The Imperative Proposals (1969)

Billboard cover

The cover of the September 18th, 1970 volume of the Billboard. The cover photo features a member of the Melvin Deal Dancers who appeared in Laird Hall as a part of the "Unidentified Task," a program of African and African-American art and culture. 

"Declaring that he was troubled by the tenor of the whole discussion, Mr. R. Anderson exclaimed that merely meeting proposals was not enough; what is really needed is a change of policya change from a policy of 100 years' standing. On arriving at Wilson a few years back, he had noted our proximity to the Mason Dixon line. Would it not be in the trust spirit of our centennial celebration, he asked, for Wilson to make a public statement that we were going to act to seek redress for this social wrong, America's number one social issue? We need to go out of our way, he argued, to establish some sort of continuing mechanism to work for greater social justice?" 

In an open meeting documented by The Morning Herald Tri-State News in April of 1969, students, administrators, and faculty discussed frustrations over delays in action to bring the imperative proposals into effect. President Havens stated that from his “point of view” there was no delay. However, many students and faculty members disagreed, declaring that they felt progress was stalled by administrative "red tape." 

By creating a group to discuss issues that exclusively affect their community, WAAS was able to accomplish much more than perhaps the students could individually. By acting as a group, the Wilson’s students of color were able to bolster each other and bring forth important issues. In May of that year, the president of WAAS and the Chairman of the Curriculum Committee met with the Chairman of American Civilization, Economics, English, History, Political Science, Psychology, Religion Studies, and Sociology regarding the creation of a class entitled "the Idea of Race in America" to be offered as an interdepartmental course at Wilson. 

"Quiet demonstration"

Photograph from "Quiet Demonstration," Public Opinion, April 1969.

The sit-in

On April 28, 1969, students gathered in front of Warfield Hall for a peaceful demonstration.  When the club did not receive a reply from the administration by the deadline they had set for 8am that morning, they held a boycott of classes which involved black and white students and around eight members of the faculty. 

Overall the students were commended for their peaceful, reasonable approach to trying to implement change. With the exception of the Upward Bound Program, all of these proposals were accepted by the College and implemented within a year. The Upward Bound Program had already been explored and rejected because of cost by the Board in 1968. The legacy of WAAS is not only these administrative changes, but the creation of increased dialogue among students, faculty and President Havens about race and the experiences of African American students at Wilson. 

In a speech given at Alumnae College in 1996 and the 25th reunion of her class (1971), Cassandra Hill Courtney stated: 

"While some at Wilson welcomed black women to the campus community and worked hard to make us a part of it, that attitude was not universal. I am not even convinced that President Havens thought our presence was a good idea. I am sure he thought it was a bad idea the day we had a sit-in outside of his Norland office to demand (as only 'angry young women' would) that the college show greater sensitivity to the needs of its new and culturally different students. It is hard for me now to recall the particulars of that occasion. I only remember that we left peacefully, President Havens telling us that he would 'not be pistol-whipped' and very reluctantly agreeing to some of our requests."  

The Imperative Proposals (1969)