JACKSON, Miss. – Cleveland Donald Jr., the second Black graduate of the University of Mississippi who started a Black studies program at the college, has died. He was 65.
Donald died Jan. 26 of natural causes at his home in New Milford, Conn., said his brother, retired Army Maj. Gen. James Donald.
Born in Newton, Miss., Donald attended Tougaloo College in Jackson for a year, then enrolled at Ole Miss in 1964 and graduated in 1966 with a history degree. He later earned a doctorate from Cornell University.
Along with James Meredith and another student, Donald entered Ole Miss under a federal protection order. In 1962, Meredith was the first Black to enroll and, later, the first to graduate.
“When I first went to Ole Miss, John Doar was then (an assistant) U.S. attorney general. He told me only James Meredith could’ve put up with this tremendous explosion that took place at Ole Miss and to be as unflappable as he was to events taking place around him,” Donald said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press.
“He (Meredith) went, I think, to break down the barriers, and I sort of saw as my goal, my purpose was to show that we could succeed after the doors had been opened and that some kinds of fellowship could be established to just keep the doors open and to make sure that we were moving at another level.”
Donald returned to Ole Miss in 1978 to help the university establish a Black studies program.
During his career, Donald was a professor at the University of Texas, the State University of New York, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Connecticut, where he also served as director of its Waterbury campus.
James Donald said his brother, the eldest of five, had an “extraordinarily strong personality” that came naturally. James Donald, who also graduated from Ole Miss and served 33 years in the military, said their family started an organization after World War II to push for military benefits for Black veterans when the Veterans of Foreign Wars refused to let Blacks join.
“Our father was a very strong advocate for equal rights and justice and he passed that on to us very early in life,” James Donald said.
Cleveland Donald became involved in the civil rights movement while attending Tougaloo.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s website includes news reports from AP and other news organizations about Donald applying to the University of Mississippi in 1964. The reports said Donald was admitted under a federal judge’s order, but was told not to engage in civil rights activities while he was a student.
James Donald said no one told his brother what to do.
“Cleveland was a driven man. He would say things that would get an average person in trouble. Everywhere he went, he provided a source of energy that pushed us forward,” James Donald said.
Cleveland Donald returned to Mississippi often. He worked with former Gov. William Winter on programs at the Ole Miss Institute for Racial Reconciliation, which is named for Winter.
The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a defunct state agency that spied on civil rights activists, investigated Donald in 1964 as he was applying to Ole Miss.
Commission investigator Virgil Downing reported that Donald had been arrested by Jackson police twice in 1963 for parading without a permit, according to records on the archive agency’s website.
Donald told AP in 2010 that none of that deterred him.
“I do believe that there were quite a few faculty members and of course the chancellor at the time and others who were hoping someone would come along who would be a serious student to help establish a new order and to give Ole Miss a better image than it had when James Meredith was there,” he said.
The tumult of the civil rights era will always stay with Mississippians, he said.
“It is a part of our history. I don’t know whether it’s actually necessary to put a spin on it. It wasn’t that there were so many bad people in the South; it was that so few of the good people spoke up so that you didn’t have this dialogue and counterbalance,” Donald said.
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson contributed to this report.