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The New Black Mood

Brass Tacks

By Henry W. Mcgee. iii

THERE IS a new mood of tolerance and cooperation among black students at Harvard. "We want to hear all viewpoints," says Jackie Berryman, director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, and her statement is indicative of a new willingness of black students with varying political and social philosophies to work together toward common goals. Unlike the period between 1968 and 1971 when black students were coerced by their peers into mouthing a Pan-Africanist line, there is a feeling that each individual should decide has own political stance, and then come together with the group in order to work on projects that will serve the greater good.

Moreover there is a greater willingness among black students to grapple with and participate in the white institutions at Harvard. When the black members of the Class of '74 first arrived on campus, they were given a special orientation by the black upperclassmen that consisted of a bombardment of Pan-Africanist and Nationalist thought and a special warning against "backsliding"--becoming involved with whitey. The special orientation for the black members of the Class of '76 was quite different. The black students were encouraged to become involved in whatever activities at Harvard interested them. There was no political speeches, only pleas for a tolerant unity.

The change in mood among black students has also been the impetus for a number of modifications in black life at Harvard. The Black tables have disappeared from Quincy House and the Freshman Union, and blacks are participating in college activities at a greatly increased level. The thrust is toward understanding the white man, and thus being better able to deal with him rather than, the old philosophy of keeping him at a safe distance.

A number of factors are contributing to this new mood, perhaps most importantly the graduation of the last of the black students who occupied University Hall in the fall of 1969. The old guard felt threatened and abused by Harvard's racism and chose to band tightly together, to close out any feeling but hate in an attempt to face and do battle with the white monolith. Their strategy turned out to be self-defeating, however, as black students drifted further away from the mainstream of college life.

Although there were a number of more perceptive blacks who sensed a new direction was needed, they were cowed into silence as the old guard struggled to keep its hold, finally losing its grip on black students thinking after they prevented whites from attending a speech by Ms. W.E.B. Du Bois at Sanders Theater during the 1970-71 school year, Ms. DuBois denounced the students' actions, and it became clear that the old black leadership had outlived its day. At the next Afro-election, a member of the Class of '74--the first class not present at the University Hall takeover--was swept into office.

LAST YEAR SAW the beginning of the new mood, as the leadership of Afro changed a number of times reflecting the slowly evolving sense of cooperation and tolerance. The younger students were not as threatened by whites as their predecessors and they took a more pragmatic view of Harvard. Since they have consciously made the choice to come to Harvard, they feel they should try to extract as much as possible from it, and take what skills they have gained back to the black community.

The new feelings of cooperation finally coalesced around the Gulf Oil issue and the eventual takeover of Massachusetts Hall last Spring. Anti-imperialist action, after all, was something that everyone--black, white integrationist, nationalist--could support, and no matter what one's political viewpoint, everyone was invited to participate in the fight against Gulf. It was the first time that integrationists and nationalists freely spoke with one another, the first time in years that blacks and whites have marched together.

There are those who would charge that the new mood simply signals Harvard's co-optation of young black leadership, that the new mood is a new Uncle Tomism. But that would be a superficial judgement. Blacks at Harvard are now beginning to realize that it is possible to participate without selling out. Coolly pragmatic, they now perceive that some of Harvard's resources can be diverted toward the liberation rather than the oppression of black people. And most of all they understand that freedom cannot be won by a single faction but only by everyone working together. They realize that, in Berryman's words. "We must have unity, then liberation."

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