Just Being There

by Linda Lee, WAKE FOREST MAGAZINE, July, 1970

The alumnus was talking about human relations and integration at the University, and he was smiling broadly:

"Anybody who has been associated with Wake Forest knows that the University has come a long way. It's a good place to be. You have a good faculty -- open-minded people who are really sort of moving with the times. You can really say that on the whole the atmosphere on campus is very healthy.... Not that Wake Forest has achieved any kind of perfection yet, but Wake Forest is still forging ahead. I think anyone who has graduated from here would probably be proud of what the University has done and is doing."

The speaker was peculiarly well qualified to make the evaluation: he is Edward Reynolds, the man who brought integration to campus, the first black student to graduate from Wake Forest.

In 1962, Ed Reynolds, a young student from Ghana, came to Wake Forest because he "thought it would be very nice to have a part in bringing down the racial barriers in a major American university."

"I had no illusions about being a crusader," he says.

There is only so much one person can do. The important thing was just being here and being myself."

In 1970, Ed Reynolds, a doctoral candidate at London University and an ordained Baptist minister, is teaching summer school at Wake Forest. He will go to London in the fall to complete his thesis, and then will return to the United States -- he is not yet sure where -- to "teach and preach." And, he adds, again with a broad grin, he intends to be a missionary to the United States; he plans to offer help wherever he sees a spiritual need. One of the major needs he already sees is in the area of human relations. While emphatic in his praise of developments at Wake Forest, Reynolds is also eloquent in his expression of the problems that linger here and on other campuses. He uses a discussion of the difference between desegregation and integration to explain what he views as the main trouble: the legal, physical act of desegregation has been achieved at Wake Forest, at most other schools, and in most areas of society, he says. But true integration -- a term that to him is more a matter of attitudes and spirit -- is lacking.

"Now you say that black people can come to Wake Forest," he says. "But the fact that black people are admitted to an institution doesn't mean they are accepted as a part of the community. Sure, there are more black students here now, but that doesn't necessarily mean there has been progress in integration. Most of the black and white students don't have that much to do with each other. You can only get to know somebody through interaction, interchange of ideas, and personal contacts. There aren't too many people here who really sort of go out of their was to make friends with people of another race. There probably is going to have to be much more of this if there is going to be any real integration on this campus — or anywhere else."

Reynolds said that, ironically, he as the first black student may have found more of this genuine integration than do the more numerous black students of today, and part of the reason may have been because he was a foreign student as well as a black student. He was brought here through the efforts of a student group which specifically wanted to integrate Wake Forest. The students asked Baptist missionaries in Africa to recommend worthy students, and it was through a missionary in Ghana that they found Ed Reynolds. When the students first brought Reynolds to the States, Wake Forest was still legally segregated, so he studied at Shaw University while waiting for the barriers to be removed.

"Isn't it strange," Reynolds asks, "that Wake Forest students who wanted to integrate had to go across the Atlantic to find a black student?" He quickly adds, however, that for his sake he is glad they did. "I don't want to sound ungrateful. I am very grateful for the opportunity to come here. And when I came there were quite a few people who were very dedicated to helping me make the adjustment." He specifically remembers the friendliness of the Baptist Student Union, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, the Ministerial Student Alliance, Chaplain Edgar Christman, Dean Robert Dyer and Dr. David Smiley, in the history department.

Reynolds made friends among students and faculty, joined organizations, and did well academically. He recalls only one unpleasant incident – he received a picture of a gorilla in the mail – but shrugs that off as "too trivial to mention." Yet, despite the ease with which he was assimilated into the University community, Reynolds understands many of the complaints black students voice today – particularly their feelings of loss of identity.

"When I was here, I was very happy at Wake Forest, and I was very much accepted, but in a way, deep down, I needed to identify with something," he remembers. He could not find that identity he needed within the white community, however friendly and accommodating it might be, but fortunately he was able to establish lasting friendships within the black community in Winston-Salem The young African, away from home, in a strange environment, spent many refreshing evenings and weekends with black townspeople. During the summer school session this year he lives with the Rev. Jerry Drayton, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church and a particularly close friend.

Reynolds' recollections of his own identity problems help him understand the plaint of today's black students. "Here are people looking for an identity, and without that identity they are going to be lost as they attempt to integrate into your white society," he says. He sees student Afro-American societies such as the one at Wake Forest, Afro hair and clothing styles, and African history courses such as the one he is teaching, as healthy assertions of the black student's search for identity. He predicts that the emphasis on African heritage will continue for perhaps a decade, until black people feel they have an identity of their own apart from, but compatible with, that of the white society around them.

"It's not the black man's fault that he needs an identity," he says. "You white people have frustrated him. So often integration has just taken the black man and tried to make him a white man -- it has robbed him of everything he has, his culture, his identity, everything. But without that identity he's a lost creature."

But Reynolds is quick to explain that he does not want the search for black identity to result in a kind of reverse racism, in some sort of African separatism. He would particularly encourage more desegregation and integration of colleges and universities such as Wake Forest, making sure that the integration is a beneficial kind involving the incorporation of two races with distinct but equally valuable attributes. "It's not right to bring a black student to Wake Forest, a white world, and give him a white man's education without any regard for the society he lives in and will have to go back to – he won't be able to function effectively in his society. But neither can you give him just a black education. You need to take society as a whole. A black man, like a white man, has certain needs and interests and a university education should be broad enough to give both the background they will need to cope with both the black world and the white world," he says.

"Once the identities are established, then you can really begin to talk about integration in a meaningful way, about an exchange of ideas on an even plane. But meanwhile, while we wait for true integration, the process of desegregation has got to go on."

What can Wake Forest do to facilitate integration? Reynolds believes subtle factors such as the liberal, Christian attitudes of faculty and students are much more valuable than any conscious efforts. But he sees a few planned steps that can be taken:

—The University can continue to recruit more non-athlete blacks. Reynolds sympathizes with the black athletes here and elsewhere who have said they often feel they are accepted only as athletes, not as people. "This is a part of the American tradition: you always have recognized the Negro's usefulness as being in his muscle," he says.

—A good number of these students should be resident women. One of the major, and Reynolds feels quite legitimate and serious complaints of the black athletes is that they have such a limited potential social life.

—The University can continue to offer courses such as Afro-American history and to recruit black professors.

Most of the progress, however, he feels will have to come through evolving attitudes, an admittedly slow process. Reynolds has some advice he would like to be able to offer to incoming freshmen:

He would warn the black student that "he may or may not be accepted here, but that by coming here he has a duty to himself first, a duty to get an education. He will be deceiving himself if he thinks people are going to give him something – in terms of favors, or grades — because he is black. Whatever he gets, he is going to have to earn, and he will probably have to work twice as hard as a white student to gain recognition."

He would urge the white student "to recognize that the black people he meets are just people like himself; that they should be treated with the same respect as any other student, and accepted as simply other students on campus.

"I would tell them that the black man on campus is not here to act as a therapy for the guilt of the white man. He's simply here to get an education. He is a human being like the white man; he cannot be otherwise."

But Reynolds is too shy, too unassuming really to preach these ideas. When he finishes in London, whether he comes back to Wake Forest or some other American school, he plans to conduct his missionary efforts primarily through the same strategy he used when he first came to Wake Forest: "Just being there and being myself."

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