Retrospective: What fueled the legacy of black leadership at Iowa State?

Phyllis Harris, an ISU student in pursuit of her doctorate in human development and family studies, covers a Catt Hall brick embellished with her mother’s name in protest of the recent controversy. Harris plans to keep recovering the brick if the cover is removed.

Whitney Mason

Black History Month serves as a time to reflect and honor black leaders and contributors to our nation’s history.

However, during the actual time of many of these individuals’ advocacy and activism, the media did not always give them the proper spotlight. Even today these individuals are still not allotted the representation as they should be.

At Iowa State in 1968, like many colleges across the nation during this time, many black students began their activism following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., demanding for changes to their treatment while on campus.

As public demonstrations began at Iowa State two days following King’s assassination, the Daily was right there to cover the demonstration within the Memorial Union.

Daily staffers reported in their coverage that black students took part in active demonstrations in the commons of the Memorial Union and a silent vigil on the steps of Beardshear Hall.

According to the article by the Daily, 40 to 50 demonstrators dressed in black and were in the commons at noon, taking trays of glasses filled with orange juice or water with them to their seats.

Next, all the demonstrators stood up and one of the students said that they were “giving a toast to black unity.” Onlookers watched as the students later threw their glasses on the floor and overturned tables and chairs in the commons.

Following the demonstration, a statement was released by student Bruce Ellis on the behalf of black students, who at the end of the statement referred themselves as the “Afro-American Students of Iowa State University.”

The statement was one of the first public times that black students did not refer to themselves as negroes, as black students had been commonly referred to that term on campus.

The surge of demands did not just end at administration levels; another department of the institution also dealt with demands of black students: athletics.

Black football players presented a list of eight demands also referred to as “Eight Grievances” to the then-athletic council and demanded that the actions be met before the given Aug. 1 deadline.

Some of the demands listed by the black athletes consisted of hiring black coaches, firing some coaches and trainers, having black administrators and being referred to as black or Afro-American.

With the activism and demands of the black athletes underneath the newly formed Black Student Organization (BSO), The Daily, Ames Tribune (then Ames Daily Tribune) and Des Moines Register gave coverage to the matter.

During this time, the Ames Tribune also published the opinions of the Ames community, which showed many Ames community members in support of the demonstrations of the black students.

For the Daily, especially in the 1968-1969 school year, one reporter by the name of Suzanne Rullestad solely dedicated coverage to the ongoing demonstrations. Rullestad wrote an eight-part series of BSO that began with the publishing of the “Eight Grievances.”

Up until recent years, the Daily has some had student journalists who dedicated their reporting to issues pertaining to diversity matters. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that the Daily established a diversity section.

Not once during this time has there been recollection found of the experiences of students; it is only brought up that black students made statements when they were confronting school officials and demanding actions.

One thing to note is that the local media showed respect to the wishes of black students and stopped referring to them as the n-word following the release of the “Eight Grievances.”

While the activism of black students led to some successes, such as head football coach Johnny Majors adding on an assistant black coach the following football season, other demands, such as a black administrator, would not be fulfilled for years.

Frustrations with progress led to at least seven black students, including a few members of the football team, to depart Iowa State.

Unresolved demands and issues on campus continued well into the 1990s and led to another surge of black leadership and activism on Iowa State’s campus.

On Sept. 29, 1995, an essay entitled, “The Catt’s Out of The Bag,” was published in UHURU, the newsletter of the Iowa State’s Black Student Alliance — raising questions of racism in the women’s suffrage movement and prompting questions about Carrie Chapman Catt being a racist.

A week later on Oct. 6, Old Botany Hall was renamed Carrie Chapman Catt Hall.

According to the Daily’s coverage, the building was to house the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences administrative offices, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and the Philosophy Department.

In the coverage of the dedication ceremony, there is no mention of the essay published in UHURU or even mentions of potential opposition to the name change.

The coverage is made to seem that the name is a societal advancement and that there was an overall universal acceptance of the name change to Catt Hall.

Oppositions or questions of the name change were not published by the Daily until Oct. 17, 1995, when Celia N. Naylor-Ojurongbe, director of the Women’s Center, wrote a column about her disappointment over the panel, “Race, Ethnicity, Gender in the Suffrage Movement” the day before the dedication ceremony.

Naylor-Ojurongbe said that during the panel there was little discussion about race or racism within the suffrage movement by the panelists during the panel. However, when there was talk about racism, Jane Cox, a faculty member of Iowa State and researcher of Carrie Chapman Catt, said going off of the dictionary’s description of racism, Chapman Catt was not a racist.

She also stated in her column that the student who wrote the essay about Chapman Catt in UHURU was receiving threatening calls from the people within the community over the essay.

On Oct. 24, 25 and 31, the Daily published opinions from the community reacting to the alleged racism from Chapman Catt. Some of those that penned questions wondered why the racism was not brought up in the decision of the name dedication or why it was now being mentioned.

On Nov. 3, the Daily published an article discussing the racism, xenophobia and classism within the suffrage movement almost a month following the name dedication and well over a month after the “The Catt’s Out of the Bag” essay.

On Nov. 17, 1995, Meron Wondwosen, at the time a sophomore in political science and French and editor of UHURU, came forward explaining and standing behind the essay she published in the newsletter.

“The article was not written to minimize the efforts of Catt and her contemporaries; rather, it was to offer a different perspective,” Wondwosen said in the essay.

Wondwosen also said that the article was to not stop the dedication but to only bring to light facts that were not mentioned along with Catt’s achievements.

On Feb. 26, the Daily reported that a letter-writing campaign was started by students who wanted a name change, launching the September 29th Movement.

“This is not going to happen in a semester, a semester and a summer, or even a semester, a summer and another semester,” Alan Nosworthy, graduate student at the time and one of the student leaders, was quoted saying by the Daily, “You’re either in this for the long haul or you are not.”

While the Daily covered the beginnings of the student movement, there was still coverage of those in support of Chapman Catt, even from within the news organization.

Tim Frerking, a Daily columnist, wrote a column Feb. 29, 1996 stating “historical facts” on Chapman Catt, in particular her accomplishments, and claimed that so-called racist remarks were made in attempts to advance the agenda of the women’s suffrage movement.

Frerking later would admit that he actually had no supporting documentation on his statements. Instead, he was going off of what Jane Cox said about Chapman Catt in conversations.

From the beginning, the Daily wrote editorials on the Carrie Chapman Catt debate. The first one, published Nov. 6, stated the Editorial Board believed that the whole controversy surrounding the name dedication could have been avoided simply if all of Chapman Catt’s history was taken into consideration.

The second editorial published on March 25, 1996 and was released five days after the Government of Student Body (GSB) passed a resolution supporting the name change of Catt Hall. In the editorial, the Daily says that students have spoken that there is a want for a name change to Catt Hall.

In a third editorial published April 17, 1996, the Editorial Board urged people to respect the women who covered the bricks that had their names on them with black cloths at the Catt Hall plaza.

The women did this to denounce Chapman Catt’s racism. 

“Regardless of your stance on the Catt Hall issue, there must be respectful and intelligent discourse on the subject. Even if we do not all agree on a resolution to this problem, we must respect those who believe differently from ourselves.” the editorial said.

In July of 1996, another editorial by the Daily Editorial Board demanded that the university investigate the removing of the black cloths and said that the women are entitled to not wanting to be a part of the plaza.

In early Sept. 1996, then-President Jischke in series appointed Derrick Rollins diversity adviser to his cabinet and allocated funds toward renovating the Black Cultural Center and funding to hire four new faculty for the diversity and internationalizing requirements set by the Faculty Senate.

The editorial by the Daily after the announcement suspected that Jischke did this to appease the Catt Hall controversy.

“However, this isn’t a justifiable reason why the Catt Hall debate should end the priority of the issue within the administration,” the editorial said. “While the new diversity plans are important to initiate, the Catt controversy is still very much alive, and it will be for some time.”

As the movement was fast-tracking into its first year, a rise of columns in support continued and were more frequently written by Daily columnists.

One published on Sept. 25, 1996 by Tim Davis, opinion editor of the Daily, attacked the frequent argument that supported Chapman Catt’s alleged racism.

“We as a nation are often reluctant to admit the mistakes our predecessors, and we ourselves, have made. I honestly believe we as a nation will never be truly free until we acknowledge the injustices we have committed and stop excusing oppressive behavior as a mere fashion trend.” Davis said.

In another column written a few days before the Sept. 29th movement anniversary, columnist Drew Chebuhar raised the thought of how there was a lack of public input in discussions made at Iowa State.

Chebuhar pointed out how in 1994, Naylor-Ojurongbe asked if the Iowa State community should be consulted first about the potential name change from Old Botany Hall to Catt Hall prior to the dedication. While most people answered ‘yes’, the administration refused to have open public forums to discuss the name change.

“So what are we gonna do about all this? There’s a group of students, faculty, and staff who are currently organizing a coalition to work toward a more democratic university.” Chebuhar said ending his column.

As the Catt Hall debate continued, a new one soon loomed and made its first appearance in the Daily as a column written by Bill Kopatich, a Daily staff writer.

Kopatich argued that it was time to now get rid of the Cyclone Stadium and for the stadium to just be known as Jack Trice Field.

In 1973, students brought forth the idea that the new football stadium be named in honor of the Jack Trice, the African American football player who succumbed to injuries he sustained during a game against University of Minnesota in 1923.

In 1974, then-president Robert Parks allowed for the field to be named Cyclone Stadium.

In 1984, the stadium kept the name of Cyclone Stadium; however, the field’s name was changed to honor Trice.

In 1988, student government raised enough funds to provide a statue of Trice at the stadium to go along with the field name.

“The debate to rename the stadium in Trice’s name has raged for more than a decade. At the time, the administration figured they could not just come out and rename it Jack Trice Stadium because that might offend some white athletic contributors.” Kopatich said in 1996, 12 years after the field name change.

From the town hall hosted in late 1996 to the back and forth between the Sept. 29th movement and President Jischke, the Daily was there every step of the way.

When graduate student Alan Nosworthy announced on Sept. 27, 1997, almost two years since the start of the movement, the Daily published his announcement and his demands to the university.

At the time the uniqueness to the Daily’s coverage of Nosworthy’s hunger strike was that the reporters reported reactions from across the university, avoiding its past mistake of one-sided reporting.

Other Sept. 29th Movement members’ reactions were recorded as supportive and hopeful that Nosworthy’s strike would be taken seriously.

“I support and agree with his decision, we’ve been struggling for two years and what he’s doing intensifies the battle,” Wondwosen said.

Another vocal member, Milton McGriff, said he agreed with Nosworthy’s hunger strike and believed it was the right thing to do.

“If enough people are going to support him, then we may not have to take it too far. Allan will take it as far as he will have to take it for Jischke to come down out of the ivory tower,” McGriff said.

According to the Daily, President Jischke expressed concerns about Nosworthy’s well-being.

“There will time to discuss the other issues, but my first concern is for his well-being. And I hope that he will take care of himself and that he is seeking the proper guidance,” Jischke said.

However, the Daily did publish opinions of those in the Iowa State community that viewed Nosworthy and his actions as a terrorist-like.

“Nosworthy is committing an act of terrorism by holding his life in front of us. Just like a stereotypical terrorist threatens the life of an innocent bystander to achieve his demands, Nosworthy is threatening his own life to achieve his demands,” said David Douglas, in a letter to the editor.

On Oct. 29, 1997, a secret meeting between the September 29th Movement and President Jischke took place. A Daily article published in December explained that the meeting was only held in secrecy due to Jischke’s demands.

Later it was shown that not much happened between the two parties due to the secrecy and eventually the movement leaders revealing they secretly recorded the talk and gave transcripts over the to Daily.

The Daily would later publish the transcripts Dec. 5.

An editorial from Dec. 8 ended up criticizing not just the administration for notifying the public, but for the movement, which the editorial believed lost sight over its goals, worrying about the secrecy and confidentiality of the meeting.

“The Movement is so focused on tape recorders and conciliators that they have lost much of their support,” The editorial said. “Meanwhile, the administration’s fear of tape recorders makes it look as if they have something to hide from us. Both sides need to focus on what is important — communication.”

In Jan. 1998, President Jischke would agree to another meeting, only to have concerns. He declined to meet up with the movement until an investigation of the alleged allegations of some of the members were reviewed.

On Feb. 6, 1998, the Daily recommended that they regain the lost communication between the movement and administration by having their meeting at the Daily office.

“However, wouldn’t the ISU community be better served if the meetings were held right here in the Daily newsroom? Then, the next day, the front page of the paper would tell exactly what happened, without being affected by conflicting information from either side,” the article said. “No. Is this true or isn’t it?” the press released. No confidentiality. No hunger strikes or vague threats of action. No delays.The only information that goes out is what we print.”

Even the Daily’s attempts at trying to encourage dialogue wouldn’t provide much help.

The dragging of the supposed meeting between Jischke and the movement leaders continued into April, and on April 6, the Daily, along with student body, was front and center to witness the arrests of the movement leaders Wondwosen, Nosworthy and McGriff.

The three had been arrested after trying to see Jischke and have a meeting with him in his office. The three were charged with criminal trespassing.

Finally, Jischke agreed to the meeting with the movement and gave them the date of April 22.

Following the meeting, members of the movement still felt ignored. 20 years later, Catt Hall name still persists and serves as an academic administration building.

While back and forth between Jischke and the September 29th Movement occurred in 1997, one thing that was brought up during the movement’s campaign found some success.

According to Undefeated’s article on Jack Trice’s football career and life, Jischke told the media it was appropriate to name the stadium after Trice because he brought enthusiasm and a promise to the university.

In 1997, the university did so, changing the name from Cyclone Stadium to Jack Trice stadium. Even today it currently stands as the only football stadium in NCAA Division I to be named after an African American.

For black students today attending the university, there is little representation besides two statues, a building and a stadium on university grounds named for prominent black men engraved in Iowa State tradition: George Washington Carver, the first black student of Iowa State, and Jack Trice.

However, the long and complex history of diversity and what it is to be a black student at Iowa State University is not far from these marked and coveted spots, and certainly not Catt Hall.

It, too, has become engraved.