Center would be among the early residential units on campus that accommodated both male and female students. The Center also consisted of a director and office staff that helped to plan programs — educational, academic and social — for the campus' Black population. Among the activities sponsored or co-sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center during the 1970s were a Black Arts Festival in 1970, a Black Liberation Week in 1974, a 1976 National Black Solidarity Conference, a conference on "Blacks and Capital Punishment," and the 1977 symposium "Art, Politics and the Black Writer — An International Perspective." Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the Center sponsored or co-sponsored speakers such as Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Dick Gregory, Kathleen Cleaver, Representative Shirley Chisholm, Muhammad Ali, Bobby Seale, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Mel King, Gordon Parks, Dr. Kenneth Edelin, Amiri Baraka, and Representative Ronald Dellums.

From the mid-1970s to the present, the African American Center has continued its original mission and has sought to reach out to more and more members of the campus community. According to Patricia Hill-Collins, director from 1977 to 1980 and currently a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, the Center strove to provide ongoing support programs for Black students — male and female — while trying "to expose and sensitize the entire Tufts community to prominent themes in black [sic] political and intellectual thought." Indeed, with the changing gender ratio in the Black student population — more female than male — Hill-Collins encouraged the formation of organizations such as the Black Dance Troupe and set up workshops on Black Male-Black Female Relationships.

Students at work in an office, 1978

While many on the Tufts campus viewed Black students as separatists, Black students remained as involved, if not more involved, in campus-wide activities as in earlier decades. Throughout the 1970s, Black students won election to the TCU Senate, starred or co-starred in campus productions, and participated in several other campus organizations. Black male and female students distinguished themselves on several of the varsity teams: David Whitley A70 and Dennis Mink A75 on the basketball team, Sam Bryant A70, Pete Watson A71, Donnie Moore A76, and Darryl Brown A77 on the football team, Gabe Gomez A74 on the soccer team and Dennis Works A80 on both the football and baseball teams. With the enactment of the Higher Education Act of 1972 and title IX, women's sports teams came of age. Over the 1970s women athletes such as Pam Whitley J77 and Diane Nethersole J82 won acclaim for their sports accomplishments. In addition, for several years Black women comprised a majority of the members of the cheerleading squad. According to the Tufts Observer, the cheerleading squad had become “virtually defunct” until revitalization by Black women interested in cheering for the basketball team.

– Gill, "Another Light on the Hill" with further research by Cat Rosch AG22
Mary Goode, a student in the Continuing Education Program for Urban Women, 1974
Jeff Sammons AG72 participates in a University Steering Committee meeting, 1972