James (Jimmy) Garrett
My name is James (Jimmy) Garrett. I am going to summarize efforts by SNCC folks to develop and establish a Black Studies department (later called the Black Education Program, or BEP) at Federal City College (FCC), a predominantly Black, land-grant college in Washington, D.C., that opened in fall 1968. The effort to build the BEP continued through the academic year to June 1969. Although the Black Studies department remained on campus for many years, our BEP program concept continued off-campus in the D.C. Black community as the Center for Black Education (CBE). I first came on as SNCC staff along with Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, in Laurel, Miss., during the 1964 Summer Project. My activism had begun in Los Angeles in the early 60’s with CORE and other progressive groups. From 1965 to 1968, I was a lead organizer of the Black Student Union (BSU) at San Francisco State College (now University). The BSU movement laid the theoretical foundation for the establishment of Black and Ethnic Studies. That organizing project helped to model advanced community work and broad cultural programs like the Black Arts Movement. In late summer 1968, I was all set to go to Harvard University to work on an MA in Education. I had hoped that by attending Harvard, I could find a community for assessment and debate, people with whom I could share ideas of philosophy and struggle as I had with SNCC people in the past. A Taste of D.C. On my way to Harvard, I stopped off in Washington, D.C., and met up with a number of people: Charlie Cobb, Frank Smith, Stokely Carmichael (who became Kwame Ture), Ralph Featherstone, Bob Brown, Judy Richardson, and Jennifer Lawson (for the first time). During those five or six days, I had a meal at the famous Omega Restaurant with Jim Forman and Ivanhoe Donaldson. Those were the kinds of people who made me feel solid, made me feel whole. They were my heroes; I looked up to them as brilliant, thoughtful people, and easily my intellectual betters. They were much more courageous than I was. I spent time with them talking about the things that had happened in the South, the laughter and joy in song. Parties, gatherings, or palavers were on offer almost every night – small parties, large gatherings, whatever. It was a very positive week. I had known very little about D.C. I knew it was humid: hot, humid days and warm, humid nights. My last visits to D.C. had been in 1965 when I worked with Bob Moses, Staughton Lynd, and others to build the antiwar movement and to establish a Congress of Unrepresented People (COUP). I never saw myself living in D.C. Frank and Featherstone took me on a tour and updated me about the expanding Chocolate City. I began to understand the levels of complexity that made up the Federal City. First, because of the MLK uprisings, white people were abandoning Washington, D.C. They were just getting out, leaving their homes because the natives were taking over. Frank also talked about the recent advancement of a class of Black politicians who were seeking home rule and independence from Congressional oversight. Most importantly, there was the incredibly high level of racial consciousness and expressions of unity among the “local people.” Frank said that he had not experienced these kinds of positive attitudes in D.C. or in any other city outside the South. During one of the nightly gatherings, discussions arose about Federal City College, a new college that was scheduled to open in a couple of months. The college was slated to bring in 2,000 mainly Black students, and many more people wanted to attend the school. Several people talked about how it might be a great opportunity to set up a new organizing project. People were hinting that since I had the credibility (including a college degree), would I be interested? And I told them, “No, I wasn’t interested.” I had just spent nearly three years on the rack. Why go back? Charlie Cobb and I talked about it. I deeply respected Charlie’s background and experience in putting together the Freedom Schools in the summers of 1964 and 1965 that morphed into the Liberation Schools in 1966-67. To me, Charlie, Bob Moses, Staughton Lynd, and Vincent Harding were all-time great thinkers. Charlie agreed with the others that something could happen at FCC. On the final night of my visit, while attending a small gathering of SNCC folks at Jennifer Lawson’s apartment, Featherstone called me to the side. He and Kwame talked about how my leadership as an organizer of Black Student Unions and Black Studies on white college campuses had resulted in a major victory for the Movement. Because of the SFSC example, colleges and universities all over the country were beginning to adopt some form of Black Studies. They had been forced to adjust to this dynamic new energy from the Black Movement. Kwame and Feather joined in praising me. Kwame told me I had spent so much time organizing inside the bubble that I didn’t see the outside of it. In any case, I traveled to Boston and enrolled at Harvard as a “fellow” in the Consortium of Experimenting Colleges and Universities, funded by the Ford Foundation. The University quickly provided housing for me, handed over a travel voucher, and cut a check for $750 as the first of 10 monthly stipend payments. I was assigned a proctor (a kind of tutor/minder) to monitor my course work. This was a whole new world for me. Harvard is one of those places that are very difficult to get into, but because of the tremendous support system, it’s very difficult to flunk out. Because its purpose is to prepare the ruling class to rule, no matter how backward or doofus you are, if you go to Harvard – or Yale or Princeton – you will likely succeed. However, I had just spent three years in a white academic environment, surrounded by white folks. I was pulled both by the “Chocolate City” and by SNCC folks. I stayed in Cambridge for about a week, saw it was not for me, and caught a plane back to Washington D.C. The City was to remain my base for 13 years. Soon after I returned to D.C., Frank Smith arranged a meeting at FCC with Dr. Andress Taylor, a Black professor who was tasked with bringing on additional faculty. At that time, the FCC campus consisted of a warren of attached white-frame buildings and Quonset huts spread along 4th and D Streets, N.W. Within two hours, I had secured a position as assistant professor of English and Writer-in-Residence. Later that day, I met with FCC President Frank Farner, who insisted that I lead the effort to develop a Black Studies Program (BSP). My salary was $12,000 for 9 months. That was a lot of money for those times. Later that evening, I called my work partner, Pamela Egashira (we had worked together in the Los Angeles SNCC office and at San Francisco State) and convinced her to come out to D.C. and join me on this new project. FCC: Origins and Leadership FCC was established by the U.S. Congress in 1966 as an “urban land-grant College” to serve D.C.’s predominantly Black population. FCC was to target a student population that was less academically qualified than Howard University students. Initially, the college planned an opening for fall 1970; however, in May 1968, immediately after the MLK uprising, the U.S. Senate fast-tracked the college to open in August of that year. FCC’s purpose shifted from a federal model for attending to the needs of poor Negroes in D.C., to “Negro abatement.” This new application simply meant that FCC was to be rapidly deployed as one of the available instruments to stop Black people from burning down Washington, D.C. The FCC student population was 90 percent D.C. residents, 95 percent Black, 65 percent women, and 66 percent “non-traditional” (many of the applicants had not graduated from high school). About 20 percent had completed GEDs, and 12 percent were on the GI Bill. A small number were on prison-release programs to attend school. Of the 1,500 lottery admissions, 30 percent had tested between third and fifth grade reading and math levels, while another 20 percent had arrests or conviction records. Several of the younger enrollees had been arrested during the MLK uprising. FCC’s budget and very existence was controlled by the Senate’s D.C. Committee, led by conservatives Joseph Tydings and William Proxmire. Congress had also established a Board of Public Higher Education (BPHE) as a governing body; Charles Horsky served as Chairman. Walter Washington, the mayor-commissioner of Washington, D.C., was an ex-officio member. Frank Farner, the first president of FCC, was a lifelong college bureaucrat formerly associated with the University of Oregon. Farner had been appointed as a favor to a senator who had supported the establishment of FCC. Robert Calvert served as vice-president of administration. The provost, David Dixon, a well-schooled Negro, was – as he declared in our first meeting – “a full professor of classic literature, on leave from my tenured position at the University of Michigan.” When informed of my new role as the organizer of Black Studies, Dixon said he supported the concept of Black Studies courses but opposed it as a serious field of study at FCC. Joe Brent, a history professor and the Faculty Assembly leader, claimed to be a former CIA operative/officer who had engaged in covert operations in China and North Korea. He also claimed allegiance to covert “Anti-Communist Left” cells operating within the U.S. government. Brent understood FCC and Black Studies to be potentially useful instruments of a broader political agenda of the “Liberal Coalition.” He related to me as if I were a CIA asset and the whole FCC project were a covert operation. Hazel Swann, head of the FCC Health Education and Nursing Division, was one of the few women faculty leaders. Swann was hostile to me from our first meeting. She became a cohort of Dixon in early opposition to the inclusion of Black Studies. Dr. Rafael Cortada, a professor of Spanish and French languages, seemed to be ubiquitous with the Black and white faculty and the administration. He was almost everywhere all the time. Like Joe Brent, Cortada admitted to working as a CIA operative, with main service in Central America. Early in 1969, Harlan Randolph was hired as the vice-president for development. When I asked about him, SNCC folks referred to him as a D.C. political operative/fixer/wheeler-dealer with connections all over the political landscape. Apparently, he had been deployed to FCC to represent Walter Washington and to serve as a liaison to Congress. Organizing the Department Farner provided me with a dozen full-time faculty slots. I immediately hired Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, and Judy Richardson – all local SNCC people – along with Jean Wiley, who had just come to D.C., and Belvie Rooks, a Howard U. alum. Cox suggested Max Robinson, a Black newscaster who had been fired by the local CBS outlet for being sympathetic to participants in the 1968 rebellions. Dr. Nicholas Onyewu and Mathias Njuku, both Nigerians, joined soon afterwards along with Mary Wamboi, an American University graduate student from Kenya who taught Swahili. I also hired four administrative staff that joined me from San Francisco State. Pamela Egashira became Chief of Staff, admissions officer, and bookkeeper. Jaheed Ashley was the outreach coordinator, tasked with mobilizing on-campus activities and making sure that there were clear lines of communication between the students and our Black Studies faculty. I also hired Shirley Scarborough as a researcher, and on Pam’s recommendation, Walter Stewart as “security”; his job was to watch my back. From the beginning, I recognized that the general perception of this project was that it was to be limited to advancing the rapid expansion of a Black perspective in education within the white Academy. On the other hand, my point of view was that Black Studies Programs were important only if they were of value to the Black community and significantly contributed to its qualitative transformation. Near the end of August 1968, just prior to opening day, I met with Professor Brent, Studio Arts program director Meredith Rode, and several other white faculty members to discuss Black Studies. I learned in that first meeting that Black Studies had acquired a certain celebrity status among white professors. Some of those present described Black Studies as an example of the kind of new “experimental education revolution” that would be the model for all future education. In my opinion, many white faculty members seemed to be supportive of Black Studies because they believed it could be a cover for their external agendas. Several faculty members expressed a high degree of interest in establishing “free schools” or alternative education models that would emulate the philosophies of Ivan Illich and Paul Goodman. I believe they viewed FCC as a laboratory to test out their untested theories – and to solidify their careers. The faculty taught a dozen courses during the fall quarter, including Black humanities, Black American history, African history, critical thinking skills, and basic English. Also offered were courses in creative arts, Blacks and the media, and the Black Arts Movement. By the winter quarter, the BEP had expanded its courses to include Black economics, psychology, sociology, and Blacks in science. These courses were similar to those slated to be offered at San Francisco State under the leadership of Nathan Hare. From the beginning, the BSP faculty was encouraged to develop a positive mindset with the students. Some faculty made announcements that the students who attended our classes were the reason they wanted to work at FCC. Other faculty made it clear that Black Studies took responsibility for the educational well-being of our students. Faculty members were encouraged to work closely with the nascent Student Government Association (SGA). An early FCC/BSP slogan declared, “Whatever you do, wherever you are, whatever you are participating in, if you’re a Black Studies student, you’re representing the FCC Black Studies Department.” This was a tactic to give people a feeling of belonging and ownership. An additional tactic was to track students before they missed exams. Pam Egashira, Jaheed Ashley, or one of the faculty would place calls to pool halls and gambling dens. The caller would inquire as to whether Black Studies students were there, and if so, to tell them to go home and study or to call the office to get some help to prepare for the pending tests. Drawing on the example set by the southern Civil Rights Movement, we established “each one, teach one” tutorial teams. We connected quick learners with those who were more methodical and organized study groups on campus, in libraries, and at nearby churches. Seeds of Division During the fall quarter, I chaired several planning sessions with the Black Studies faculty. Very quickly, serious philosophical debates exploded within the group with no way to get past the constant flurry of arguments over goals and styles of teaching. It wasn’t difficult to see the reasons for the conflicts. Nearly half the faculty had been trained within the Eurocentric Academy and were, for the most part, fully attached to that culture. The other sector of faculty, many with history in SNCC and/or other movements, had adopted the view that the whole Black Studies enterprise was a tool in the struggle against the Academy and all white/racist/capitalist institutions. Adding to the divisions within the Black Studies faculty, the SNCC group was tied to the broader SNCC/activist community, who were the people pushing the FCC project from its beginning. However, some activists such as Gaston Neal, co-founder of the New School of Afro-American Thought, held the view that both Howard U. and FCC “were designed to perpetuate a slave mentality among blacks.” After the first Black Studies faculty meeting, Pam and I agreed that the obvious and deep differences in world view were not going to be resolved by all the arguments. In an attempt to bring about the most useful outcome, I proposed that the faculty divide into two teams. Team one would work on an initial submission within the frame of Black Studies courses that were already being taught at FCC and were similar to those proposed at SFSC by Dr. Hare and at other campuses around the country. This BSP proposal would also include a requirement that in order to graduate, all students would be required to complete at least four Black Studies courses. The first proposal was submitted to Frank Farner at the beginning of October 1968. The BSP proposal’s declaration that all students would be required to take Black Studies courses was immediately rejected by David Dixon. He stated that such a proposal was academically unacceptable. In an attempt to buttress our position, I submitted a list of Black Studies courses to be taught at SFSC and at other campuses that mirrored those proposed for FCC. Dixon’s response was that it was all right for students to take a couple of BSP courses if they felt personally compelled to do so. However, nothing that focused on “Black Studies” could constitute a valid field of study and would not be instituted at FCC. After the initial program was rejected, the Black Studies faculty determined that in order to prevent an open split between Dixon and Farner, it was best that the BSP proposal be withdrawn and redesigned. The Black Studies faculty continued to teach courses through that fall quarter with little additional conflict between our Program and the administration. Over 250 students – about 15 percent of the college – enrolled in that first set of courses. Courtland and Charlie agreed to lead the second team in the development of an alternative BSP. They had already proposed the outline of a program that included the selection or recruitment of a small number of students who would be totally immersed in Black Studies for the first two years of their matriculation. These students would be the first generation of cadre trained and dedicated to “Nation Building.” The selected students would be required to be involved in community programs designed to benefit “Black communities, both local and global.” They believed the new proposal would be ready for submission by January 1969. A key positive factor in the FCC project was the arrival of about 50 to 60 former civil rights activists from the South who had drifted into Washington, D.C., after the MLK uprising in April 1968. These were civil rights veterans who had worked with SNCC or CORE in places like Jackson, Miss.; Lowndes County and Sumter County, Ala.; and in southwest Georgia. As these mainly young people arrived in D.C., they camped out in SNCC crash pads or in apartments with local activists. Because many of them came from small towns and needed to learn D.C. culture, Marion Barry (then with Pride, Inc.) arranged bus tours around N.W. D.C., out to Anacostia, and to the N.E./Maryland border. During the month of October, Frank Smith managed to gather two dozen of these new arrivals to meetings at the New School. During one of the sessions, Ed Brown urged those present to enroll at FCC for the winter quarter even if they had not completed high school. Knowing that everyone was broke; Ed offered the potential of earning work-study money as an incentive to enroll. By February 1969, almost a dozen new enrollees were engaged in becoming the robust organizing cadre needed to continue the project. Two other events during October 1968 served to shape and consolidate support for and opposition to the future of the BSP at FCC. First, on the weekend of October 11-14, about 25 SNCC folks attended the International Black Writer’s Conference at McGill and Sir George Williams Universities in Montreal, Canada. Most of the SNCC attendees were from D.C. along with a few people from N.Y., Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. The main attraction was a speech by Stokely (Kwame) that called for worldwide Black revolution and undying love for Black people. Among the other speakers were Jim Forman, Walter Rodney, Norman Girvan, and Tim Hector. CLR James, the great Marxist thinker and author of The Black Jacobins, followed Kwame with a global analysis of Black Revolution, including national liberation movements and Black Power. Featherstone, Jean Wiley, and I discussed inviting CLR to D.C. At a meeting that Jean arranged, I requested (or pleaded) for James to spend one year at FCC as a Scholar-in-Residence. CLR was skeptical because he saw no way of getting him into the U.S. We assured him it could be done. Jean then talked with Marvin and Anne Holloway, who had connections with one of the attorneys for the U.S. State Department, a sister by the name of Goler Butcher. I called Frank Farner, who immediately sent telegrams formalizing the offer to Dr. Butcher and me. By the end of the day, there was full agreement for CLR to assume his position as Resident Scholar at FCC beginning in December 1968. CLR arrived in D.C. in February 1969 and stayed for two months at my residence on Capitol Hill. Within days of his arrival, dozens of Caribbean activists knocked on the door requesting an audience. I came to understand that because of his Parkinson’s, CLR required medical and dietary assistance. Personal assistants were hired. One morning as I opened my door, two people carrying bags of food sought entry. They had “come to cook for CLR.” Once he was settled in, CLR happily accepted visitors. The two courses that he taught in the spring quarter were filled to overflow, including students from Howard University and the local Caribbean community. CLR also agreed to participate in a series of conversations with Chancellor Williams. The first forum was held at FCC in March 1969; Williams and James debated on the topic “Black Nationalism and the Promise of Pan Africanism.” The second event occurred on October 18, 1968, two days after John Carlos and Tommie Smith were banned from the Olympics for raising their fists in protest against injustices in the U.S. Koko Farrow, Kwame’s secretary, invited me to join a group to arrange speaking engagements for Smith and Carlos. Koko, Kwame, Cleve Sellers, and a half-dozen others organized a series of public appearances for Carlos, including a welcome at National Airport. (Because of his mother’s illness, Smith did not travel to D.C.) Somehow, Ivanhoe Donaldson convinced D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department to escort a caravan through the streets to a press conference at Ed Murph’s Supper Club. Harry Edwards, H. Rap Brown, and Kwame were among those who participated in the conference. Carlos then addressed students at Howard University. The following morning, he spoke with a small group of students at FCC. Farner reported to Brent that within a couple of days after John Carlos’ appearance on campus, David Dixon met Farner to denounce James’ appointment, Carlos’ presence on the campus, and the BSP. This time he was joined by Kenneth Lynn, a political science professor on loan from Harvard whose manner resembled that of a Roman patrician. He was the highest paid faculty member at FCC. Lynn was opposed to the hiring of CLR James, but he was livid at the appointment of James as a Scholar-in-Residence. After the meeting, Farner indicated to Brent that Dixon had gained a critical ally in Lynn, who also enjoyed deep support among powerful Democratic Party circles. From BSP to BEP As a part of the process of developing the alternative “cadre training” component of the BSP, Cox and Cobb called a meeting at the New School for Afro-American Thought, led by Gaston Neal and Donald Freeman (Baba Lumumba). Along with Cox, Wiley, Cobb, Rooks, and me, non-faculty participants included Ivanhoe Donaldson, Ralph Featherstone, Marvin and Anne Holloway, and Baba Lumumba. In preparation for the sessions, we were encouraged to read “Education for Self-Reliance” from Freedom and Socialism by Julius Nyerere. Nyerere’s works were viewed as an important foundation in the discuss-and-debate curriculum structure and educational process. Courtland and Charlie Cobb seemed to strongly support President Nyerere’s emphasis on self-reliance and Pan Africanism. An outcome of the SNCC meetings was the draft of a position paper that combined DuBois’ early focus on training a Black leadership class with Nyerere’s “Ujamaa” philosophical model. “Ujamaa” or “Communitarian Socialism” evinced a need to unify the entire national community in order to achieve socialism. “Ujamaa” assumed a moral basis rather than violent class struggle as the means to achieve socialism. This idea of socialism recognizes class as a factor but essentially sets class struggle aside by suggesting that classes were historically non-African. The draft position paper subscribed to the idea that race and white supremacy are the major, and in some cases, the only factors defining the condition of Black people in the U.S. and worldwide. Thus, it stated that the primary goal of Black Studies should be aiding struggles for self-determination in the diaspora, and revolution and nation-building in Africa. It also called for the BSP to be renamed “Black Education Program” (BEP). While connecting with the earlier submission by the BSP, the BEP proposal shifted emphasis from a focus on the education of the Black masses to the training of cadre for protracted struggle in the U.S. and abroad. The BEP proposal also included an increase in courses that addressed the need for training in scientific and technical (S&T) skills. Pam, Jean Wiley, and I strongly supported the inclusion of S&T into both Black Studies submissions and pushed for expanded basic skills courses. Early in November 1968, when the new Black education curriculum and philosophy were presented to the BSP faculty, a number of questions were raised. For example: Might total immersion of students be too rigid? What was the connection between the bifurcated BSP and BEP programs? Does BEP allow choice and exploration that are the basis for gaining a liberal education? Would BEP graduates be prepared for the world beyond the Black world? For the most part, these and other questions went unanswered. However, by the end of November 1968, the BSP faculty agreed to submit the initial BSP, adding BEP as a “specialized” component. FCC was organized by divisions and departments. The new BEP presented as a hybrid. Its courses of study crossed divisions and departments. Because there was no way to fit it in with the existing administrative and academic structure, in many ways BEP was envisioned as its own College. That was always going to be a problem. Still, early in December, with Joseph Brent as its steward, the FCC Faculty Assembly adopted the proposal. Speaking in opposition, Hazel Swann, head of the Nursing division and a key member of the faculty, said that she was opposed to it out of hand because it was obviously separatist. She also committed herself to the organization of an “independent” faculty group to oppose the radicalization of FCC. On December 18, 1968, President Farner formally accepted the proposal for a Black Education Program, the new name for Black Studies. At the same time, the President added 20 full-time faculty and seven staff positions to the BEP to be filled by Fall Quarter 1969. Farner signed off on the immediate hiring of Boniface Obichere, CLR James, and Acklyn Lynch along with three math and science faculty. Incredibly, without pressure from our side, Farner had given up almost a quarter of the school’s faculty slots to BEP. The Carnegie Grant Farner’s generosity became a bit clearer at the beginning of January 1969 when the Carnegie Foundation approved a grant to FCC of $275,000 per year. Farmer, Brent, and FCC VP Calvert had called me into a meeting on October 5, 1968, where I was informed that the Carnegie Foundation was interested in funding a new project to explore alternative education models at FCC. The grant would run for three years at $250,000-$350,000 a year. Farner had invited me to join in drafting the proposal. When I suggested disinterest, Farner immediately offered 20 percent of the proposed Carnegie funding. Then, although Black Studies were barely listed as a department, not a division, Farner had proposed an immediate increase in faculty slots. It was clear to me that the only way FCC was going to receive the Carnegie grant was to guarantee the direct and upfront involvement of the Black Studies Program. And because this was unfettered money, Farner would do whatever it took to gain the grant money. He knew that all kinds of things could be done with that amount of funding. I did, too. So, I agreed. I went back to the faculty and told them I had signed Black Studies up for 20 percent of the Carnegie package. That January, the first transfer of $35,000 was provided to the President’s office as the grant’s administrator. In addition, a direct payment of $7,500 was earmarked to the Black Studies Program for “educational research and staff development.” Prior to receiving the payment, Pamela Egashira recommended that we separate our funds from FCC. Pam didn’t trust FCC or Carnegie. She believed that if the funds were mismanaged or there was evidence of fraud, as my name was on the grant, I might be blamed. We strongly believed in establishing our own account and our own accounting procedures. Farner agreed, with the proviso that the VP for Finance serve as a signatory. Upon Farner’s request, Carnegie’s representative sent a letter to Farner approving the separation of funds, with the added proviso that BEP copy any records to the Carnegie. With the assistance of Randolph’s new development office, Pam and I established a 501(c) (3) non-profit foundation, institutionally tied to FCC. Initial funds were deposited directly to a Riggs Bank account as the BEP Institute. In March 1969, we established a new account with Industrial Bank of Washington, a Black-owned bank. As of Spring Quarter 1969, BEP exercised effective control over its portion of the Carnegie grant. I learned later that Wesley Swearingen, the FBI agent detailed to investigate the BEP and other black led activist projects, noted that the IRS maintained tight scrutiny over our financial transactions. Expanding Support for Struggling Students Aside from the need for tutorials, the BEP faculty recognized that many of our students faced severe psychological issues and financial crises. About a dozen students reported to me that they were homeless. Others lived in abusive conditions at home and on the streets. In February 1969, Jean Wiley, Belvie Rooks, and several other faculty members arranged weekly “listening” sessions. More than 100 students signed up for the sessions. From day one, a major issue was the high level of student unemployment. With the help of the SGA, Jaheed Ashley and I held meetings with FCC students who were on staff with the Federal government. We worked out a hiring pipeline that would funnel students directly out of FCC into government jobs because those were good, permanent jobs. As the result of a series of meetings with people from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), the Department of Labor, and the new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Black Federal Staff (BFS) organization was formed in February 1969. Each agency elected its own leadership and sent representatives to monthly cross-government meetings. I agreed to set up on-site, accredited courses in BEP, math, and statistics. Government workers published job listings and assisted applicants with civil service examinations. By 1975, more than a half-dozen Black-led Federal staff organizations had evolved into a powerful political and cultural force within D.C. and the Federal Triangle. One of the most important projects initiated by the BEP faculty was the Lorton Prison Higher Education Project. With initial funding from our portion of the Carnegie grant, BEP enlisted FCC faculty to travel about 30 miles outside D.C., where they offered accredited courses to those imprisoned at the Lorton Correctional Facility. From 1969 to 1990 (when the prison was shut down), dozens of prisoners earned GEDs and BA degrees through this program. BEP Opposition Gains Strength With the beginning of the Spring Quarter 1969, David Dixon increased the intensity of his opposition to the BEP. This effort was first realized in November 1968, when Dixon – without approval from Farner – broke ranks to publicly attack the BSP at a meeting of the National Association of State University and Land-Grant Colleges. In February 1969, Joe Brent reported to me that Dixon had delivered several similar presentations to various academic societies in Maryland, D.C., and at the University of Michigan. Brent felt that Dixon’s speeches endangered the “project” and that he needed to be “neutralized.” Shortly afterwards, Dixon served as a public source for several Washington Post articles and editorials published on March 6 and 9, 1969. In the first article, he railed against me, CLR James, Charlie Cobb, John Carlos, and the other “thugs, criminals, and separatists.” On March 11, after conferring with Dixon and Swann, 35 or 40 students stormed Farner’s office to declare their opposition to the Black Education Program. As reported in the March 9 Post article, the students’ major concern was that the BEP controversy might cause FCC to be shut down, and they would lose their grants and work-study money. In mid-March, Dixon met with representatives of Senators Joseph Tydings and William Proxmire, both of whom sat on the D.C. Appropriations and Oversight Committees. Tydings apparently contacted the chief of operations for the FBI D.C. Office and M. Wesley Swearingen, a COINTELPRO officer who was deployed for special operations in Washington, D.C. Over the next two weeks, Senators Tydings and Proxmire made several public statements attacking the Black Education Program and declaring that the BEP was sufficient reason to deny home rule to D.C. These pronouncements were very effective in dividing the various Black constituencies. In late March, Dixon and Swann met with Charles Horsley, chair of the D.C. Board of Public Higher Education (BPHE), and several Board members to complain against both the BEP and leaders of the “liberal” Faculty Assembly. At the time, the BEP held wide support among the FCC faculty. Dixon wanted to block the liberals from lobbying the BPHE. The BPHE responded by releasing a statement denying approval of the BEP and freezing the lucrative faculty slots that were already being filled by BEP staff. The Board’s action caused the Faculty Assembly to attack the Board for violation of faculty prerogatives and of academic freedom. Joe Brent urged on the combat. He told me this was his “kind of war!” On April 16, 1969, a group of FCC students staged a rally and press conference and attacked both the BEP and President Farner. During the rally, the group was challenged by some SGA leaders along with a number of students, local residents, and some young men who wore Pride, Inc. jackets. A fight ensued, and the D.C. MPD moved in, arresting a dozen or so people. On the following day, SGA leaders called a rally in support of the BEP. The student government logo and banner at the time was a Black Panther. Two large banners portraying the panther symbol were on display. Several hundred people came out in support. During the spirited but peaceful demonstration, two white reporters were chased away from the event. The reporters were not injured, but the incident was reported on D.C. TV evening news outlets. Follow-up articles appeared in the Washington Post and later in a local magazine. Noting the growing crisis, a group of SNCC folks also held meetings in April to discuss the situation. John Wilson, Ivanhoe, Courtland, Charlie, Judy, Jean, Pam, and a few others tried to figure out what to do. What could we work out? What were the positive and negative outcomes? Courtland and Charlie ended up offering a proposal to attack the issues on three fronts. Featherstone agreed to work on securing an off-campus location for the BEP on the theory that maybe the Board might accept a Black Education Program if it was off the FCC campus. Featherstone found three connected, redevelopment-owned brownstones on Fairmount Street, just off 14th Street, N.W., and down the street from the newly opened Drum and Spear Bookstore. I took the lead on working to consolidate the BEP faculty to make sure people were hired and had no problems with securing tenured positions. CLR had pressed the point, and I agreed, on the necessity to maintain a strong base on the campus. A tenure-track position was soon secured for Acklyn Lynch, who was quickly becoming a faculty leader. CLR James was reappointed for 1969-70. Boniface Obichere (who we made sure had a tenured position) and the other African nationals moved to the margins. Max Robinson, who had hosted several SNCC/faculty meetings, resigned to work with ABC-TV, becoming the first Black television anchor on national television. Carnegie agreed to fund an off-campus program through 1969. Jaheed, Charlie, and I met with FCC/SGA students, including recently arrived activists from the Southern Freedom Movement. We agreed to identify a cadre of students willing to accept the move off campus to a new facility in the central Cardozo community. By the end of May, the recruitment effort had produced nearly 100 FCC students. A third group, led by Ivanhoe Donaldson and John Wilson, was delegated to check the level of support from D.C. politicians, particularly Mayor Walter Washington. Washington informed Ivanhoe and John that Randolph would soon be president of FCC and that his number one job was to protect the prospect of Home Rule. Walter Washington feared that the FCC conflict might bring on violence and end any chance of D.C. gaining Home Rule. The Black Education Program was expendable; however, the Black political establishment feared the BEP’s power to disrupt if their program was threatened. Ivanhoe and John let me know that some kind of deal was in the works. Sacrifices would be required by both sides. As I listened to their report, I came to understand that Walter Washington and Harland Randolph had mastered D.C. politics at both the congressional and local levels. Perhaps, in order to make the deal happen, soft-spoken accommodations were offered. Political space was opened for John Wilson, Ivanhoe, and others that allowed the advance of a “New Guard” of SNCC folks who came to dominate local D.C. politics for the next 25 years. Personally, this was not the battle I wanted. I had already determined to cut bait, get out of dodge, or any other trite phrase. I was more than ready to move the BEP into the “community.” Resolutions and Resignations Things moved quickly from May to June. On May 13, the FCC Faculty Assembly voted to approve the original Black Studies Program, excluding the “immersion” component. All FCC students were required to take eight hours of Black Studies. A few days later, The D.C. Board of Public Higher Education (BPHE) adopted the faculty’s decision and agreed to retain some Black Studies faculty. Soon afterwards, Tydings and Proxmire issued a public call for Farner’s resignation while continuing to declare the Black Education Program’s immersion program separatist, inherently dangerous, and an obstacle to home rule. Farner and Randolph were summoned to a meeting of the Senate’s D.C. Oversight Subcommittee to explain the program and to defend it. The record shows they took a verbal beating. The next day, the BPHE met with Farner and Randolph, and according to Farner, essentially elevated Randolph to the presidency. Farner informed me that he was under pressure to resign, which I, in turn, related to the SNCC group. On May 24, Farner resigned. Within a few days, both Kenneth Lynn (the Harvard professor) and David Dixon resigned. Randolph was quickly named interim president of FCC. On June 1, 1969, I resigned as chair of BSP/BEP and issued on behalf of the BSP Faculty, the Black Education “Statement of Withdrawal from FCC,” which stated that: 1) FCC is a plantation; 2) the Black Education Program refused to be controlled by a racist Congress; and 3) the Black Studies faculty had decided to take the Black Education Program to the Black community with instruction to begin in the Fall of 1969. In between the dates of resignations and proclamations noted above, negotiations – mainly between Harland Randolph and me – proceeded to the inevitable. The first meeting, held on May 18 at Ed Murph’s Supper Club, was hosted and facilitated by John Wilson. I really didn’t know Randolph – he probably had read my dossier, but I didn’t know him. After handshakes, hugs, and “Welcome, good brother,” Randolph handed me a checklist. I held onto Randolph’s checklist for 50 years, perhaps because its content gave me much more credit than I deserved. Randolph’s list and his statements during the meeting made it clear that in order to protect home rule, the BEP – and me as its visible leadership – had to go. In exchange, he told me, “Write your own ticket.” Randolph’s Checklist of Demands:
- BEP submit a formal statement of withdrawal, with no call for student resistance to the move.
- Garrett resign his position as tenure-track faculty member (as a tenure-track faculty, it was difficult to fire me*).
- BEP faculty would not maintain backchannel relationships with SGA (they feared my relationship with the students).
- Garrett ceases any attempts to organize among white faculty to oppose Randolph and the Board of Public Higher Education.
- No public announcement of the agreement was to be published by either side. (Basically, this was to keep the negotiations secret.)
*Randolph clarified this condition: After resigning, I was to remain off-campus for a year. The following evening, Charlie, Courtland, Jean, Pam, and maybe one or two others spent hours with me, working out the best ways to respond to Randolph’s list. The final negotiation session took place on May 20 at the offices of the Institute for Policy Studies on New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. Randolph brought along several men, including FCC VP Robert Calvert, one of Senator Proxmire’s aides, and a person from the Mayor’s office. Frank Smith hosted. I presented the list of demands drafted by the SNCC group, all of which were agreed to by Randolph:
- James Garrett agrees to resign as of June 1, 1969.
- All BSP faculty who wished to remain would be appointed through 1969-70, with their prospects of future retention being good. Four new Black Studies faculty tenure-track positions would be offered.
- All tenure-track faculty would retain their status. They weren’t to be punished for having been members of the Black Studies faculty. The faculty list included Jean Wiley, Belvie Rooks, Acklyn Lynch, Mary Wamboi, and Boniface Obichere. Garrett’s tenure-track slot would be reserved for his wife, Faye Hearing Garrett.
- CLR James to be re-appointed as Scholar-in-Residence through the 1970-71 academic year.
- Students who participate in the BEP community-based program would be granted full academic credit and work-study pay through summer 1970.
- Carnegie funding was guaranteed until Jan. 1970. (Pam and I had already agreed to earmark $25k to the Center for Black Education in exchange for inclusion in Carnegie’s Annual Report.)
- BEP (CBE) was to be granted title to the three designated brownstones on Fairmount Street without taxes or fees, including city assistance for remediation, rehab, and pest control.
- Other than Garrett, who was banned, FCC campus would remain open to SNCC and other community groups.
- Charges against all students who were arrested while participating in FCC demonstrations would be dropped and arrest records would be sealed or expunged. (The BEP and SNCC folks understood that with an arrest record, it was difficult to get a civil service job).
Along with most of the SNCC cadre including Courtland Cox, Charlie Cobb, Judy Richardson, and Frank Smith), Pamela Egashira and I moved from FCC to the new Center for Black Education site located on Fairmount St. NW, near the Drum & Spear bookstore located at the corner of 14th St. and Fairmount St. NW. I served as Director of the CBE from its opening on Labor Day 1969 until it ceased operations in May 1975. The initial FCC Black Studies Program (and several of its faculty) continued until 1977, when FCC merged with DC Teachers College and became the University of the District of Columbia. Jimmy Garrett is a SNCC veteran who created the United States’ first Black Studies program in 1966 at San Francisco State University. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he founded the city’s first Black Studies program at Federal City College (now UDC). He was co-founder and director the Center for Black Education, an independent Black education institution based in Washington, D.C.’s Black community. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Forged in the High Tide of Struggle: Notes of a Black Radical Organizer, 1960-1975. Copyright © 2020 James P. Garrett. All rights reserved. [maxbutton id=”2″ ]