Editor’s note about “Illuminating 5C Black legacies”

We can’t speak for everyone, but you might be hard-pressed to find many students who recognize the name John Payton PO ’73 on campus, despite the impact he made here in Claremont and the critical civil rights work he did after he graduated. What about Danny Wilks PO ’71, who founded the intercollegiate Black Student Union? Or Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran PO ’69, whose many contributions to academia started with her work as director of Black student admissions after graduation? 

Some might vaguely know about the 1969 bombing of Carnegie Hall at Pomona College and Balch Hall at Scripps College the day 5C presidents were set to vote on the establishment of the Black Studies Center. But what about the boycott of classes that followed? Or the local KKK group that would show up on campus at the time whenever they felt Black students were getting too far ahead?

To contribute to Black History Month this year, TSL is doing what we do best: bringing stories into the light. In this case, our news team has spent weeks and, in some cases, months, trawling through archives at Honnold Mudd and Denison libraries, examining old copies of TSL and the Claremont Collegian and gathering oral accounts from alumni who were on campus throughout pivotal parts of the struggle for justice, representation and equity.

The goal? Making accessible a more comprehensive version of Black history at the 5Cs than has been available in the past. The Black Student Union and the Black Studies Center — later the Office of Black Student Affairs and the intercollegiate department of Africana Studies — didn’t just materialize. We can learn so much from the twists and turns that pioneering students and faculty took to get where we are. And as many of these leaders are quick to remind us, history repeats itself.

To be clear, our reporters are in no way the first ones to do this work. The project benefited from the dedicated labor of previous archival projects, student journalism and academic theses. But that’s just the thing: there was so much to find. Archives across the 5Cs are in vastly disparate states of organization, and those searching for these stories will have a long way to go.

In addition to a four-page feature in our Feb. 25 print edition, readers can explore even more archival material, narratives and research in an interactive format on our website, tsl.news. 

Rather than serving as an authoritative source on Black history here in Claremont, we hope this project builds on past efforts to encourage even more attention to the stories that haven’t been told enough. When these histories are squirreled away in books, file boxes and academic texts, they don’t help us learn from the conflicts and victories that shaped the past and present. They don’t properly acknowledge the tireless activists who got us where we are.

It’s our hope that, as with everything we do, elevating this knowledge makes us all more informed, more thoughtful and better equipped to use the facts to make our community more just for everyone.

Facebook Comments