Massive Resistance or Massive Representation?
After the 1978 Supreme Court decision in University of California v. Bakke, Affirmative Action received significant backlash from the public. Whites were becoming frustrated with what they believed was reverse discrimination (Schulman, 69-70). They feared that despite their high qualification, they were being turned down in order to promote diversity. Even before Bakke, Madison College was experiencing this need to prove Affirmative Action’s worth. In order to do that, they needed to make sure the African-Americans they accepted went above and beyond all established expectations. The first African-Americans were accepted into Madison in the late 60s and began to graduate by 1970.
According to their representation in the Bluestone, Madison College’s yearbook, these first African-American students were prominent members of the Madison community; however, with Affirmative Action, Madison College could not afford to publicize African-Americans who were below average or even average. The African-Americans portrayed in The Bluestone are, thus, those that achieved above and beyond what was expected of them. It is important to indicate that in the notes leading up to the 1978 Affirmative Action plan for James Madison University, there was an order to feature more African-Americans in the yearbook, showing their contributions to the school; thus, the prominence of these women could be contributed to a propaganda strategy, celebrating the institution’s acceptance of incredible African-Americans who gave back to the community (Affirmative Action, 1978).
Sheary Darcus was the first African-American to graduate from Madison College in 1970. She was Vice President in Concert Choir her senior year, as well as a member of Alpha Beta Alpha, a library science honors fraternity. Darcus gave back to the Madison community as well, serving as a freshman counselor her senior year. She graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Library Science (Bluestone, 1967-1970). Darcus chose to continue her education at Madison College earning her master’s degree in 1974. She would also go on to get her Doctorate in Education in 1988 from the University of Virginia (Scott, 2010). Her credentials, spelled out in the Bluestone, emphasize her triumphant integration onto campus life.
Sandra Johnson was accepted into Madison College in 1968. She participated in Concert Choir alongside Sheary Darcus for two years, taking Darcus’ place as Vice President her junior year. In her senior year, she claimed the title of President of the choir. She was also a member of Alpha Beta Alpha, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education and Library Science (Bluestone, 1969-1972). Her dual major indicates her own spectacular achievements at the university. In order to avoid criticism of Affirmative Action, Madison College had to show that the African-American students they accepted were worthy of being there. Both Darcus and Johnson do just that.
Saranna Tucker entered Madison College at the same time as Sandra Johnson. She participated in Delta Sigma Theta (an African-American service sorority), and was the Vice President of Dance Theater her senior year (Bluestone, 1969-1972). She is pictured with the social science seniors in 1972, but her graduation information could not be found. The fact that her information is not published in the Senior Directory might be indicative of this idea of only publicizing the most spectacular African-American students. Out of the four African-Americans pictured among the seniors in 1972, Sandra Johnson was the only one with her information listed in the Senior Directory, and her contributions to the Madison community are obvious (Bluestone, 1972). Perhaps, the other three did not make as much of an impact during their time at Madison.
In September of 1972, when enrollment passed 5,000, only 72 African-Americans, including Johnson and Tucker, were enrolled at the College (Jones, 168). While two of these women are prominently featured in the Bluestone, they do not represent a full cross-section of African-Americans attending the university. All 72 African-Americans are not represented in the Bluestone, and, perhaps, they did not exemplify the same accomplishments that Darcus and Johnson enjoyed; thus, they did not provide such a great example of Affirmative Action and the College’s own implementation of the plan.
James Madison University Affirmative Action Plan. Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA. 1978.
The Bluestone. Harrisonburg: James Madison University, 1967-1972.
Jones, Nancy Bondurant. Rooted on Blue Stone Hill: A History of James Madison University. Staunton: Center for American Places, 2004.
Schulman, Bruce J. The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2002.
Scott, Fred. “Madison Mahogany Memoirs.” James Madison University Black Alumni Chapter. 2010 Program.