Monday, February 7, 2011

Black History Month: 1966, Reinhardt integrates

February is African American History Month. As I sat thinking about the display I might assemble in the library this month (I'm thinking it will be a collection of Coretta Scott King Book Award winners), it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't know anything about when Reinhardt was integrated. I didn't even know the name of our first African American student. Fortunately I do know our archivist, Joel Langford, and he pointed me in the right direction.

As it turns out, compared to some other colleges and universities in the South, the desegregation of Reinhardt was relatively peaceful. There were some minor tensions in the early years, but for the most part, the integration of Reinhardt went very smoothly.

Upon receiving notice from the United States Office of Education that Reinhardt would have to sign an agreement not to discriminate in the admission of students if it wanted to continue to receive federal financial aid, then-president Dr. Rowland Burgess called a meeting of the executive committee of the board of trustees. Burgess suggested that they vote to sign the agreement, providing there was no protest from the other members of the board. According to Burgess's memoirs, chairman Mills Lane responded, "No. Let's authorize the agreement and notify them that we have done so." Burgess expected that he would have to cast the deciding vote, but the committee vote was unanimous. Reinhardt would integrate.

Reinhardt University, then Reinhardt College, was integrated in the fall of 1966 with one African American student. His name was James Jordan. Burgess's memoirs describe Jordan as "a...young man with a ready smile...a very popular student." Jordan was a member of Omega Kappa Pi fraternity and was elected to the Student Government Association.

Jordan graduated from Reinhardt (which was then a two-year junior college) in 1968. Some time later, Burgess related, he and his wife saw Jordan and his girlfriend at a gas station in Newnan: "As we rushed toward each other to shake hands, I noticed the nervous movement and scowling faces of some men sitting nearby. Suddenly the thought hit me! This is the first time in your life you forgot that a person was black."
Above, James Jordan from the 1966-1967 Cherokee Phoenix, Reinhardt's yearbook. Right, Dr. Rowland Burgess, the same year.


Donald said...

I have asked about this for years. Thanks for digging. Can you provide the original documents as scans or as a display in the library?

The Hill Freeman Library & Spruill Learning Center said...

Dr. Burgess's memoir is in our archives, as are the yearbooks. Strangely, the Reinhardt newspaper at the time made no mention of integration at all. Isn't that interesting?

I am still digging for more information on Mr. Jordan. The alumni office has his address. I'd like to get his input and his perspective!

Our Reinhardt historical documents will be searchable soon from our homepage! We have scans of a lot of archive material and are currently working on uploading them to eBrary.

I will send you the excerpt of Dr. Burgess's memoir that was my source for this info.