by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
I am so proud of being a proud graduate of Lincoln University, the first Black College in the US. It is now over 158 years, and was originally founded as Ashmun Institute in 1854. The name was changed to Lincoln University in honor of Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated. The school was placed just north of the Pennsylvania/Maryland State Border, away from the slave monsters who had made it illegal to educate Blacks, during slavery.
I love bragging about being a Lincoln grad – the Alma Mater of such greats as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes,Roscoe Lee Browne, actor, Rev. Dr. James H. Robinson, founder of Crossroads Africa, among so many others. We are the only Black college to have given Africa two dynamic presidents: Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana and Nnamde Azikewe, first President of Nigeria. We conferred dual doctorates on President Jerry John Rawlings, former President of Ghana, and his wife, first lady Nana Rawlings.
But now I’m really going to kick it up a notch or two, because we, the Class of ’67 are celebrating our 45th Anniversary of graduating from the hallowed halls of Lincoln University!! It’s such a momentous, ausicious occasion, of such magnitude, that I’m now in the “who woulda thunk that we had come so far and done so much, and are still standing?? mode.
As I talk with my classmates, I can’t help but go back in my mind’s eye to what we were up to and what we were involved in during those heady times. We were the agents of change that jump started what the current generation now considers common every day occurrences. But believe me, when we started college in 1963, there was no such thing as integration. In fact, there were many who did not believe that we would achieve it in our lifetime. There was definitely no such thing as the right to vote in the south. Poll taxes ruled the day. By the time 1963 had come along, many of us, including yours truly, had been participating in sit-ins by that time since we were 10 years old, that was 8 years of being on the front line of civil rights. In 1965, Lincoln University sent a busload of students down to Selma, AL to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
By the time I was 18, though, I was no longer disposed to be “civil” and neither were many of my peers. In 1966 Stokely Carmichael enunciated the tenets of BLACK POWER at Mary Dodd Brown Chapel, and it was “on!!” It was at Lincoln University that we first heard the phrase BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. What a thrill. As Stokely stood before us, with that smooth, almost whispery voice of his, I can still see the look on the faces of my fellow classmates. A new day, a new ethos, a new consciousness – a whole paradigm shift – was born on the campus of Lincoln University, and spread throughout the Black college campuses of the US. Freedom, liberation, autonomy, Afrocentricity was in the air. We were reclaiming our African heritage, getting in touch with our African roots, and making no apologies about it.
Of course, for the most of us at Lincoln, being the iconoclasts that we were, the closest we came to in terms of a church was Mary Dodd Brown Chapel, which served as our theatre and auditorium. It’s where we went for talent shows, roasting our professors, Black Power meetings, panel discussions, movies, etc. Our other favorite gathering place was The Grill, where we solved all the problems of the world. It also housed the cafeteria, with some of the worst food on the planet. Everything was managed (dictated) by Ma Renwick, who walked around with a cigarette hanging out of the side of her mouth, and an ash at least an inch and a half long before it finally dropped to the floor. She kept the guys in line, but we all loved her. However, when it came to real food, we would just as soon sneak over the fence and make midnight runs to Sissie’s home of the best cheesesteak hoagie on the planet. It was also where we could hang out after long hours of fighting material.
We were one of the few Black colleges to have an official center for African students from Non-independent African countries: Angola, Mozambique, the Congo, South Africa, Southwest Africa (Namibia), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Besutoland (Lesotho) Swaziland, Rwanda, Burundi, etc. African refugees would come and attend on a full scholarship and (hopefully) take what they had learned back home to teach their people. I was peer counselor to those students and made lifelong friends as a result. Many of them have returned home and are working in behalf of their own governments. Sadly, many also returned home to fight for liberation and have since joined the ancestors.
Lincoln University was one of the few, if not the only, Black school to have a Pan-African Student Union, where African and African American, African Caribbean students came together to plot, plan and discuss liberation issues – especially as it pertained to South Africa. For the most part, however were very much about the reunification of African nations, now that Africa was slowly being released from their colonial monsters. Sometimes there was total congruency at those meetings; other times our brothers, a/k/a “Homeboys” argued about such insipid issues as the correct pronunciation of a word, or the proper manners (which by the way were remnants of colonial brainwashing). Many of our brothers came to the US knowing more about country and western music than they did about Soul Music. By the time we got through with them, they knew James Brown, the Temptations and Four Tops, chapter and verse.
Black in the day Lincoln University had a varsity soccer team, instead of a football team, because the campus had a large African and Caribbean population – nearly 1/3 the student body. Our team actually participated in the national soccer tournament, and missed being champion by a hair, coming in second in the nation. At one match, on campus, our center forward, Paul Moonyane from Lesotho, broke the leg of a rival white South African player after he had the audacity to call him a “dirty kefir” – a break that was heard throughout the campus as they carried him off the field on a stretcher. The rest of the demoralized team lost to Lincoln by a huge margin. Needless to say, future white soccer teams who went up against Lincoln were very careful to mind their manners.
Lincoln had some of the greatest international parties comprised of a mix of soul music, calypso, African, and other intra-African music. I personally never lacked for a dance partner – at least during the first two years of being among the first co-eds on the campus (personally, my idea of heaven). We actually had our own live steel band, with Gene Harvey, Tony Roberts from Bermuda and other parts of the Caribbean, who would rehearse on a regular basis.
It was in 1965, when I transferred to Lincoln University it had been an all male college known as the Black Princeton. You had to be super smart to attend there. When they began to actively recruit females to live on campus, they had the same stiff criteria they exacted for the male students. At the time there were only 600 hundred students – All Male! I was one of the first 16 female co-eds to reside on the campus. The guys had to give up their dorms, and their caveman ways. Having had things pretty much their way, they were very happy about our invasion.
The additional lights on the campus they felt was a violation of their ability to tough it out under rigorous circumstances and still be able to “fight material”. Being required to wear ties on Sunday, and being urged to watch their language was an invasion of their sanctity (they would always challenge the rule, and we co-eds, would give them our scarves as pretend ties to keep them from having to go back to the barracks to re-dress.
Lincoln was also the place we learned to tell the difference between mere males (players) and real men – and we had a representative number of each, across cultural lines. (Some of the older alumns, such as actor Roscoe Lee Browne never, ever acknowledged us co-eds as Lincoln grads, and was pretty testy when I introduced myself as one years later, when I met him on location in Hollywood).
Lincoln University was the first Black college to have an all Black Natural fashion show with natural hairstyles and afrocentric fashions – 1966 – the Grandassa Models, founded by Elombe Brath and Kwame Brathwaite. Thanks to Sam Anderson and Paul Moore, who were seeking to bring unity between African and African American students. There was a rift borne of colonialism on their part, and post-traumatic slave syndrome on ours. Thank goodness, it worked, and Lincoln students began to understand that, as Malcolm X had said on several occasions, no matter where that boat landed, we were all ONE PEOPLE.
Lincoln was first Black college to have its own African Museum, and receive regular contributions from President Nkrumah, Azikewe, and other African leaders and former students – including Kente Cloth, Ashanti Goldweights, and 14 karat gold jewelry, masques, and as well as artifacts from all over Africa. It was curated by H.D. Gunn, a refuge from Dachau; and co-curated by yours truly, as part of my college work study program.
Lincoln University was also the first Black college to offer a full complement of African studies, as well as Swahili language classes; African cosmology classes, and movies originating from Africa written and produced by Africans. We read Franz Fanon, Cheik Anta Diop, Chinua Achebe, Leopold Sedor Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah’s principles; along with WEB DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Lerone Bennett, E. Franklin Frazier. You name it we had it at the Vail Memorial Library. If it was Black we had read it, were reading it, discussing it, throwing in our own theories to boot. You could actually get a degree in African studies long before it was popular in the rest of the Black schools. Even Albert Einstein loved Lincoln University, and left a legacy to our campus (that was long before we arrived, of course).
Lincoln University’s Sociology Department, headed by Lawrence“Shabby” Foster, was the only Black college that relied primarily on texts written by Black sociologists Goode and Hat. It was the mainstay of our department. From it we learned the socio-psychological effects of racism, and how it impacted our child rearing practices.
In 1966, Lincoln University was the first Black college to have a Homecoming Queen with natural hair: Maxine Stewart LU’69.
In 1966, we were the students who fought off the KKK with real guns when they burned a cross across from our campus. We posted guards at every entry, and made it known that they could come at their own risk. They threatened but never crossed onto Lincoln Soil. In the 150+ years of our existence, they have not yet laid set foot on our campus.
We were the students who had none other than the great Charles V. Hamilton, head of our Political Science Department, as our mentor. He was legal counsel for SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Students would cut classes and sit in on his class to learn of their latest status and exploits. We were the campus where Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and other Black leaders would come to formulate strategies for liberation. Dr. Hamilton co-authored “Black Power” along with Stokely Carmichael, on our campus.
We were the students who dared to take a bus to the UN on a cold November day, along with the classmates from the Class of 1966, to protest Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) formulated by despot Ian Smith, when they fought for liberation and independence. It was freezing cold, and we were the only students who showed up for the protest – but we stayed and made our symbolic point.
We were privileged to have had Langston Hughes visit as Poet in Residence for 6 weeks, and his protege, playwright Ron Milner as writers in residence. We had the honor of having had the great, powerful, dynamic Adam Clayton Powell Jr. come to our campus after he had been “sanctioned by Congress for being too powerful.” He had just recorded his famous album “Keep the Faith, Baby!” I remember how candid and self assured he was. He kept a cigar on him at all times.
It was at Lincoln University that I started wearing my hair natural, and have done so ever since – thanks to my upper class brothers, Sam Anderson, and my classmates Paul Moore and Tony Montiero. I remember coming up with all the usual negrified excuses of the day: I had Indian in my family so my hair wouldn’t get kinky; I had Irish in my family, so my hair wouldn’t get kinky; I had German in my family, so my hair wouldn’t get kinky – stop me when you’ve heard enough bogus excuses. I had a million of them!!
Sam would tell me that what I called a “permanent” was really temporary, since I had to complete process over and over. He dared me to wear my natural for my senior class picture. After having seen how beautiful the Grandassa Models looked with their natural hair, I took him up on it, and that photo in the yearbook was the day after I got it done. However, my entire family in Oklahoma were in a state of shock when I came home with “nappy” hair! Now, not so much.
Lincoln used to operate on a tri-mester basis, and allowed students to drop in and drop out at will. We had many students who returned to complete their classes after having served in Viet Nam; or who had “washed out” because of poor grades. It was at Lincoln that our classmate, John Huggins, who had returned after having spent four years fighting in Viet Nam, decided that he needed to deal with America’s racism; and so joined the Panthers in San Francisco. He lost his life as a result, and set off a fire storm of consequences.
At Lincoln we were such iconoclasts, even our grading system was different: our grades were A through E – E being a a flunking grade; A being superior; there was no F grade. At Lincoln, “1” meant being tops, and a passing grade; while “5” or a nickel, meant flunking, and all of the worse possible things. By the way, if you were “ugly” by Lincoln male standards, they would throw nickels at you. If you picked them up, you were double ugly.
We were also known for our “Rabble” names, and Rabble phrases. Everyone coming onto the campus was tagged with a nickname that stuck with them for life. In many instances, to this day, you have to know the person’s rabble name in order to identify them, and many of us are still not familiar with their given names.
At Lincoln, we were taught to challenge everything, and not take it as true just because they said it was (“they” being whites, and the Uncle Toms who loved them). At Lincoln you went around quoting the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Frederick Douglass, Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achbe, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela (while he was still in prison); Stephen Biko, African proverbs, Stokely Carmichael, and any and all Black heroes, s/heroes past, present and future.
It was to Lincoln that the famous Mitchell family of Baltimore sent Mike to follow in the footsteps of dynamic family members, Clarence and Parren, who had already made lifetime contributions to the Black community.
We, the Class of 67 are the “Change Agents.” We launched new programs to educate and empower our people. We precipitated and participated in the liberation of our people via action and education, challenging the status quo, standing for our rights, regardless of the consequences. We have contributed through our writing, speaking out; our professional development and leadership; through the advancement of the lessons learned vis a vis a devoted and loyal faculty who nurtured our minds, making sure that when we moved forward into the world, that we were always Black and proud of it.
If, by the time you had graduated from Lincoln in 1967, you didn’t get that one understanding – that you are Black and Proud and have a contribution to make to the world – you had completely missed the point of the whole reason for being at Lincoln. While academics were, of course, an important component of being a Lincoln Lion and Lioness, it was even more of a paramount importance that we emerge, in all our glory, as Black men and women ready to take our place in a world where our ancestors had sacrificed so much to make it possible for us to go forward; and be the change we wanted to see. We the Class of ’67, have done that and then some – with more yet to be. Our contributions are still being made. We are the paradigm shift!
Hail! Hail! Lincoln!!!
Hail The Class of 1967!!!
Stay Blessed &
bullet ColumnistGloria Dulan-Wilson Is a veteran New York City Journalist. Her experiences, perspective & sense of history are an invaluable combination. “check out my blog:” www.gloria-dulan-wilson.blogspot.com
Gloria Dulan-Wilson is available for speaking engagements: Black History, African History, Foreclosure Prevention, Home Ownership, Education, etc., Contact her via [email protected]