Black students figure it out — good for them
I take “full responsibility for the frustration” students expressed; their complaints were “clear” and “real. Change is needed.”
— Tim Wolf, when he resigned as president of the University of Missouri-Columbia
“Not in our modern history have we seen Black [football] students collectively flex their muscle in this way.”
— Shaun Harper, NCAA Division I Sports.
“I’m proud of what the students have accomplished and happy the protests remained peaceful.”
— Mary Ratliff, president of both Missouri NAACP and Columbia NAACP branch
“I understand that you all would not be here today if our student athletes didn’t get involved.”
— Mack Rhoades, University of Missouri athletic director
As a long-time Civil Rights activist and advocate of nonviolence, I’m proud of the strategy and tactics of the African American football players at the University of Missouri to exercise their newly understood power.
The decision by the University of Missouri system president and university chancellor to relinquish their positions had less to do with the hunger-striking graduate student Jonathon Butler, and all to do with many other campus issues, especially the potential financial repercussions, all reflecting the significant erosion and widespread non-support for the president and chancellor. If Missouri didn’t play on Saturday, November 14, the school would have had to pay $1,000,000 to Brigham Young University for not playing.
Also at risk was the forfeiture of the season’s last two games and the collapse of the football program and the loss of its $83 million a year revenue. It was all about race, money and the University of Missouri’s financial future. The football playing students became the teachers.
The African American student leadership called themselves the “1950 group” after the year the University of Missouri desegregated and admitted Negroes. A turning point was November 8, when students and athletes together confronted President Wolf and a large group of university donors at the Kaufman Fine Arts Center in Kansas City, MO.
In a personal conversation with Mary Ratliff, president of both the Columbia, Missouri NAACP branch and of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP the evening of November 8, Radcliff shared with this columnist the discussion she and others were having in meetings with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and law enforcement officers regarding concern about potentially dangerous escalation.
The football players, both Black and White, and supported by their coach, created a significant change of leadership at the University in a 48-hour period without violence. By Nov. 9 at 7 am, President Wolfe submitted his resignation to the governing body of the Missouri Higher Education and the Board of Curators. Hours later, the Chancellor resigned.
The strategy and tenaciousness of the university’s African American football players reminded me of Black players in the 1960s at the University of Wyoming and at the University of Iowa. A leader at Iowa was former Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green. Those two groups of athletes understood the power of messing with “the man’s” money.
People at the University of Missouri may like or dislike Black students, but they all like football and making money. This time it was not racism that prevailed, but the threat of losing $84 million.
In remembering hard-won Civil Rights freedoms, we remember when the struggle began with university Black athletes standing up against racism. It began with All American football player Paul Robeson, valedictorian of his Rutgers University class of 1919, who later played in the NFL and who became a world renown singer. Robeson was followed in our time by such stand-up athletes as Bill Russell, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
May God continue to give Black players strength and continue to protect them, and this spirit of new awakening in the continued struggle by Black Americans of all persuasions to work together toward ending racism anywhere.
For Ron’s hosted radio and TV show’s broadcast times, solutions papers, books, and archives, go to www.TheMinneapolisStory.com. To order his books, go to www.BeaconOnTheHillPress.com.
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