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First Consortium class: Voices from the past

Inaugural class members coped with tear gas, ambivalence among white classmates, the fall-out from the Kennedy and King assassinations and more.

For many years, The Consortium published a newsletter called “The Consortium Review.” This article is reprinted from the spring 1989 edition, featuring recollections from the inaugural class of tear gas, ambivalence among white classmates, the fall-out from the Kennedy and King assassinations and more.

IT’S A WARM St. Louis summer in 1967 and twenty black men, the newly selected Consortium fellows, are gathered at Washington University to participate in the first Consortium Orientation Program. Their average age is around 23, and many have just completed their undergraduate education.

The first Consortium logo that didn't include any of the member schools' logos.
The first Consortium logo that didn’t include any of the member schools’ logos.

At the same time, many unusual occurrences are taking place in America. The Vietnam Era Conflict is in high gear along with nationwide protests of that war. The 1964 Civil Rights Act is beginning to generate job opportunities for minorities and women, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream appears to be within reach.

Now, over two decades later, the Consortium Class of 1969 is rapidly approaching their twentieth anniversary. To tap their perspectives on what life was like during their two-year pursuit of an MBA, Harry Portwood talked with those who completed the program. This unique group discussed their views on what it was like in graduate business school, their toughest hurdles, how the MBA made a difference in their lives, and their plans for the future. They also shared their views on racial strife in the late sixties and compared it to today’s much publicized racial incidents on campuses.

The discussion began with each person sharing his perspectives on what life was like on a predominantly white university campus in the late sixties. For Arnell Johnson, being at Washington University in St. Louis was a different experience since he had never attended school with Whites. “Even though the late sixties were the waking years of civil rights, it was a strange experience transitioning from an all-black school.”

James Jackson noted there was some fear on the part of the 20 young black fellowship winners as they pursued their MBA studies. “You must remember that King and Kennedy were assassinated at that time, there was racial unrest along with black militancy, conservatives versus radicals… and Watts had burned.”

Also, Charles Randall mentioned that in Bloomington, Indiana, there were parades by the Ku Klux Klan. “That was not a comforting sight to see.” Randall exclaimed. Leon Todd mentioned interviewing amidst tear gas during a campus student demonstration. He commented, “There was a bewildering depression in the air about civil rights and a despondence about the loss of King and Kennedy, … but we have fared better than I would have predicted back then.”

Asked about some of the toughest hurdles for them, they mentioned in some cases, it was difficult getting started without a business background (didn’t understand the jargon); it was tough comprehending finance and accounting concepts; quantitative business analysis was a bear; just making the adjustment to a totally different environment was taxing.

Several people stated that, as a black graduate student, you carried a responsibility to be involved in black student and community affairs. This additional demand on your time required some stretching… but social responsibilities for this group were and still remain important. Both C. Vernon Mason and Charles Adams experienced a new addition to their families–baby girls.

It is enlightening that these pioneers went through this period with fairly positive attitudes about their MBA experiences. All felt the true leadership and guidance of select faculty members made the difference. These faculty members seemed to have had a hope about the future of Blacks in America. Regarding their white classmates, it was felt that some of the white classmates would have preferred not having them there. “The majority of Whites did not try to destroy our educational opportunity, nor did they try to help; few really cared,” said Randall.

When asked did the fellowship opportunity make a difference, all 10 who com— pleted the program and became the “Class of ’69” felt that without the MBA, their lives would have been much less dimensional. The MBA program provided a methodical approach and the analytical skills to manage with precision. Ray Weathersby stated, “It was exciting to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

An interesting aside to the above program benefits that were mentioned was the com— radeship that developed among the group. Being Black, needing each other, sharing and working together was a key ingredient. Larry Harris said, “The comradeship started at the Orientation Program… brotherhood developed from that experience. It was quite a learning experience and a ideal model for future fellows.”

In discussing their interest in a Consortium Alumni Association, most felt that it was needed, it was overdue and it would be a valuable asset. All see a need to be present at future Orientation Programs, if only to share their life experiences or to be “Big Brothers” to new fellows.

Although most experienced some racial strife in their college days, comparing their experiences in the sixties to today’s campus problems, today’s issues appear to be somewhat different and more perplexing. Carl Bradford stated, “Today we see a reflection of the tone of a conservative society. The 60s were a free time… Black power was on the way up. Now Blacks are being held back because others think we are getting too much.”

In the sixties, there was a motivation to be positive in helping overcome the inequities experienced by minorities. Now, it appears that many Whites assume minorities are seeking special privileges and getting them. Although this is not true in reality, some resentment exists, even a bitterness of sorts. Some Whites feel that it is now safe to openly vent their anger or to overtly voice racist thoughts.

The group was very concerned that today’s minority youth are more passive and therefore may not be adequately trained to manage racial issues. They feel a strong constitution is needed to cope with such problems. Further, the group felt as parents they need to stress black history and share their past experiences to ensure that their children are not lulled to sleep and thus make themselves more vulnerable to racial attacks.

The use of informal networks helped in the sixties. Students were different then… more into radical causes, resulting in a system to further the goal to improve the status of minorities. Emphasis has shifted—the “me first attitude” is now a matter of course. America has gotten rid of its guilt over the last 20 years.

Several members of the Consortium Class of 1969 pointed out that such behavior has become acceptable and more prevalent with surprisingly little reaction from Blacks. What does the future hold for this group? They are in their forties now and still have many years to continue in their careers. Most appear not to be satisfied that they have “made it” and all see future growth either in their professional endeavors or expect to provide greater attention to their community involvement.

Lamont Jones sums it up in this comment: “After 20 years, I think it’s been an invaluable experience but, I am still not as successful as I want to be.”

The next issue of The Consortium Review will present Part II of this article covering the Class of 1969’s thoughts and comments about our newly selected fellows along with a message to the Class of 1989.

A big “THANK YOU” goes out to this fine group for taking the time to candidly communicate their thoughts, feelings and insights. The excellent material provided by the group merits a two part series to enable us to share this material with our readers.

See the article as it first appeared in the 1989 edition of The Consortium Review (PDF).

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