“Harambee” was an activism group for radical thinkers formed by Madison students. The word is Swahili for “people working together for the betterment of all.” Though not officially recognized by Madison College until the fall of 1970, the group became active on campus in the fall of 1969. Harambee’s self-proclaimed purpose was to “further student rights on campus, unify the student body, and arrest student apathy in matters which concern Madison” (1970 Bluestone, 198). The club provided an outlet for students to express themselves – particularly when their views conflicted with the mainstream, conservative outlook presented by other campus groups. In particular, Harambee embodied a rejection of the administration’s views and those of their puppet organization – the Student Government Association. The tension between these groups is made evident in Harambee’s alternative campus newspaper, the Fixer. For more information on this subject, see this post. Harambee contributed more to campus life than an alternative paper; they also hosted controversial events and guest speakers like Jane Fonda.
To hear student participant Jay Rainey talk about the club’s significance, click here. (Turner interview.)
Leslie (Les) Hammond became the president of Harambee in 1970. He participated in political demonstrations and regularly contributed articles such as this one to the Fixer (Vol 1 no 14). Some sources suggest he may have even led a demonstration at Madison College in the spring of 1970 (Guill). As evidenced in the picture above, he was also involved in Greek life. His membership in the fraternity TKE reinforces the notion that our understanding of student activism in the 1970’s is generally skewed. Radical, extremist hippies were not the norm. Furthermore, they were not the only ones asking for social change – especially on Madison’s campus. As exemplified by Hammond, student activists came from every walk of life and could be found in every social clique.
Jay Rainey was, perhaps, one of the most radical individuals to attend Madison College in the 1970’s. At least, he is unique in that the administration singled him out for his nonconformist behavior. Rainey first attended classes from the fall of 1966 to the spring of 1968. At the end of his sophomore year, the administration wrote to him saying he was not welcome to return in the fall of 1968. His dismissal was based entirely on the administration’s disapproval of his appearance; Rainey wore his hair too long and dressed too strangely for their conservative taste. Rainey took Madison College to court for denying him the right to due process, and he won. Click here to listen to Rainey speak about his relationship to the administration.(Turner Interview)
Upon his return to campus in 1969 and until his graduation in 1971, Rainey was an active member of Harambee. He served as the editor of the Fixer, participated in student protests, and even went to jail for his role in the Wilson sit-in of 1970. Consider the ways in which Madison chose to make an example of Jay Rainey. This student represented the utmost extent of radical liberalism on Madison’s campus. While his activism is significant, nothing about Rainey suggested dangerous rebellion. In an interview conducted by Jeremy Turner, faculty member Dr. Wood said of him, “He didn’t set fire to buildings or carry guns or anything like that” (listen here). In other words, the most offensive hippie Madison College was forced to deal with never threatened violence or carried out extremist measures of demonstration.
Guill, Julia. “Questions from Students to Dean Fox and President Miller.” JMU Special Collections. SGA 93-0401 box 2 Harrisonburg, VA.
Hammond, Les. “Digging the Weeds.” the Fixer 1 no. 5.
Harambee, 1970 Bluestone, Harrisonburg, VA: James Madison University, 1970. p 198.
Turner, Jeremy. “Jay Rainey Interview.” Blacksburg, Va. January 30, 1998. JMU Special Collections Oral Histories, Harrisonburg, Va. Mp3s created and edited by Emily Kohlhepp.
Turner, Jeremy. “Dr. John Wood Interview.” Harrisonburg, Va. March 4, 1998. JMU Special Collections Oral Histories, Harrisonburg, Va. Mp3s created and edited by Emily Kohlhepp.