Another Light on the Hill Black Students at Tufts


Although the Black student population at Tufts declined throughout the 1980s, the community remained quite active in campus affairs. Through the African-American Society and the African-American Center, they established the African-American Dance Troupe, the Third Day Gospel Choir, and the Black Outreach Program. Black students established Onyx, a literary magazine, and served as writers and editors for both The Tufts Daily and The Observer. From the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, Black students wrote “The Other Side” column in the Daily in which they commented on campus race relations; in particular, their columns concerned themselves with issues such as admission of Black students, the existence of “Black tables” in dining halls, and the programming of Culture houses. Members of the African-American Society collaborated with other campus organizations in sponsoring the Third World Conference on Africa, a teach-in on the impact of the Reagan Presidency, the Benefit Concert for World Hunger, the Black-Jewish Coalition, and an International Feast.

In addition, Black students were active in such campus productions as “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” “Godspell,” “Pippin,” and the highly acclaimed 1986 production of “The Wiz,” directed by Audrey Davis J88 and choreographed by Iris Carter J88. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Robert O'Hara A92 and Heather Simms J92 reintroduced Black drama productions to the campus. Over their Tufts years, both O'Hara and Simms brought distinction to themselves for their directing and starring in productions such as “T'Ain't Right,” “Trouble in Mind,” “Ain't Misbehavin',” “The Trip,” and “The Colored Museum.” Their legacy continues today with the work of the Black Theater Company.

Black joy in the classroom, 1980
Phil Stanley A85 shows off his Tufts gear, 1983

Over the decade, Black students, from Willette Joyner J80, Pedro Williams A82, and T. J. Johnson A83 in the early 1980s to Ron Blackburn A85, Dwight Byfield A85, Barry Taylor A85, and David Neal A89 in the mid-1980s to Myra Frazier J90, Silvio Tavares A91, Julian Barnes A92, and Sharon Joseph J92 in the late 1980s-early 1990s were elected members and officers of the TCU Senate. In 1991, Barnes would win the first ever student body election for TCU president. Manar Zarroug A87 and Frazier were the Wendell Phillips Award winners in their senior years.

Throughout the 1980s, African-American students were active in any number of campus organizations and sports teams. In 1982, Vera Walker J83 won election as Homecoming Queen, the first Black woman to receive that honor. From Charlie Neal A83, Bill Ewing A83, and Troy Cooper A84 of the 1982 championship season to Greg Davis A, Darrell Brunson A87, Trey Robinson A87, and Vern Riddick A89 of the mid-to-late 1980s, Black students were mainstays of the men's basketball team. Eric Mitchell A90, Kenneth Faunteroy A91, George Lawrence A91, and Harry Lightfoot A92 distinguished themselves on the football teams of that era. Similarly, women athletes such as Paula Moss J82 on the basketball team, Ellie Roane J85 on the lacrosse and soccer teams, and Jan Brown J85, Karin McCollin J, Vera Stenhouse J91, and Carol Tate J92 on the track team won regional and national acclaim for their performances. Likewise, Erica Barnes J90 on the soccer team and Tami Gaines J89 on the women's softball team earned well-deserved plaudits.

– Gill, "Another Light on the Hill" with further research by Cat Rosch AG22