African-American History Brushes with History

Fifty Years Ago

History happens on ordinary days.

Most of the time, we don’t know when we get up in the morning that something earth-shaking is going to happen during the day.  And that’s certainly how it must have been fifty years ago today, on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  And as I sit in my office this afternoon and watch the CBS News coverage unfold as the nation watched on that day, it’s essentially like watching the first draft of that story being written.  (Since we have the advantage of history, we know that they got some things wrong in that chaotic first hour.)

This post, however, isn’t quite going to be about what you thought. Instead, I want to mention an event that happened at the same time here at the college.

On November 22, 1963, a meeting took place in the board room at Wofford College.  The meeting convened at 2:00 PM, just as those attending would have been hearing the first word of the shocking news from Dallas.  Gathering that afternoon were a members of Wofford’s board of trustees who were members of a special committee appointed to consider the college’s desegregation.  The board had heard a report from President Charles F. Marsh on October 7 about desegregation, a report that listed the possible outcomes of a decision to admit African-American students and a decision not to admit African-American students.  The meeting lasted about an hour and forty-five minutes, and though it took no formal action, laid the groundwork for the board’s vote in May.

The committee, as the minutes note, had an exchange of views, and directed the chair to contact the chairs of the boards of trustees and the presidents of both Columbia College and Spartanburg Junior College.  No doubt they felt it was courteous to let the other Methodist colleges in the state know that they were deliberating a monumental change in the college’s admissions policy.  The minutes do not say this, but they must have also asked the president to ask the faculty for input, as a few days later, Dr. Marsh shared his confidential memorandum with them and asked them to share their thoughts with him or the committee.  The committee agreed to meet again on January 9, at which point they would have further discussions and reach a decision.

History is made in large and small ways, in planned and unplanned moments.  I wish somebody had recorded the other conversations that were going on in the board room while the trustees considered a change that would have such a strong effect on life at Wofford.

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.