Black Alumni Assn. plans 25th birthday bash for next May

by David Horowitz | 11/18/96 6:00am

Continuing its efforts to make the College a welcome environment for black students and alumni, the Dartmouth Black Alumni Association will bring hundreds of alumni, students and faculty to Hanover on Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the association's 25th anniversary.

The theme of the celebration is empowerment. The event will sponsor speakers and hold workshops to discuss present problems at the College and the alumni's role in addressing them.

The event is still in its planning stages. Some of the projected topics for the association include declining minority matriculation in the Class of 2000, developing a World Wide Web page, extending regional alumni networks and expanding Cutter-Shabazz Hall.

The association hopes to attract Fritz Alexander '47, a former New York Court of Appeals judge and first president of the association, as the keynote speaker, said Morris Whitaker '74, acting president of the association.

The Black Alumni Association originated in 1971 when a group of black undergraduates sought "to reach out to black alumni who they knew existed," but had no vital connection to the College, to Garvey Clarke '57.

Several black students at that time wanted to affiliate themselves with black alumni who had dealt with the major issues affecting black students at Dartmouth, Clarke said.

Whitaker said many black students at the College came from the urban South and immediately had to adjust to an alien environment of "white people, snow and trees."

Responding to the students' interest, several black alumni formed a steering committee and Clarke chaired it. The committee met several times with alumni in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Clarke said these meetings led them to create a series of four student workshops in 1971.

Interested black alumni "agreed to come to campus to discuss the issues" of concern, he said.

During a workshop called "Life After Dartmouth," many black students and alumni seriously considered the feasibility of a permanent organization of black alumni. The answer they all arrived at was "yes, it was definitely feasible," Clarke said.

The committee began planning with President John Kemeny and the first official meeting was held in May, 1972.

Clarke said the first goal of the association was to "set up an ongoing relationship ... and to encourage African-American alumni to be involved with the College."

Whitaker said he remembers their efforts paying off immediately.

"I remember black deans showing up, I remember a black studies department showing up, I remember lecture series showing up."

In general, Whitaker said he and his black peers noticed "the College making an effort to make us feel at home."

Around the same time, R. Harcourt Dodds '58 became the first black person to serve on the College's Board of Trustees.

Today, the Dartmouth Black Alumni Association is very active and is comprised of more than 1,600 members. Any black student who graduates from the College becomes a member in the organization.

Whitaker said the association's current mission is "to provide continuing and active support of black alumni ... to other black alumni and black and other minority students ... in matters of mutual concern affecting intellectual, social and economic" domains.

The association works closely with the African-American Society at the College.

African-American Society Faculty Advisor and Assistant Dean of the College Sylvia Langford said the relationship between black students, faculty and alumni is richer because they "are involved in a relationship to pass the new torch on to the current Dartmouth students."

Langford said members of the Black Alumni Association often visit campus to "share wisdom about the things they did here and the choices they are making now."

In addition to helping current undergraduates adjust to Dartmouth and evaluate their campus experiences, the association also offers career advice, interning and networking, Whitaker said.