ASU to honor expelled students

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- In a yearlong celebration, Albany State University, led by an industrious professor, is seeking to make right a wrong that stripped students of scholarships and titles and issued permanent expulsions for participants in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.

Racquel L. Henry, a civil rights fellow and assistant professor of history at ASU, is leading the effort to honor what she has identified as 41 students who were punished because they chose to march, write letters and push student involvement in the movement.

"These were remarkable students who were placed in a remarkable time in our country's history," Henry said. "And when they decided to follow their convictions, they were stripped of their scholarships and, in some cases, expelled."

Henry said the University is prepared to take a historic step and bestow honorary degrees and issue a formal apology to those students who were involved in demonstrations in 1961 and 1962.

Planning is under way, and Henry is soliciting the public's help with the endeavor.

"Mainly what we need is funding and publicity," the ASU professor said. "I've been encouraging anyone who has oral histories from both sides, the point of view of the protesters and the objectors, to come forward and share those, as well as anyone who has any artifacts."

The festivities will kick off during the university's homecoming convocation with a speech from Annette White.

According to Henry, White was the homecoming queen in 1961 but was stripped of her crown and a scholarship because of her decision to participate in the movement.

During homecoming activities, set for Oct. 3-9, White will again be crowned and presented with an honorary degree.

Henry said that 41 students have been identified as having been punished because of their involvement in the movement, but she has names of only 36 or 37 and has only been able to track down 15.

One of the initial sparks for ASU students' involvement in the local civil rights movement came in the form of an anonymous letter written to The Albany Herald some time in the spring of 1961. A person writing under the pen name "Leonard Carson" spoke out on behalf of Albany State's Student Government Association and of improper treatment of black students at the University of Georgia.

The letter and subsequent action prompted the school to dissolve the association, angering students and prompting more protest and action.

Anyone with information about local protests or about ASU students involved can contact Henry at (229) 430-1790 or e-mail her at racquel.henry@asurams.edu.