50 Years After Desegregation

UM honors legacy of diversity that started early

Ben Chavis Jr.
On January 31, 1961, the University of Miami Board of Trustees made national headlines by deciding to admit students “regardless of race, creed, or color.” In the first year of official integration, 75 African-American students joined a student population of 14,000. Benny O’Berry, B.Ed. ’62, became UM’s first black alumnus. In the late 1960s, UM again made headlines—this time for student protests over a lack of faculty diversity. This activism launched UM’s first United Black Students in 1967, its first Black Studies course in 1969, and the arrival in 1970 of its first black faculty member, history professor Whittington B. Johnson.

“Celebrating Unity in Diversity: Marking the 50th Anniversary of Desegregation at UM” paid tribute during the spring semester to pioneering individuals who broke the color barrier at UM and those who followed. “By celebrating how far we have come since that historic decision, we have the opportunity not only to reflect on our progress but also to reinforce our commitment to a stronger, more diverse, and united University of Miami,” the organizing committee wrote online at www.as.miami.edu/desegregation.

Cornel West
Unity in Diversity hosted Black Awareness Month and Martin Luther King Day events with the United Black Students, honored groundbreaking alumni and faculty, explored how to recruit and retain more students and faculty of color, and discussed the academic importance of diversity in the 21st century. Speakers included civil rights leader Ben Chavis Jr., Princeton professor emeritus Cornel West, and Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art director Johnnetta B. Cole. Ray Bellamy, UM’s first black football player, was inducted into the Hurricanes Hall of Fame. There was a gospel concert, a lecture on “Desegregation, Student Activism, and Black Power at UM,” a forum titled “Black Identity, Perpetually Under Production,” and an art exhibition featuring the work of five African diaspora artists titled “Slavery to Self Determination.”

UM President Donna E. Shalala called the initiative “a public gesture at speaking honestly and thus coming to terms with our own history.”

Johnnetta B. Cole
Today, 50 years later, Hispanic, Asian-American, and African-American students comprise nearly half of the student body, and one in eight students hails from outside the United States. The U currently ranks No. 3 in The Princeton Review assessment of “Race/Class Interaction” on college campuses.

Where we are now “has so much to do with 1961, with Jim Crow and Jane Crow,” Spring Convocation speaker Cornel West reminded students. The author of the classic book Race Matters urged his already multicultural young audience to become “multicontextual” and to “wrestle with the question of what it means to be human.”

“Will you muster the courage to examine yourselves?” West asked. “At the center of any serious reflection is courage.”