‘Concerned Student 1950,’ the history of black students at Missouri University, and black people in Columbia MO.

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By now we all know that University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe, and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin have resigned after protests by Concerned Student 1950, a hunger strike by grad student Jonathan Butler, and the support of the protests by faculty, members of the football team and its coaching staff.

Dave Zurin’s piece at The Nation, 3 Lessons From University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s Resignation, makes an important point:

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement threatens the operating of this machinery like nothing since the black athletic revolt of the 1960s and 1970s. These conferences, particularly the Southeastern Conference, field teams that, in the words of sports sociologist Harry Edwards, “look like Ghana on the field and Sweden in the stands.” In other words, black football players in particular have a social power often unseen and not commented upon. It’s there all the same.

These athletes are a sleeping giant. At a school like Mizzou, where just 7 percent of the students are black but a whopping 69 percent of the football players are, one can see how their entry in the struggle had a ripple effect that tore through Columbia and into the college football–crazed national consciousness.

This is not the first time that racism has reared its ugly head on college campuses across the U.S., and it won’t be the last. It is the first time in recent years that black student protest has had such powerful results.

The protests involved a list of demands from the student group. They have achieved some of them, and it is important to see how the University will deal with the rest.

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Here is the list of demands from Concerned Student 1950

Protest stops parade from Columbia Missourian

During the University of Missouri’s 104th homecoming parade, Saturday Oct.10, 2015, eleven black student leaders on campus interjected themselves into the parade, presenting UM system president Tim Wolfe, and the Columbia community with a demonstration addressing Mizzou’s history of racial violence and exclusivity. The demonstration covered the raw, painful and often silenced history of racism and discrimination on the University of Missouri’s campus. This history of racism at Mizzou dates back to 1935 when Lloyd Gaines petitioned the university to be its first Black law student and was denied admission. The actual year the first Black student, Gus T. Ridgel, was accepted in the University of Missouri wasn’t until 1950, hence this is where the concept of “Concerned Student 1950” comes from.

The mention in the demands of Lloyd Gaines, and Gus Ridgel piqued my interest, and I found this interview with him.

After he filed a lawsuit in 1950, MU was forced to admit Ridgel as its first African-American graduate student. He said the NAACP contributed to his education because money from his GI Bill had run out. Ridgel, who completed his undergraduate degree magna cum laude at Lincoln University, said he never experienced overt racism in the classroom, but he dealt with it elsewhere in Columbia. He recalled being denied service at local restaurants and coffee shops.”There was segregation off-campus,” Ridgel said. “There was no place I could eat.”

Ridgel lived alone in a two-person dorm room because no one was willing to live with him. The university originally tried to make him pay the full price but eventually only charged him the price of a single. According to Ridgel, the president of the student government association offered to live with him but retracted his offer after students threatened to run his father out of business if he did. Ridgel didn’t have much time to enjoy a social life, although he did view a couple of football and basketball games. He managed to complete the coursework of a two-year master’s program within one academic school year, in part because of finances.

Ridgel graduated in June of 1951 with a master’s degree in economics.

I was also curious about Lloyd Gaines, who had applied in 1935. Much to my surprise, I found an unsolved mystery.

On March 19, 1939, police in Missouri received the report of a missing person - 28-year old Lloyd Gaines -- who was black. In the 1930's, he was the plaintiff in one of the most important court cases in the U.S. civil rights movement. Gaines was denied admission to the all-white University of Missouri Law School. Gaines sued, and the US Supreme Court ruled in his favor. An additional lawsuit was planned, but Gaines disappeared. To this day, his fate is unknown.

In a Washington Post piece, writer Robert Elias, author of a forthcoming book “At What Price Equality? The Heroic Court Battle and Mysterious Disappearance of Lloyd Gaines.” wrote:

Lloyd Gaines had just become a civil rights pioneer. Denied admission to the University of Missouri’s Law School in 1935 because he was African American, Gaines sued, without much hope of winning in Jim Crow America. Yet after the U.S. Supreme Court finally heard his case in 1938, the justices ruled that unless Missouri created a black law school overnight, it would have to admit Gaines to the all-white law school. This was astonishing news for a black boy born dirt-poor in rural Mississippi who had watched racism follow his family’s migration north to St. Louis.

In the spring of 1939 it appeared, remarkably, that Gaines would enter the Missouri Law School later that year as the first African American ever enrolled there. On the cold, rainy evening of March 19, Gaines told a housemate he was going to buy stamps. He went out . . . and was never seen again. What happened to Lloyd Gaines? Did he vanish because he and his family were threatened? Was he bribed to abandon his plans? Was he overwhelmed by the pressures of fighting his case? Was he so traumatized that he committed suicide? Was he murdered by racists? Did he leave the country?

There is evidence for all these theories, but the case has never been solved, or even seriously investigated, despite occasional pleas to the FBI by the NAACP and others. Not only did this legal trailblazer vanish, but the extraordinary story of his life and groundbreaking efforts also have been largely overlooked.

It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about the states’ checkered history with race in ‘Show Me’ Missouri racism. What I didn’t write about was a lynching in which white Missouri U students, male and female, participated, which you can read about in detail here: The Lynching of James T. Scott: The Underside of a College Town

I suggest reading Summary Justice: The Lynching of James Scott and the Trial of George Barkwell in Columbia, Missouri, 1923, by Doug Hunt, for more of the history:

In the spring of 1923, in a university town that had been proud of its progressive attitudes, a mob of several hundred men and women gathered to watch the lynching of a black man accused, wrongly it seems, of raping a professor’s daughter.

The lynching caused a national outcry among black activists. “We are glad to note,” W. E. B. noted in The Crisis, “that the University of Missouri has opened a course in Applied Lynching. Many of our American Universities have long defended the institution, but they have not been frank or brave enough actually to arrange a mob murder so that students could see it in detail.”

Hunt’s book describes both the mob’s actions and the attempts of some citizens, black and white, to bring its leaders to justice. Enthusiastic readers of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” may be interested in this account of how justice operated in a Southern town when its representatives were men more ordinary and flawed than Atticus Finch.

Missouri Corrects Record On 1923 College-Town Lynching

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Hundreds looked on as an angry mob dragged a black University of Missouri janitor from his jail cell in April 1923, publicly lynching him before he could stand trial on charges of raping a white professor’s 14-year-old daughter.

Historians say the instigators included some of Columbia’s most prominent citizens. The crowd that watched James T. Scott hang was filled with laughing and cheering students from the first public university west of the Mississippi River.

Efforts are being made to correct the horrors of the past. In 2010:

Eighty-seven years later, civic leaders have come together to confront an ugly episode in Columbia and correct the record on the death of Scott, who insisted the rape allegation was a case of mistaken identity. Local filmmaker Scott Wilson teamed up last month with the Boone County medical examiner’s office to successfully lobby state officials to change the cause of death on Scott’s death certificate.

The primary cause is now listed as “asphyxia due to hanging by lynching by assailants.” A secondary cause of “committed rape” was removed and now reads “never tried or convicted of rape.” “This was done solely for one purpose,” Dr. Michael Panella, associate medical examiner, said of the original listing. “And that was to justify an unjustifiable and heinous act.”

It is a good thing that this ugly history is once again seeing the light of day. Let us not forget we haven’t buried racism — yet. Its roots are deep in this nation, in Missouri, and at the campus. The Missouri protests do not stand alone however, since there are currently protests underway at SUNY Plattsburgh, and at Yale.

(cross-posted to Black Kos)

  24 comments for “‘Concerned Student 1950,’ the history of black students at Missouri University, and black people in Columbia MO.

  1. Denise Velez
    November 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    I am glad to see the push-back on campuses. I’ve had to go through too many “incidents” over the years where I teach, and I’m at a school considered to be the most liberal in my state system

  2. JanF
    November 10, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Sadly, there is strong evidence that the resignation of MU President Tim Wolfe was due simply to the economics of college sports rather than any serious concern about the welfare of black students. He has had months to address these issues but only when the university was faced with a $1 million plus fee if they had to cancel Saturday’s game did he “do something” (actually, he did nothing, he quit and left it to whoever comes after him to clean up the mess)

    The resignation of Wolfe may signal a short-term victory for minority populations at universities, but it signals something else, too: the economic stranglehold that college football has on the decisions made by these institutions. The experiences of racism at the University of Missouri needed to be addressed, and it appears that it took those with the most financial influence to make that happen.

    Thanks for the explanation and the backstory. No, we have even come close to burying racism but every time it is exposed to the light of day , it gets easier to find people upset enough about it to push for change.

    Missouri has an ugly history of racism that first came to national attention after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It is not surprising that racism would be an entrenched part of the culture at their mostly white state university.

    Mad props to the student-athletes who would not be bullied into just sitting by while this was happening. Activism doesn’t often yield such quick results! Maybe that is a sign that a corner has been turned.

    • Denise Velez
      November 10, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      Well – it certainly lays out a road map for students at other schools that care more about football or basketball than they do about students – it is sad that the $$$ is the only thing that matters – not black lives – but whatever works – sigh.

  3. Molly
    November 10, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I will mention here that when I was a student at Mizzou 1966-1970, I had a black roommate who was from Kansas City. There was at least one other black woman on our floor of a brand new dorm, and she had a white roommate also. My roommate was one of the most popular on the floor. At the same time there was still a fraternity that flew the confederate flag.

    • Denise Velez
      November 11, 2015 at 5:19 am

      Thanks for sharing that. There are Mizzou white students who are part of the protests. That is progress.

  4. JanF
    November 10, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Jay Bookman: New found power?

    “… it’s hard to believe college football players who have devoted their whole lives to the game would have taken such a dramatic step unless they shared a strong, widespread sentiment something had gone awry.”
    “They also apparently realized for the very first time that college coaches, athletic directors and TV sports networks aren’t the only ones with real clout. As the Saturday heroes — the men who make the dazzling runs, the bone-crunching tackles and humiliating fumbles, the men who suffer the knee damage and concussions — they too have power.”
    “If the school is going to use their names and bodies and talent to build its brand, fill its stadium, attract students, generate tens of millions of dollars in TV revenue, grease alumni donations and reap other benefits that far outweigh the value of the education they are given, well, there’s a thing or two they want in return, such as the basic respect of being heard.”


    • Denise Velez
      November 11, 2015 at 5:25 am

      I really think that student athletes need to be paid – the amount of money schools rake in on their backs is stupendous. Yes, they get scholarships – but they also risk permanent injury, and very few will go on to pro careers.

      • bfitzinAR
        November 11, 2015 at 12:57 pm

        They should at least have a scholarship that pays 100% (tuition, fees, books, housing) plus a stipend. Something like only 2% ever make the pros and most of those either wash out or get injured within the first 2 years (this is what Dr. Gordon Morgan told me before he retired). And many schools – sometimes this one – have the attitude of “use them up and throw them out”. The graduation rate compared to non-football players is not good.

  5. JanF
    November 11, 2015 at 6:42 am

    Some commentary from ESPN’s Howard Bryant: At Missouri, the invisible claim a victory

    The power of the Missouri football team provided the fulcrum, because money ultimately forced the action. But so much of the uprising was rooted in the frustration of minority students facing years of entrenched racism. They were demanding the ouster of a president and supported by a faculty whose actual preference was to oust the chancellor. It all stemmed from a movement to address major offenses that were deemed too trivial by an administration whose only response had been to advise that those slapped get tougher, have thicker skin, get over it.

    On Monday, in an extraordinary day of images, a coalition of the invisible stood victorious for now, elated by the hope that regime change will allow different hands, darker hands to share the controls at long last. At the podium were black students, led by young black women perennially erased by a country of gentlemen who prefer anything, everything, to them standing there. They were aligned with Payton Head, the student body president who leads from the margins as black and gay, supported by former Tigers linebacker Michael Sam, black and gay and famously out, supported both by faculty and by the biggest men on campus with the littlest share of the NCAA pie: the Tigers’ football team …

    Wolfe strengthened the coalition by ignoring it, by being the powerful one who never listened, so that each of the many issues grew in importance.


    The protest was inconvenient because a convenient protest is a losing one. The protest was uncomfortable because a comfortable one is a laughable one.

    When people say that #BlackLivesMatter is “disruptive” we should remember these words.

    The conclusion:

    It was a victory to be savored, but its true value will not be known for some years to come, when the university either offers people of color a seat at the table or, if the new bosses are as dismissive as the old ones, merely pretend that diversity means a different-colored marionette controlled by the same hand on the strings.

    I hope for the former. We will be watching.

  6. Denise Velez
    November 11, 2015 at 6:58 am

    I am worried for the safety of the black students on the campus

    Have been trying to follow news reports of a social media death threat, and a bomb threat….and more.

    • November 11, 2015 at 7:55 am

      We saw something about it on GMA this morning. Hope the authorities get to the bottom of this quickly so that no one is hurt. I’ll keep checking the news too.

    • JanF
      November 11, 2015 at 10:36 am

      They apparently have apprehended the person making the threat:

      @MSNBC: Mizzou authorities apprehend suspect who allegedly threatened campus on social media http://on.msnbc.com/1Y4uWfx (Getty) http://twitter.com/MSNBC/status/664463578196480000/photo/1

      The person was never physically close to the campus, thank goodness.

      • Denise Velez
        November 12, 2015 at 6:19 am

        That is very good to hear!

        • JanF
          November 12, 2015 at 7:45 am

          They found a second person who apparently used something called Yik Yak to post a threat. The first kid was in Rolla, where there is another University of Missouri campus – the one that specializes in engineering, and the second was from a campus in the northwestern part of the state. Neither posed a real threat. I hope it stays that way.

  7. November 11, 2015 at 8:06 am

    Just read this sobering post, Denise. OMG, I don’t know what to say about the ugliness, racism, and outright murder. Lloyd Gaines was murdered, we know he was, the poor lad. Until my dying day I will never understand racism, never. I do understand patriarchy and the white male order of rule by violence and oppression.

    I’ve always loathed the state of Missouri for reasons of my own and this cements my feelings of disgust. Will we ever see the day when racism no longer exists? I wonder.

    • JanF
      November 11, 2015 at 8:38 am

      I lived in Misery (my word for Missouri) for about a decade and many of my family members still live there. It is extremely racist … Ferguson was not some one-off strange anomaly in an otherwise unblemished history of inclusiveness. People are still shocked possibly because it was not one of the original Confederate states but that was not for lack of trying.

      • Denise Velez
        November 11, 2015 at 9:21 am

        Ha! “Misery” – I like that.

        I have only spent a brief period of time in St. Louis, MO and in neighboring East St. Louis across the river in IL.

        I was there long enough to see, hear, feel the racism.

      • bfitzinAR
        November 11, 2015 at 1:08 pm

        Like AR, MO had troops on both sides of “The War” – and like AR, MO has never recovered. I lived in KC, KS for 5 years and that was bad enough. Best I can figure out the 1% and above isolate themselves from the mush pot (the rest of us) but within the mush pot low-class white folks hang onto their racism (and sexism) because they are so low only by doing so can they have any claim to “superiority”. The patriarchal system is a 2-dimensional, black/white, good/evil, superior/inferior system. The very concept of equality is inconceivable to them. Their brains aren’t wired for it or something. The term equality doesn’t mean equal to them, it means not-superior and thus inferior. And I really don’t know how that even can be addressed as far as “changing hearts” is concerned. So like Hillary said, we change policy and hope we get a few hearts once the new policy turns out to be OK.

        • November 12, 2015 at 8:05 am

          Bfitz, I think you’ve nailed it with this statement:

          …but within the mush pot low-class white folks hang onto their racism (and sexism) because they are so low only by doing so can they have any claim to “superiority”. The patriarchal system is a 2-dimensional, black/white, good/evil, superior/inferior system.

          Yet in Denmark people seem to enjoy feeling equal, not superior.

    • Denise Velez
      November 11, 2015 at 9:15 am

      We won’t live to see it – sadly. We can however contribute to its demise. That is the only thing that allows me to have hope for future generations.

  8. bfitzinAR
    November 11, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Thought you might like to see what the current (former and interim) Chancellor of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville emailed to the campus community yesterday.

    November 10, 2015

    Dear University of Arkansas Community Member:

    You may be aware of the events occurring on the campus at the University of Missouri as they address the ever-present need to treat every person as an individual worthy of respect. I am sure you will join us in wishing our faculty, student and staff colleagues in Columbia the very best as they struggle with a battle of tolerance, compassion and inclusion that we all know we must fight every day for the betterment of mankind.

    The struggles at Missouri should cause all Americans to look at how they are doing in their fight for equality and respect as espoused in our country’s Declaration of Independence. Everyone on the University of Arkansas campus community should also stop to look at where we are, as a campus and as an institution, in recognizing that we can never relent in our fight to make each Razorback feel that he or she is wanted, needed and respected, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other characteristic that does not define or limit our humanity. We should do it not because of the difficulties at Missouri, but because it is the right thing to do.

    With the Thanksgiving season fast approaching, we hope the university community is thankful for the good things we have. But we must also use this opportunity as a university to take the lead in publicly condemning unequal treatment of anyone.

    Sometimes we feel that there is little that we can do as individuals to redress such long standing societal wrongs. But let us remember the inspiring words of Edward Everett Hale, who in 1902 said, “I am only one person, but still I am one person. I cannot do everything. But still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

    By recommitting each day our university to the cause of justice, equality and inclusion to all, and by each of us recognizing that even as one person we can do something, we can make the University of Arkansas a better place for every one of us to live.

    Please join me in that recommitment,

    Daniel E. Ferritor
    Chancellor, 1986-1997, 2015

  9. JanF
    November 11, 2015 at 5:22 pm


    “The Mizzou group Concerned Student 1950, behind many of the campus demonstrations, asked black students and alumni Wednesday to “tell us your experiences” about being “marginalized,” using the hashtag #BlackOnCampus.”


    • Denise Velez
      November 12, 2015 at 6:24 am

      Am heading over to read that. Thanks Jan. Can’t really do much net surfing this morning. Our Internet is out, has been since last night. No word yet from Time Warner when it will be fixed so am on my mobile.

      • November 12, 2015 at 8:06 am

        Hope your Internet will be back up soon, Denise! How tedious for you. :(

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