Clash of Cultures: An Introduction to Integration at Madison

By the late 1960s, integration was becoming a major federal initiative.  President Johnson’s Executive Order of 1965, spelling out Affirmative Action, mandated that no institution could discriminate based on “race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, and [maintained] that affirmative action [guaranteed] all qualified applicants and employees the same equal employment opportunity” (Hasday, 111).  Madison College’s integration, including their interpretation of Affirmative Action, would have differed from several other institutions because of its more unique circumstances.  Not only was Madison a southern campus, but it was also a women’s college until 1966, coincidentally the same year the first African-Americans were admitted.

"Senior 'Plantation Party' Offers Traditional Southern Hospitality"

“Senior ‘Plantation Party’ Offers Traditional Southern Hospitality,” Breeze 1954
This article, written in the same year as Brown v. Board, shows how racism was represented, however unconsciously, in Southern culture

As a southern campus, the college was expected to embrace the social conservative values that would lead to such practices as massive resistance and white flight.  It would be reasonable to assume that like other southern institutions, Madison resented integration.  Indeed, Brown v. Board ordered the integration of public schools with “all deliberate speed” in 1954, and it was not until 1966 that Madison complied, illustrating their initial compliance with southern efforts to avoid all measures of integration (Hall, 2009).  On the other hand, the feminine campus might have been less reluctant to integrate, because black women were not seen as a huge threat.  In Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s A Red Record, she claimed that one excuse for segregation was an unfounded fear that black men would assault white women; thus, the main fear in desegregation of higher education was over the threat of black men against white women (Wells-Barnett, 7).  With the introduction of men onto campus at the same time, white women were more protected.

Finally, town-gown relations in Harrisonburg were heavily strained.  Despite its small town location, Madison was caught up in the student uprisings of the 1960s and 70s.  The April 1970 Revolts, led by student activist Jay Rainey, strained relations even further as the conservative city of Harrisonburg fought to control the more liberal students.  In an oral interview with Jay Rainey, he claims that in addition to the April Revolts, some students also led a protest through town encouraging black rights, which exhibits the duality of the community (Rainey, 33).

Madison College provides an interesting study of integration, because the campus was suspended between a conservative, southern culture and the more liberal student culture.  This project will attempt to show how the two cultures collided in the College’s attempts to integrate.

Works Cited:

Fosnight, Ann. “Senior ‘Plantation Party’ Offers Traditional Southern Hospitality.” The Breeze 33, no. 7 (November 1954): 1.

Hall, Kermit L. and James W. Ely, Eds. The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Hasday, Judy L. The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2007.

Rainey, Jay. Interview by Jeremy Turner. Blacksburg, VA. January 30, 1998.

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. A Red Record. London, The Echo Library, 2005.