10/16/2019 Staff

This is the Rat Speaking

This magazine article is part of Fall 2019 / Issue 94

The following is an excerpt from “This Is the Rat Speaking: Black Power and the Promise of Racial Consciousness at Franklin and Marshall College in the Age of the Takeover, 1967–69, by Todd Mealy.

“How does one view the behavior of the students involved in the uprising? The portrait that emerges from a careful examination of the May 22 uprising is an image of unruly students overstepping their bounds, first by staging a boycott in front of Old Main, next by tearing up their classmates’ take-home tests, and finally by holding their professors under duress. Their anger, however, was an appendage of the issues of a wounded nation: the Vietnam War, the draft with its rank-in-class question, increasingly politicized campus environments, the counterculture, chemical experimentation, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, the three previous summers of inner-city riots, the influence of an expanding Black Panther Party, and the examples set by other student takeovers on campuses across the nation. These events had affected them on a personal level, feeding the growing conviction that they were an alienated race in the United States of America.

These were teenagers and twenty-somethings with valid perspectives about the systemic racism existing within the Franklin & Marshall College environment, yet their concerns included a taste of misguided self-righteousness created by the political climate. That fact makes the effort to understand this uprising a puzzling one.

The students at Franklin & Marshall College were not criminals or thugs. They were intense, career-driven young men who could have passed the course readily if they would have treated it like any other on their schedule. What they did, however, damaged the viewpoint of many open-minded white students on campus. Additionally, a few of the professors who were detained inside Goethean Hall were emotionally scarred, left dejected that their lifelong commitment to social justice was disregarded so abruptly by their students of color.

The title of the course plays a small, but understandable, role in vindicating the students’ actions. By calling the course the Black Experience in America, the professors set their own trap, which took the form of the May 22 uprising. Additionally, the course’s reading list was daunting, arguably too excessive for an undergraduate course that included a term paper and a final exam. Malcontents in the class had been rallying support within the Afro-American Society during the late weeks of the semester, which is why as the end of the term approached, whatever optimism had existed was replaced by antipathy.”

This is the Rat Speaking
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