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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Blyden Jackson, June 27, 1991. Interview L-0051. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Experience as an African American student at a predominantly white university in the North

Jackson speaks briefly about his experiences as an African American graduate student at the predominantly white University of Michigan. Arguing that he had many friends at University of Michigan who were both white and African American, Jackson does indicate some episodes of racism he faced. His comments reveal racial tensions on a northern campus, in contrast to the kinds of tensions and segregation that dominated southern universities and colleges.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Blyden Jackson, June 27, 1991. Interview L-0051. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One question before we go on. You mentioned that you went to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
That's right.
What was experience like, the time that you were there? Did you come up against very much racism? Was it a pleasant experience for you? Overall, what kind of experience was it for you?
For me it was a very pleasant experience. If you'll recall, I said I was teaching in a junior high school, and I started in the summer. So it was during four summers that I got my master's, and I suspect, through my experience, there were many teachers during the same thing, whether they were white or colored. You taught the year and then you rushed up [Laughter] to the other school. It was hectic, and you didn't have much time to worry, at least I didn't have much time to worry about anything except my studies. I would think that almost any teacher would agred with me with what I'm about to say now. Almost any teacher, it seems to me, who goes to summer school has, among other things in his mind, the fear of not doing well because he's afraid that the students he's teaching [Laughter] back at home will find out that he's having trouble at school himself. [Laughter] Will laugh at him behind his back, if not to his face. Obviously, there was no integration on the campus at Michigan. The white students, it was just barely possible that you might form a friendship with one or two white students. Most of them were, of course, courteous and distant. Some of them were courteous and obviously anxious, willing to be friends. You could run into some of them who showed their feelings, their racist feelings. I quickly recall one incident. I was taking a course in which the course was seated alphabetically, and the girl sitting beside me on my right—I was on the aisle—was a white girl from South Carolina. She made it very clear, in little ways, she never said anything to me at the beginning. She made it very clear though by the way she came in and sat down and leaned in the direction away from me that this was an insult to her. Until the first examination. Again, I'm not trying to be immodest in this. When they brought the papers back, it was a course in Shakespear, and it was taught by a blind professor, one of the most famous [unclear] . He lectured, by the way, not sitting down, but by pacing across the front of the class. He knew the room well enough so he wouldn't hit any walls. Brilliant lecturer. And, of course, he had an assistant who really did everything for him, read to him the papers, and brought him in, and whatnot. Well, after the first test, he came in, and his assistant, who happened to be a woman, a woman of middle age, passed out all the papers except one. And then she said something like this, "Professor Mishkie has asked me to read from this paper which I have in my hand. You will, of course, immediately recognize why." And the paper she had in her hand, the blue book—that's all we used, blue book—she read this blue book, and it was mine. Then when she finished, she walked over and gave it to me. I think she did that deliberately. Then after that, this girl wanted to be friendly with me, and I would not be friendly with her. I really wasn't. I try not to be malicious but I just had made up my mind. I was never going to have anything to do with her. But two or three of my best friends at Michigan were white. One reason is the reason which, for example, my present interviewer will recognize very easy. As you get farther and farther up the academic ladder when you're trying to get a degree, an advanced degree, and certainly with a doctorate, the number of people who are paddling upstream with you decreases rapidly and radically. [Laughter] And then the time comes when they're few of you, and you all are very close. You're taken courses together, and then you're working on a dissertation, and you see each other in the library. At Michigan, by the time I got up to that point, there were only seven or eight of us, and we actually had a little club. We met and read portions of our dissertation to each other and all that sort of thing. So two or three of my very best friends at Michigan were white, and they stayed friends of mine.