by John Bryant
I arrived on the University of Cincinnati campus in the summer of 1957 following my discharge from the US Army. Originally my plan was to enroll at Kent State University for the beginning of the fall semester. I had stopped off at Kent State as I was making my way by train from Boston, where I was discharged, to Cincinnati, my hometown. I met with the basketball coach and played in a pick-up game so that he could assess my skills.
Once in Cincinnati, I decided to enroll in a summer course at UC so as to prepare myself for the beginning of classes at Kent State. Meanwhile I participated in some pick-up games at my old high school gym. My former coach, John Huheey, was impressed by my physical growth and skill acquisition since I had left high school in 1954. He contacted Ed Jucker, the freshman basketball coach at UC, and suggested that he take a look at me.
“Juck” and I met, and I participated in a pick-up game in the men’s gym on the campus. Juck was not present at the pick-up game, but based on the reports from those who were, I was offered a partial scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. I accepted the offer.
I enrolled in the College of Business Administration for the fall semester in 1957 and became a member of the freshman basketball team. My freshman English professor was Herman Newman. Professor Newman took an interest in me because I was a returning veteran, an excellent student, and a member of the basketball team.
Midway through the semester, Professor Newman and I sat down at his request to have a discussion. In the course of the discussion, he suggested that I consider transferring from the College of Business Administration to the College of Teacher Education. He told me frankly that because I was an African American, the College of Business Administration would be unable to place me in any meaningful co-op job. He went on to say that I would be able to make a much greater impact for the good of society in the education arena than in the business arena.
Following our talk, I transferred into the College of Education. I was a member of the University of Cincinnati varsity basketball team for the 1958–59 and 1959–60 seasons and completed my Bachelor of Science in Education degree. Although I had one more year of athletic eligibility, by accelerating my academic program and completing my degree requirements, I had to forfeit my final year of athletic eligibility.
I had excellent grades and a modicum of name recognition by virtue of my competing as a varsity basketball player on the University of Cincinnati basketball teams that had played in the Final Four NCAA basketball tournament in 1957–58 and 1959–60. That notwithstanding, I was unable to get an interview with any of the twenty-four public school districts located in Hamilton County.
I went back to counsel with Herman Newman. He stated that this was an unthinkable situation. I had not used up all of my GI Bill allotment, so I began taking graduate-level courses in the College of Arts & Sciences. Meanwhile Professor Newman began to work on my behalf to reverse the unfairness of the situation.
Carl Hubbard, the placement director for the College of Education, was in Jewish Hospital where he was confined with what would prove to be a terminal illness. Professor Newman went to visit him and managed to bring along to that meeting Forrest Orbaugh, personnel director for the Cincinnati Public Schools.
Newman and his wife, the well-known television personality Ruth Lyons, had an adopted teenage daughter named Candy. It was Candy’s job to call me and inform me of the progress of those discussions. One day, Candy called to inform me that her dad wanted me to go to the Cincinnati Board of Education to meet with Forrest Orbaugh.
Following that meeting, I was tendered a contract offer from Cincinnati Public and assigned to Withrow High School for the fall term, where I became one of the first four teachers to integrate the teaching faculty at my old high school. In 1965, I became the first African American to be hired as a head basketball coach in Cincinnati Public. The same year Willard Stargell became the first African American hired as a head football coach in the Cincinnati Public School System.
I continued to take graduate courses at the University of Cincinnati, alternating between the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Education. I completed my master’s of education in the summer of 1967. Dr. Charles Weilbaker conducted the culminating seminar that completed my work for the master’s degree. He very strongly encouraged me to apply for the doctoral program.
By this time, I had exhausted all of my GI Bill benefits and had accumulated enough credit hours that I was at the point where I would need to begin full-time residency, as required in the doctoral program.
I returned to teach and coach at Withrow High School for the 1967–68 season. At the conclusion of the season, I began my required residency at the University of Cincinnati. The spring quarter had barely begun when I received a call from George Smith, UC athletic director. Smith had been the head basketball coach when I was a member of the 1958–59 and 1959–60 teams. He was now calling to offer me a position as an assistant basketball coach.
We worked out an arrangement whereby I would complete my year’s residency requirement utilizing the spring quarter, the summer quarter, and the fall quarter and become a member of the UC basketball coaching staff. Thus, I became the first African American to hold that position at the University of Cincinnati.
The announcement was scheduled to be made at the end of the basketball season banquet to be held at the Netherland Hilton Hotel in downtown Cincinnati on April 4, 1968. In the midst of dinner being served, the Rev. L. V. Booth went to the microphone at the podium and announced that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot in Memphis, Tennessee.
As I reflect back on the stretch from the beginning of my arrival at the University of Cincinnati in 1957 to the completion of my doctorate in 1971, I recall the momentous events of that time: the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the killing of Medgar Evers, the March on Washington, the bombing of the church in Birmingham, the killing of John F. Kennedy, the killing of Freedom Riders James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the killing of Viola Liuzzo, the killing of the Rev. James Reeb, the killing of Malcolm X, the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., the shooting of James Meredith, the killing of Robert Kennedy, the horrors of Vietnam, the wounding and killing of students at Kent State University, the wounding and killing of students at Jackson State. It was a turbulent time.
In the mid-1960s the University of Cincinnati was in the process of transitioning from a municipal university to a state university. That transitioning process led to the establishment of a two-year college on the main campus of the university. This institution attracted many nontraditional students.
Dr. Harry Grove retired as president of Central State, located in Wilberforce. He joined the law faculty at the university in the fall of 1968. He was hired as a full professor based on his already demonstrated academic accomplishments. Not only did he become the first African American faculty member in the University of Cincinnati College of Law, he was the first African American to hold the rank of full professor at the University of Cincinnati.
During this time period from 1965 to 1970 the university hired Dr. Vera Edwards in the College of Education, Dr. Bruce Welch in the College of Education, Dr. Lawrence Hawkins as the head of Urban Initiatives, Dr. Thomas Jenkins as head of the Department of Community Planning, Mr. Paul Henry in the Department of Community Planning, Mr. Ron Temple as dean of the University College, Mr. Talmadge Warren in the Admissions Office, Mr. Herschel Hardy in Student Personnel Services, Mr. Rob Ridenour in the Upward Bound Program, Ms. Myrtis Powell as secretary to the dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Ms. Dorothy Hardy in the Student Personnel Services Office.
Some of these hires were attributable to the Great Society initiatives of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Others were attributable to the works of a secretive group called the Committee of 28. This group consisted of fourteen corporate leaders, all of whom were white males, and fourteen males deemed to be leaders within the African American community. Among this latter group were Joseph B. Hall of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Urban League and Dr. Bruce Green of the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP.
Both Ralph Ziegler and Lawrence Hawkins confided in me that there was indeed such a committee, that they were members of it, and that they participated in meetings held at Hueston Woods, a retreat center located outside the city of Cincinnati. According to Ralph Ziegler and Lawrence Hawkins no minutes of the meetings were kept.
Representatives of the corporate sector came from Procter & Gamble, the Kroger Company, General Electric, and the Milling Machine. The corporate leaders agreed to begin to hire African Americans into management-level positions within their respective organizations.
The University of Cincinnati was not a member of the Committee of 28; however, the president of the university was invited to one or more of the meetings and he, Dr. Walter Langsam, committed to the hiring of African Americans in faculty, coaching, administrative, and staffing positions.
I was totally unaware of this backdrop when I received the offer of employment as a member of the basketball coaching staff. I suspect that, with the exception of Lawrence Hawkins, the others were as unknowing as I was regarding the negotiating that took place at Hueston Woods. Again, I rely on the testimony of Lawrence Hawkins and Ralph Ziegler: the corporate leaders did not want it to appear that they were succumbing to pressure brought by the African American community.
In March 1963, after four little girls had been killed in Birmingham while attending church service, citizens marched in Cincinnati. There was talk of further marches in downtown Cincinnati as well as economic boycotts of major corporations. I became immediately aware of the push on campus by African American students for the employment of more African American faculty and coaches as well as curricular changes. This push for curricular changes led to the establishment of the African American studies program, which became part of the College of Arts & Sciences.
In subsequent conversations with Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, he confirmed that he was made aware of the existence of the Committee of 28 while serving with the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission. The commission had been established by President Johnson to determine the root causes of the civil unrest that was sweeping across cities such as Detroit, Cincinnati, and Chicago.
Meanwhile, students and faculty members were petitioning to have a greater voice in the overall governance of colleges and universities. This was clearly the case at the University of Cincinnati. I was in the dual position of being a graduate student writing my dissertation and being a member of the faculty and basketball coaching staff. This status afforded me an opportunity to participate in very intense and contentious discussions in 1970 as to whether or not the university should remain open or close in the wake of the shooting of students at Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State University in Mississippi.
Many students and many faculty members contended that no meaningful, learning-based, preset course syllabi could take place in such a stressful environment. Others, most representing the administration and the trustees of the university, held a very different position. These persons believed that the university should remain open and that the Ohio National Guard should be brought in to enforce that.
What seemed evident to me as I completed my dissertation and received my doctorate was that the role of colleges and universities in the larger society was being changed in very profound ways. Many felt it was imperative to implement affirmative actions to remedy past collective societal behaviors that negatively impacted the life opportunities of many sectors of the society based on gender, ethnicity, and economic class.