The More Things Change …
I t seems as if every generation thinks that it is the chosen one. The young are convinced that their insights into the pressing issues of the day and their prescriptions for the future are uniquely insightful and better than anything that preceded them. We all have personal experience with this. My father, Wheeler Matthews, graduated from Morris College in 1951. In order to earn much-needed postgraduate credits, he attended Columbia University’s Teachers College and other Northern schools. He would leave South Carolina during summers in the early ’60s to achieve this goal. Of course, his having to leave home for full seasons was a great sacrifice for my mother, Lottie, and my brothers. But he went, because the state of South Carolina refused to admit him to an in-state university, preferring instead to preserve segregation and pay the financial difference so that he would attend a college hundreds of miles away.
Today, both my parents are happily retired veterans of outstanding teaching careers. And Teachers College is now run by Dr. Arthur Levine, a man at the forefront of a movement addressing the need and importance of diversity on campuses. Levine is making sure that Teachers College lives up to its history of encouraging diversity.
But on page 21, we present a portal into Teachers College’s past showing even that school had its problems with diversity. When you read this 1942 document, I’m sure you’ll agree that its substance could just as easily have been extracted from any protesting students’ list of demands from the last 25 years. What distinguishes the document is its tone. You’ll note that even while demanding change, our forefathers showed qualities that are rare among today’s protesters — calm dignity, respect and class.
There was civility in their approach. This, although they were just as determined to have their demands met as those of us who used more confrontational tactics in the ’60s. But we who had taken up the torch at that point thought their methods had not achieved enough, and we were sure we knew a more effective way. Were we right to get more abrasive? It’s hard to say. We achieved a lot, but we should never forget the price that those who went before paid for us.
All students seem eager to reinvent the wheel; the goal remains the same, but the tactics change.This narrow view of the world that every generation seems to take is one reason we need to continually insist that history remain a requirement for a bachelor’s, especially when it comes to Black — and other minority — history. Each generation needs to be keenly aware of what went on before them; of what worked, and what didn’t. Civility, we have learned, works.
And it works in all walks of life. When I talked to Dr. Levine for our cover story, it never occurred to us that diversity in the political arena would be the hot topic that it has turned out to be in recent weeks because of the political conventions. Even farther from our minds was the possibility that Black-Jewish relations would get any national attention because of Al Gore’s tapping Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., to be the first Jewish vice presidential candidate.
And yet, Black Issues has explored these topics in great detail in the past. Longtime readers know that we have reported on this peculiar American relationship before, and brought to you the views of African Americans and Jewish Americans who have represented all ends of this issue. The interview with Dr. Levine touches not only on this issue, but on a lot of important issues, including the challenges of achieving real diversity. It is only fitting that this Jewish staunch supporter of affirmative action is taking on such a visible role in that struggle.
As you know, issues between people of color and Jews have been around since antiquity. As both these groups unrelentingly press their agendas and reach for a common diversity, we would all be wise to reflect on the approaches used by our forefathers.
The more things change, the more some things should stay the same.
Frank L. Matthews
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