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May 20, 1969 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1969-05-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

-A

a
special
feature

the

summer

daily

by
howard
kohn

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 1969

NIGHT EDITOR: JOEL BLOCK

The

Ferris

war:

r
a4

Keep the black

in

his

- BIG RAPIDS, MICH.
EXCEPT FOR THE liberal entrance poli-
cies of Ferris State College, Louis Stone's
biggest job might be sinking a layup in a
pick-up basketball game.I
Instead Stone has the thankless job of
mediating bitter skirmishes in a racial war
that the Ferris administration says doesn't
exist - hoping no one gets killed before
peace comes to this campus.
Stone transferred to Ferris two years ago
from Jackson Business College only because
Ferris would accept all of his credits to-
ward an accounting degree. Last summer he
founded an NAACP chapter - the only one
within 50 miles - to give black students a
voice and to give them organized protection
against white students.
Ferris has a unique policy of never turn-
ing anyone down simply because of grades.
Unfortunately this openminded attitude has
attracted mostly closeminded students -
often r u r a 1 "hicks" or suburban "beach
bums" who cut a close C-average in high
school.
Last Thursday night P. M. Rollins, a white
student who scrawls KKK across his note-
books, distributed a dorm newsletter which
condemned "negroes who eat like pigs."
"Pigs can be excused for leaving a mess
when they eat," wrote Rollins in the news-
letter. "But negroes are human beings and
should know better."
Some of the blacks went looking for Rol-
lins. Others called Stone who drove quickly
to Travis Hall and cooled off the "avengers."
But only a few hours later a bottle fight
broke out in the Travis lounge. John Baxter,
a black, was talking on an open-air phone
when an unidentified white student hurled
a bottle which splintered on the wall above
Baxter's head.
Baxter and John Miller chased the bottle-
thrower down a hall where they were sud-
denly ambushed by white students brand-
ishing golf clubs, baseball bats and broken
bottles.
Baxter escaped with cuts, Miller with a
battered eye. Aknd Stone w a s again sum-
moned to oversee an uneasy peace.
STONE IS BLACK, friendly, idealistic and
would like.to do nothing more than mark
t i m e until he graduates in December by
playing basketball.
But Stone is also the militant who led
263 black students into the Midwest's larg-
est mass student arrest in March of this
year.
Stone will be happy to leave Ferris, es-
pecially if he is still alive and doesn't have
a jail record.
"It's like living in a foreign country here
probably something like w h a t South
Africa must be," Stone says. "If you're black
you're treated like an animal. And if you're
black and outspoken, you're hunted down
like an animal.
"White guys say they're going to get me.
The administration says it's going to get me.
And everyone's serious about it."
FERRIS IS on the outskirts of Big Rapids,
a Northern Michigan town left over from
the lumbering boom of 90 years ago and
pocketed among outdated multi-crop farms.
On weekend nights coverall windwhipped
farmers wander from tired bars to college
dances where they try, usually unsuccessful-
ly, to pick up Ferris coeds. They fail largely
because Ferris is 80 per cent male.
But m a n y a sexhungry agrico becomes
more aggressive when he finds "a colored
girl." Black girls say they are almost in-
variably propositioned by whites if they are

place'
on the street after dark. If they are alone
they risk being assaulted.
Out of 15,000 townspeople only two are
black. And out of 8,200 students only 365
are black.
sEven so the black population at Ferris
has more than doubled in the past f o u r
years. Blacks are usually from t h e inner
cities of Flint, Detroit or G r a n d Rapids.
They come to Ferris to escape the deadend
streets, often courtesy of opportunity-
award grants.
But few could anticipate the strange hos-
tile .w o r I d of Ferris State College where
whites become sadistic racists because they
apparently have nothing better to do.
Orientation for most blacks is a welcome
note tacked on the dorm door, or sometimes
fancifully inscribed in the door with an elec-
tric drill. The notes have the same message:
"Go back where you came from, nigger."
The most popular graffitti for john wills
and cafeteria tables is "Eat shit, nigger."
And you can hear the same thing muttered
as whites pass by the bentral student lounge
where a coterie of blacks camp out each af-
ternoon to watch television.
BUT THE VIOLENCE of words is only a
prelude to the frightening nights of gue-
rilla fighting.
A lot of the whites grew up on tire-iron
fights in parking lots. And the blacks know
street survival. Some fights break out spon-
taneously. Others are planned by gangs who
lay in wait like medieval murrauders,
In the last 12 months 12 jumpings have
been reported. Many more went unreported
since the honor system preaches that re-
venge is your own, not the college's. Besids
most jumpers can never be identified.
All of this would seem highly improbable,
or at least incredibly exaggerated, were it
not for the brackish smell of racism of near-
ly every college function.
Racism starts in the dorms where blacks
live in "niggerland" - adjacent rooms us-
ually on the first floor.
The college says it has a policy of ran-
dom rooming. But inr practice house mothers
and resident advisors, all of whom were
white until this term, w o r k together to
maintain segregation. Though race isn't re-
ported on the incoming students' i n d e x
cards, the experienced house mother a n d
RA can single out the black pretty well just
by looking at his parents' address.
This system perpetuates itself because
house mothers record the names of return-
ing blacks. Except for a few initial mistakes.
blacks are isolated in "niggerlands" where
they become the punchline for the RA's fav-
orite threat: "If you don't shape up I'll move
you in with the niggers,"
CHESTER ST. CLAIR is the housing di-
rector. He denies all knowledge of the
system and points to cases where he h a s
okayed petitions to let blacks live w I t h
whites.
In one of those cases Vana Smith asked
her housemother, Mrs. Burke, for permis-
sion to transfer into a vacant spot in the
room of a white friend. Mrs. Burke said no.
Miss Smith appealed to the housing office
which agreed to the transfer.
Mrs. Burke obeyed the directive by mov-
ing Miss Smith into a room with a sadistic-
ally prejudiced white girl rather than with
her friend. On their first day together they
ended up fighting on the floor. Mrs. Burke
smiled, said she'd known all along the Smith
girl had a compatibility problem and sent
her back with the other blacks.
Black students say they h a v e no other

blacks on campus to identify with. Until this
term the college had only six black employe-
es - t h r e e janitors and three cafeteria
maids. The black fraternities and sororities
have white advisors.
Blacks say that campus police search them
and their rooms first when thefts are re-
ported. They claim that city and state po-
lice stop them for no reason as they walk
down the sidewalk. One black couple s a y
they were picked up by the city police, driv-
en several miles into the countryside and
then let out to walk back.
Black men charge t h a t house mothers
won't let. them sit in the lounges of women's
dorms, even though white men can. O n e
black claims he was kicked out while watch-
ing the television reports on the night Dr.
Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Professors seem wonderfully unconcerned
with the white-black conflicts. The 400-man
faculty is all-white.
Indeed some actively contribute .to t h e
harrassment. One English teacher flunked
a black woman because she read only black
authors for her book reports, despite her
argument that whites read only white au-
thors.
VICTOR SPATHELF presides over all of
this as president - and architect.
He w a s named president in 1952, three
years after Ferris became a state college.
Woodbridge Nathan Ferris founded the col-
lege in 1884 as a small private school.
Spathelf has built the college into a neat-
ly-patterned complex of r e d brick stucco
sprawled o v e r 400 hilly acres. Spathelf is
personally responsible f o r Ferris' growth,
now the fastest of any state college in the
Midwest.
His considerable charisma has charmed
donations out of downstate businessmen and
his lobbying success with the state Legisla-
ture is a standing marvel.
Spathelf's biography accomodates the us-
ual list of educational, religious and military
duties. His biggest selling point for the Fer-
ris presidency was an 11-year hitch at Wayne
State University where he is remembered as
a dictatorial dean of students.
No one questions Spathelf's dedication.
He is often at his desk 12 hours a day. Nor
does anyone challenge his right to have his
way. Secretaries joke that the sun won't rise
without his okay.
Even with a conglomerate of assistants and
faculty committees, he attends to many de-
tails himself-including a yearly inspection
of the textbook list.
E ARLY LAST SPRING Stone and four
black friends protested that Spathelf's
paternal eye was missing a highly objec-
tional book on the list-Joseph de Gobi-
neau's 19th-century anthology which states
conclusively that whites are the superior
race.
The book is a text for English 102, a re-
quired course. Many teachers assign it but
never discuss it; and students accept it
as academic truth.
The de Gobineau book emerged as a point
of honor after a five-hour discussion in
which the blacks gave Spathelf a point-
by-point rundown of their complaints.
Spathef finally said he would take the book
off the reading list.
"We wanted him to listen to what we
were saying. We thought we were getting
somewhere," Stone recalls. "We tried to im-
press on him that some of these things
were urgent, that he had to do something
fast."
But Spathelf apparently was not im-

pressed./And despite his promise de Gobineua
remained on the reading list.
"They came in here wanting instant an-
swers to problems that have built up over
years," Spathelf explains. "You can't
change a course of study overnight. You
body you can."
have to sit down and discuss it with ever'y-
The book is still being used, although
Spathelf says it will be removed after this
term.
In every sense Spathelf 4is more the re-
mote authoritarian administrator of Nicholas
van Hoffman's new novel than Stone is
the anarchist black.
"I think he thinks of students as numbers
on a ledger rather than as human beings,"
Stone says. "And black students are on the
debit side of the'ledger."
THE FALL TERM of 1968 brought a win-
ning football season, the first in a long
time-at Ferris. But as the united euphoria
wore off going into the winter term, the anti-
black abuse became more vicious and more
oyert. '
Instead of an anonymous mocking voice
in the crowd, whites lined up together to
force blacks off the sidewalk and into the
street. White men in hallways used their
T-square rules to lift up black women's
skirts. Whites even pushed blacks down
stairs.
Each episode seemed to be from the plot
of a horror movie in which the victims
become paranoid or neurotic or both.
Stone's strategy as president of the all-
black NAACP was defensive rather than of-
fensive. Many of his members are frightened.
Many more were angry. But he told them
only to protect themselves, not to start
fights.
Blacks were to walk in groups as much
as possible. Black women were not to go
out at night without a male escort.
Still each day seemed to push the blacks
another foot farther back into their corner.
On the night of Feb. 10 Mike Yeakey, a black
student, was sitting in the North Bond
lounge with his legs stretched out in front
of him and his shoes halfway off balanced
on his toes. North Bond has a rule that
shoes must be worn at all times.
An RA approached Yeakey and asked him
his name. Reportedly their conversation went
something like this:
RA: Okay, boy, put' on your shoes.
Yeakey: Don't call me 'boy.'
RA: Put on your shoes.
Yeakey: Why?
RA: Listen, if you don't put them on,
boy, I'm going to call the security guard.
Yeakey: Don't call me 'boy.'
The RA summoned Jim Walls of the cam-
pus police. Walls arrested Yeakey and took
him to the Mecosta County jail in Big
Rapids. Bail was ,set at $100. The charge
was disturbing the peace.
Two days later the NAACP sat in at the
student center to protest Yeakey's arrest.
Spathelf, who later admitted "that someone
used bad judgment in this case," rescinded
the charge.
During the sit-in, a group of white stu-
dents (all of them ex-GIs) sealed off the
demonstration and kept away reporters, on-
lookers and white sympathesizers who want-
ed to join. Spathelf said he knew nothing of
these supposedly self-appointed secret po-
lice.
But sources later said St. Clair, the erst-
while housing director, had asked them to
patrol the sit-in.
Stone again tried to see Spathelf to warn
him of an inevitable showdown between the
whites and blacks. Spathelf sent no reply
and took no action.
OPEN WARFARE came on Feb. 27.
Ed Johnson and Jackie Estes were
jumped outside a dorm by 12 whites carry-
ing crowbars, sticks and pipes. One had a
can of dog repellent which he released in
Estes' face.
Johnson and Estes escaped and brought
back a platoon of friends. Somone set off a
fire alarm; and students began piling out
of the dorms. Some white students had guns.
Others carried board with nails in them
picked up at nearby construction sites.

Stone arrived and helped the blacks bar-

"By this time I was pretty mad," explains
Stone. "I'd come down there and tried to
break up the fights. But when the cops just
stood there or egged on the whites, I said
the hell with it."
That was on Thursday.
Over the weekend whites ripped apart one
room in Brophy Hall's "niggerland." And
rumors that whites were returning from
home with rifles and shotguns flitted across
campus. The rumors soon turned to taunts
and even to dares for dueling.
On Sunday night the blacks gathered at
the library while Stone called both the cam-
pus and state police to investigate reports
of guns. By the time police arrived, several
hours after the calls, the blacks had already
decided to closet themselves in the library
for the night.
Whites milled around outside chanting
"White Power" and "Kill the niggers." The
blacks left at dawn.
DR. ALBERT WHEELER of Ann Arbor,
state representative to the national
NAACP, came to Ferris on Monday along
with other state civil rights leaders. Wheeler
and the student leaders met with Spathelf..
But they could find no solution to the ques-
tion of protection for the blacks.
Spathelf said he could not order white
students to 'surrender their guns. Besides,
he said, even if he did, they would probably
just get others in town.
The blacks, however, claimed they could
not trust the police to give them equal
protection.
After a conference among themselves
Stone led the blacks into Starr Auditorium
and chained the doors. Stone announced
they would remain there until sthey were
guaranteed safe conduct on campus.
Again a crowd of 2,000 whites stormed
the air with threats. Some of the whites
waved guns in their hands.
And once again the state police moved in,
70-strong this time. Instead of herding the
whites back to their dorms, they smashed
down the doors of Starr and arrested the
263 inside.
The orders came from Spathelf, with the

Walls had bragged to a group of black
girls that he didn't care whether they made
it back to their rooms at night or not. He
resigned at Spathelf's request.
St. Clair has not resigned. Rather he calls
the list of demands "rubbish."
Reportedly, he told a white applicant for
an RA job that "We can't hire you because
we've got to hire some of those dirty niggers
now."
St. Clair is a retired Air Force colonel
who worked in intelligence during World
War II interrogating POW's. A popular story
says that he came to Ferris in 1963 to crack
down on the Ferris social life after Playboy
picked Ferris in the top ten "swinging
schools" in the country.
He now keeps a secret file on the personel
records of student activists. He denies having
the files although several students have seen
them. He has also recently voluntarily testi-
fied before the Huber committee on campus
disorders.
He is currently under fire by the blacks
for two specific allegations.
One is that he urged white students milling
around the library to "get the niggers .. .
You outnumber them 20 to one." Two eye-
witnesses have sworn they heard him say
those exact words. St. Clair says they are
quoting him out of context and that he was
trying to quiet down the whites.
The other charge is that he allows dis-
criminating landlords to remain on the col-
lege's approved off-campus housing list.
Blacks have bitterly criticized the treatment
they receive from Big Rapids landlords. St.
Clair says they are distorting the situation.
A THREE-MAN team from the Civil Rights
Commission, headed by Russell John-
son of Grand Rapids, is looking into 14 al-
leged civil rights violations at' Ferris.
Johnson is expected to submit his report
to the CRC this week. Sources say he will
recommend that St. Clair be fired or at
least rapidly phased out.
Spathelf will likely balk at thai; sug-
gestion, since St. Clair has been his protege.
But because CRC rulings can be made bind-
ing in the courts, Spathelf will probably

a.

i

approval of his close friend, Gov. William
Milliken.
More than a month later, at the request
of Ferris' board in control, the Mecosta
County procecutor dropped the charges of
criminal trespassing.
Spathelf, however, has kept all 263 on a
strict probation. And he has filed charges
against five of them for malicious destruc-
tion of property. (During the library stay-in
the blacks stuck pieces of cheese between
covers of books, amounting to about $50 in
damages. State troopers who broke down the
doors of Starr caused $700 in damages.)
"The students who were responsible for
this outrage are going to pay for it, you
can be sure of that," adds Spathelf, who is
compiling data against Stone and other
NAACP officers. He hopes to charge them
with inciting a riot.
"I am convinced that this is part of a
national conspiracy which is sweeping our
campuses," he says. "The demands at Ferris
were almost identical to those at other col-
leges where Negro students have staged up-
risings."
ACTUALLY THE 20 demands listed by the
Ferris black are relatively mild. Most
are tied to the need for more black college

relunctantly give in and release St. Clair.
The U.S. Justice Department is also in-
vestigating Ferris. But no recommendations
or charge appear in the offing.
Spathelf says he has no plans or programs
aimed at reconciling the black-white fury.
"You think the campus is polarized? Well,
maybe you think it's my fault?" he answers
briefly. "Remember I'm not running a
popularity contest here.
"No, I don't have any readymade solutions
to the problems here. As soon as I get time,
though, I'm going to sit down and talk this
over with everyone from the top down."
In answer to Spathelf's snide aside that
the NAACP was only a divisive organization,
Stone launched a Black - Awareness Week
April 13-20. Black personalities of all ideal-
ogies lectured and held seminars.
The NAACP lost more than $1000 on the
project. "About 100 white students and
about 10 teachers paid their way in," Stone
laughs ruefully.
The Interested Students Society (ISS) is
-the only white liberal group on campus. ISS
supported the original' sit-in over Yeakey's
arrest but condemned later lock-ins at the
library and Starr.
"They're our enemies now just like all the
other whites," says Stone. "I think things
rnorh crpt.txrn ,.c h mP h ne e t better."

"b.
4-

.I

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