All hail, Hale Hall
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Chief Diversity Officer Valerie Lee shares experiences from her youth in the turbulent 1960s and the importance of Ohio State's Hale Black Cultural Center.
As teens growing up in southern Maryland during the mid- and late-1960s, my friends and I watched the news coming out of Washington, D.C., 40 miles north of where we lived, with the eagerness of activists-in-training.
Unlike our small, placid bedroom community of Calvert County, founded by Lord Baltimore during the colonial 1660s, Washington, D.C. (aka “D.C." or “The District”), was a turbulent place where H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and other “agitators” for justice passed through. The District was the place where my friends and I first saw “Burn, Baby Burn” scrawled on walls and where we first heard college students shout “Black is Beautiful.”
Young and living in a rural community, we were high school Negroes in search of an identity, watching our urban college peers take the lead in naming themselves. The news coming out of The District said we could (re)claim our identity, our parents could vote and we could eat at any restaurant we wanted.
Thus began my first lesson on the difference between what one hears in D.C. and what one can do locally. My friends and I decided that we would eat at The Calvert Room, the local fine-dining restaurant opened for whites only. We decided to do this on the day when our predominately white high school authorized a long lunch break because the rest of the day would be spent practicing for our upcoming high school graduation ceremony.
When we decided to go to The Calvert Room, we fully expected to be seated and served. After all, if what “The Feds” said was true, who were we to question that all these privileges were not fully ours? Thus, on a hot spring day, one month after Dr. King’s assassination, we entered the restaurant with just enough swagger to show we had come of age and enough humility to remind us that we were south of the Mason-Dixon line.
As this story unfolds, I wish I could use the passive voice and say that we were seated. We sat down; we were never served. Rather, the older white waitress spitefully reported us to school authorities. Because I had stood up for what I was rightfully entitled to, I came very close to not being able to walk across the stage in the one graduation ceremony that tugged more at my heart than all the future, more cerebral ones would ever do.
Although national politics said I had certain rights, I learned to pay attention to local politics, too.
Today, even as I join the campus community in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act (an act voted on by The Feds in The District), I also want to celebrate progress on the local front. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center, a psychological and physical space that student activists and community supporters in the late-1960s fought for as part of a set of demands presented to Ohio State's senior administration.
These protests occurred during a time when the mettle of even liberal professors was tested; a time when the university expelled many African American students and their allies; a time when my husband, then an undergraduate, was one of the persons in the crowd accused of throwing a brick through a Bricker Hall window. It would be years later, after re-registering at a community college and another Big Ten school, before Ohio State would let him return to claim his mathematics degree. Now an attorney, he still feels the sting of standing with his mother in a room before senior administration “without representation.”
Although protests and sit-ins are not new to college campuses, the social justice protests at Ohio State during the late '60s and early '70s established the Hale Black Cultural Center, prompted the first intentional recruitment of African American students and faculty, pushed for a Department of Black Studies and created an Office of Minority Affairs (today, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion).
In other words, this Ohio State protest movement has had staying power.
We are inviting everyone to stop by Hale Hall, named after Dr. Frank W. Hale Jr., legendary Ohio State administrator and alumnus. A historical building, the original Hale Hall was the first student union at a public university, and it remains an aesthetically pleasing structure — Jacobethan architecture with parapeted gables and classic Doric and Ionic columns.
As Dr. Hale was fond of saying, “Commitment without cash is counterfeit.” We applaud the university’s investment in our building and location.
Situated on an Underground Railroad site, Hale Hall stands as a physical commitment to access and inclusive excellence. It is from Hale Hall that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion runs many of its programs, including the Hale Cultural Center; the Todd Bell National Resource Center; Latin American and Latino Space for Enrichment and Research [LASER]; the Young Scholars Program; the Morrill Scholars Program; ACCESS; the Ohio LSAMP Alliance; ADA; Gender and Sexual Diversity; Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color; the annual Multiple Perspectives on Access, Inclusion and Disability Conference; the National Conference on Diversity, Race and Learning; the Graduate and Professional Student Recruitment Initiative; Dissertation Boot Camps; Building the Professoriate Retreats; and more. These programs, as well as the quilts, sculptures and paintings that align the walls and grace our halls, are local legacies of a much larger movement.
So, yes, as a vice provost and vice president at Ohio State, I had no qualms about moving from Bricker Hall to Hale Hall. The windows in Bricker Hall always reminded me of my husband’s expulsion. Hale Hall is my current home. And even as I encourage all to visit the Civil Rights exhibitions at Thompson Library and Sullivant Hall, I also want you to remember to stop by Hale Hall, where we always have understood true education and diversity to be inseparable, inextricable and interdependent. All hail, Hale Hall!