When Ivory Towers Were Black
A Story about Race in America's Cities and Universities
Publication Year: 2017
Published by: Fordham University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
The 1960s and early 1970s were socially and politically disruptive and divisive times, eerily, and sadly, almost identical to those this country is currently experiencing. In When Ivory Towers Were Black, Sutton explores the history of race and power at one of this nation’s most distinguished universities.
On December 17, 1972, a fire burned our family out of its home. Coinciding with this was my beginning tenure as the fifth dean of the School of Architecture at Columbia University. That day I went from fire to fire....
This book tells the story of how I got a free Ivy League education. The odyssey commenced on my sixty-fifth birthday in February 2006, when I began thinking about what a privileged life I had led. As I entered the home stretch of my racecourse, it occurred to me that I should somehow pass along all the privileges I had received to the next generation—which actually had a lot to do with my getting this free Ivy League education. A few weeks after my birthday, I had my first idea: thanking the person who had paid for my education, which incredibly I had never done. I knew who it was. Vincent Kling, a Columbia...
Institutional transformation requires a major social dislocation, or even a series of dislocations, “before the anger that underlies protests builds to a high pitch and before that anger can find expression in collective defiance.”1 Following an insurgency, as protesters attempt to fend off institutional efforts to reestablish normative conditions, the power imbalance between them and the institution almost certainly assures a return to the status quo. Yet, in that brief moment between the coming and going of collective defiance, concessions can be and are won. This book...
1 Pre-1965 Context
This story is complicated—fascinating but complicated. You see, its subject matter lies at the potent intersection of race, urban development, and higher education; its backdrop is New York City and its historically African American neighborhood of Harlem, where such issues come into exaggerated relief; its time period is the 1960s when the potency of race, urban development, and higher education turned to passion and protest. Ultimately the story will take you to Columbia University’s School of Architecture where a bold experiment in affirmative...
2 1965–1967 Context
By 1965, the potency of protest had vastly increased. You see, the lack of progress in addressing the intersecting problems of race and urban development had fueled a deepened anger—in the nation as a whole, and in New York City in particular. As anger boiled over, various organizations and people stepped forward with new ideas for addressing these problems, including at Columbia’s School of Architecture. You will need to continue following this complicated story in order to understand the full extent of the crisis, and the experiment’s embedded-ness within it. Along the way, you will discover some key themes that came to the...
3 1968 Insurgency
Perhaps you are old enough to remember the explosions of 1968; perhaps not. Either way, you will need to summon up their shattering force to receive the experiment in all its passionate potency. You see, the dramas of that single year pierced the national psyche in a way that “only the Depression, Pearl Harbor, and the Holocaust have.”1 Violence was omnipresent, with young people assuming lead roles in various mindwarping dramas. The country’s record-breaking six million draft-age undergraduate students filled roles in some of the dramas, the masses of disaffected black ghetto youth starred in others, the horrifying casualties...
4 1968–1971 Experimentation
Now that you understand the intensity of this era’s struggle for social transformation, you are ready to enter Avery Hall. You will approach an elegantly proportioned 1912 Italian Renaissance building from the west, proceeding dead center to a two-story-high portico supported by the familiar Ionic columns. If it is windy, you will need two hands to pull open the massive twelve-foot-high oak doors, which are framed by another set of never-closed decorative iron gates. Before walking through these doors, take a moment to absorb the transformative context that...
5 1969–1971 Transgression
You are about to ascend the steepest part of the School of Architecture’s arc of insurgency. The revolutionaries who were dragged out of Avery Hall in the wee hours of that bloody Tuesday morning got you part way up the arc when their screams exorcised the ghosts of the school’s poor leadership and Beaux-Arts curriculum. The students, staff, and faculty who adopted the Strike Coordinating Committee boycott of classes propelled you a little further along, taking you to a steeper part of the climb when they set in place an experimental operation at the school....
6 1969–1971 Unraveling
During your brief sojourn at the apex of the School of Architecture’s arc of insurgency, your ethnic minority guides had truly amazing experiences. Across the country, virulent black student activism pushed colleges to expand affirmative action and the financial aid it required, which led “to a sharp jump in black college enrollment in the 1970s.”1 Columbia University reflected this national trend, but the School of Architecture sprinted ahead to take an unparalleled lead in educational equity. In 1970, the school had an astounding 14 percent ethnic minority...
7 1972–1976 Extinction
The pressure at the School of Architecture to find a new dean was unspeakable, and it came from all quarters. The accrediting board had given the architecture program just two years to fix serious administrative malfunctions, the external administrator had threatened receivership should the search for a new dean fail, and the university president had leaked his intention to eradicate the school altogether. The Black and Puerto Rican Student-Faculty-Administrators Organization (BPRSFAO) had turned up the heat even further, mounting fierce battles to protect its constituency from extinction as scholarship funding vanished...
8 Alumni Years
Mark Hamilton graduated in 1978 as the last member of the oral history cohort to straggle out of Avery before its massive oak doors became all but padlocked for U.S.-born persons of color. He was among the twenty-six (out of a total of forty-nine) ethnic minority recruits who graduated after the fiscal crisis hit full force in 1973. Actually, the crisis began gathering steam in 1969 and overshadowed all of their early careers. The ethnic minority alumni left Columbia believing that their technical skills, intellectual prowess, and Ivy League pedigrees would surely heighten their marketability in America’s newly desegregated workforce....
This book related a story about how the gift of an Ivy League education helped give my classmates and me the courage to behave like the wild buffalo that face a storm head-on. I spent a whole lot longer unraveling this story than I ever imagined, and even more time figuring out how to tell the story so anyone would be interested in reading it. One thing I realized during this incredibly long odyssey is that isolated acts of paying back privileges—saying a previously unsaid thank-you, establishing an endowed scholarship, even writing a book about a bold experiment—pale in comparison to the enormous storm that is coming into view....
Appendix A. Biographies of the Oral History Cohort
Appendix B. List of All Ethnic Minority Recruits
Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2017
OCLC Number: 976394489
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