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Mills has a ‘rich black history’

Mills has a rich black history that dates back to the 40s, when theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman taught here. There may be documentation related to a black presence before that time as well. Thurman was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mentor. Langston Hughes, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison conducted readings at Mills in the 60s, 70s and 80s and as you may well know many of the black alumnae have gone on to make significant contributions as well. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Time/Warner executive Bonnie Guiton are just a few.

Mills also has had some exemplary scholars who served on the faculty including Dr. Robert Allen (author/sociologist), Dr. Clyde Taylor, (literary critic and author) Anthony Braxton (musician), Dr. Francille Roussan Wilson (Historian), Dr. VeVe Clark (Diaspora literary specialist) and Dr. Toby Coles (sociologist). Ntozake Shange taught at Mills for a semester during the 70s and the campus was rich with the poetic and political dynamics of that period.

If you search the archives of the library you are bound to find a wealth of material regarding the black presence at Mills, including a tape of Langston Hughes doing a reading in the early 60s and a tape of Toni Morrison reading in the early 80s. You also should find documentation related to a major exhibit “On These I Stand: An Exhibit of Rare by Black Authors (February 1978).” That exhibit resulted in Mills purchasing scores of rare first edition black books, including Iola Leory, which was then known as the first black book written by a black American woman. Works by Gwendolyn Brooks, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Emma Dunham Kelley were featured. Harlem Renaissance author Willard Motley attended the opening, along with a list of literary luminaries including Quincy Troupe, Barbara Christian and Ishamel Reed. The idea for the exhibit came about as a result of research conducted by a former student.

The community response was overwhelming and the exhibit remained for two extra months. ABC News also did a feature on the exhibit and hundreds of school children, teachers, journalists, Mills students, faculty and scholars visited.

Other major events mounted to enrich the black intellectual and cultural presence at Mills during that period included The Third World Film Festival and The Right-On Rainbow Children’s Book and Film Festival, which featured award winning children’s authors.

I hope all of you will do something to contribute to the ongoing black legacy at Mills and that you will continue to insist upon the kind of intellectual and cultural enrichment that make for an even stronger institution.

Daphne Muse, Writer

Member of the Faculty (English and Ethnic Studies between 1975 and 1984, she returned to the English department from 1991 to 1993.