Howard University held a dinner-dance Friday night in the International Inn. Seven past classes, from 1918 to 1968, were invited to dine on roast beef and to dance light disco under artificial candlelight. Though the other classes turned out in respectable numbers, only five members of the class of '68 were present. This was out of a graduating class of 868, half of whom still live in the Washington area.
Janice Jones Doyle was one of the five members of the class of '68 who showed up. She lives in Columbia, Md., now, with her husband, an opthalmologist, and two children. She shook her head at the turnout. "To think I dieted a month for this," she said. Then she and her husband got up to dance to "Our Day Will Come."
No one could really account for the absences at the dance held in conjunction with Howard's 110th Commencement. Someone in the alumni affairs office thought it was because people 10 years out of college are still too busy climbing ladders. Someone else suggested it was indicative of the bored-silly '70s. Still someone else said it was because 1968 was the repository of too many unresolved, ambivalent feelings . . .
Ten years ago solidarity brought the class of 1968 international attention as Howard underwent the largest protest in its history. For nearly five days, 800 students, led by members of the senior class, took over the university's administration building. The season of protest halted the oldest predominantly black university in America. Five weeks later came the Columbia University takeover.
"Leaders of Howard University's student protest yesterday listed new demands - including the resignation of President James M. Nabrit Jr. - as their price for relinquishing control of the school's administration building," one newspaper account recorded. Among the demands was "the establishment of a 'black-oriented curriculum' and creation of a 'black awareness institute."
Because Howard has had a special place in American life as the alma mater of many of the country's black leadership, its discontent had special weight.
But protest was not new to Howard. Since its founding, the campus had generated demonstrations on racial and general issues. Even as Howard continued, too, to turn out the black bourgeoisie, that aspect of the Howard tradition was reexamined during the 1960s. At the helm of the discussion were Howard graduates, like Stokely Carmichael, the black power theorist, who helped to reshape the concept of blackness in America.
By the mid-'60s it was not a quiet campus. In 1967, Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, then-director of the Selective Service, was booed off the stage with the reminder, "America is the black man's battleground."
At the forefront was the class of 1968. Four years earlier, 2,179 new students had enrolled in the four undergraduate colleges at Howard. They came from nearly two dozen states, as well as the District of Columbia, the West Indies, Africa and South America. Most had finished in the top 25 percent of their high-school graduating classes.
In the last 10 years, the class of 1968, like the rest of the country, has changed. Most of those whose where about could be determined have responsible, middle-income jobs. Today, they seem mellowed but many see themselves as quiet participants in the ongoing struggle for equality in the country. What they seem to share are sharp memories of 1968 and a idsinclination to reinite in 1978. The Vice President's Aide
His carpeted, roomy office in the Old Executive Building is a few doors down from that of his boss, Vice President Walter Mondale. Jim Dyke, with pork-chop sideburns and zip-up boots, looks comfortable with where his life had led him.
When he talks, the phone interrupts a lot. He has been here, on the second floor of the EOB, within stone's toss of the White House, since the new administration began. He is a special assistant for domestic policy. Some weeks, he meets with his boss two, three times a day.
"I never dreamed I'd end up working for the White House," he says. "I wanted to help out in the civil rights movement."
Dyke was executive officer of the university's ROTC in the spring semester, '68, when the program changed from compulsory to voluntary.(Protests against ROTC had simmered for several years, boiling over in 1967.) He is very proud of Howard. "Wherever I go, I try to put the word out."
Dyke was not part of his class' radical element his senior year. "However, I don't think I interfered with those who wanted overt action," he says. He hesitates. "Obviously, when things break down, some people feel they have to consider other alternatives."
Dyke hits safe on just about any subject. Including the death of Martin Luther King, an obvious hero. (King was slain in Memphis a few weeks after 800 Howard students occupied the "A" building.)
"The assassination took place on a Thursday, when I had my uniform on. My first feeling was outrage, my first impulse to destroy something. I went home and talked it out with my folks. The next day the campus was aswarm with students trying to work out their feelings. After the riots began I saw students walking around with racks of clothes and TV sets."
Dyke seems vague about the future. "In the vice president's office we like to think about 16 years," he grins. But people who know him say Dyke might like to try elective office himself one day. He has a house near Charlottesville now and muses about "slowing down" to teach fulltime. Not now, though,
"Even though I'm working for the vice president of the United States, when I get out on that street, I'm just another black man," he says. "I remember that."
Dyke passed up this weekend's reunion activities. He went to West Point to speak to the classes of Fred Black, a Howard classmate who went career Army.
"It would be interesting to see what we all look like," he says. "Maybe a little frightening too." The Beauty Queen
Next to Aanita James Sanders' picture in the purple-bound Bison yearbook is a list of her accomplishments as a beauty queen. But during Sanders' winning streak at Howard her biggest triumph, homecoming queen during her senior year, occurred at the campus' most heated moment of symbolic black assertiveness.
The demand of the times was for young blacks to look and dress more like an African People Natural hair-styles and African garb, were much Preferable to a processed, European look. In 1966, the homecoming queen had had an Afro, very dark features, and wore an African dress. But in the fall of 1967, Anita James, fair-complexioned, with straight hair and bangs and a traditional ball gown, won the homecoming contest with the largest margin ever.
"And people asked how and I always thought I had found the unifying factor, I knew how to talk to people and reach them. I never thought I was pretty but I took time with people," says Sanders.
She is sitting in the Washington apartment she shares with her husband, Lonnie Sanders, the former professional football player who is now a businessman. Music from stars popular 10 years ago is playing - Diana Ross and the Isley Brothers.
"There were some things said during the homecoming campaign, the charges of stereotype, that hurt but I didn't let them bother me. I enjoyed being part of the general push to recognize our heritage. That was the right time for that movement."
She still has the fresh beauty of her homecoming queen pictures and she has worked as a model in the last few years. Recently she left a post as economic development specialist for the District government.
In 1968 she had joined the spring takeover. She felt her action stemmed from her responsibility as a visible campus personality and her need to be part of the movement.
"There was excitement and fear. I could hear my mother saying I didn't put you there to walk out. But I was part of something I believed in. I couldn't not be part of it,' says Sanders, who like many of the students was a first-generation college graduate.
Today she is not a joiner. "But I have changed internally. I make better use of my mental energy. I do a lot of reading of metaphysics and untrition. I'm like a Sentry at the gate, watching everything that goes into Anita's mind and body. And what that does is, when I get upset about Bakke or a day-to-day racial incident, then I go internally and find a balance, something Peaceful." The Newscaster
She sits, in yellow lamplight, in her cubbyhole office at NBC Radio in the National Press Building. A poster (Frazier vs. Ali), along with scribbled notes to herself, decorate a wall; bottles of aspirin and Vitamin C clutter her desktop.
Marilyn Robinson is 31 now. She is thin and lively and caramel-colored. She wears her hair similar to the way she did in her senior yearbook picture, only it is shorter these days and sometimes pulled behind her head. "During the takeover, people would say, 'Trish, when you going to get an Afro?' and I'd say, 'Oh, tomorrow.'" She has been here, as a reporter on what she calls the "have-not beat" (welfare, evictions, police brutality), since 1975. She had been a television reporter for several years previously.
Robinson was born in Washington, in LeDroit Park, which borders Howard, and has long had community ties to the university. She lived there, on the third floor of her grandfather's house, with her parents, until she was 10. Her grandfather ran a campus card shop and drugstore. She now owns her granddaddy's house. "It's just a little ghetto place," she says.
"It was a [positive] number, my childhood. I guess we were middle class. That meant my folks had a job. Daddy was a parcel postman and mommy was a teacher. Together they probably pulled $16,000."
During the March '68 takeover of the administration building, Robinson commanded the switchboard. "We got in there and Ewart (Brown, student body preident) sat me down, put the plugs in my hand, and told me to say, 'This is the new Howard University.' I sucked in my breath and said, 'Okay.'"
"They didn't have media when we were coming through," Robinson begins talking fast doodling with a ballpoint. "So I studied English. That is until my junior year when I got fed up with the curriculum and switched to urban sociology. Hey, I'd read Chaucer and ShakesPeare and Walt Whitman till it was coming out my ears. I wanted to read Richard Wright and James Baldwin. None of it was offered. That was one of the grievances. The faculty was living in the past."
(Actually, says a campus historian, a course entitled Poetry and Prose of Negro Life was taught from the beginning of the century. But, he says, "before the takeover, curriculums for general studies were pretty much prescribed.")
She pounds a slender fist. "We were all players in a chess game that had to be. I'd make the same moves again."
Despite semi-affluence and local celebrity, Robinson says she's still a radical. Only quieter.
"I give struggling blacks in this town the most important thing I can: information. I got up early today to do the unemployment figures report. Do you know the unemployment rate for black males last month? 35.3 percent. It worries me to death. That's how I retain perspective."
Come July, Robinson herself may well be an unemployment statistic. Reduction in force. She doesn't seem bitter. "People in the black community become numbed to losing a job," she says. "You just wait your turn. I think on the day I leave here I'll go down to 6th and Penn and stand in that unemployment line with all my old high-school friends. It'll be a reunion. Of sorts." The Doctor
When Gen. Hershey was almost pushed off the stage at Howard in 1967, Ewart Brown Jr., then vice president of the student assembly, was one of the campus leaders asked by the administration to apologize for the incident. He cooperated.
"But after that I turned to radical politics. I talked to Stokely Carmichael about Howard, what some other alumni were doing. It made me look inside for another way," says Brown. In a short time he did become a convert to the activism that underlies his medical practice in two predominantly black communities of Los Angeles. He lives in Hollywood with his wife, Beverly Johnson, also Howard '68.
By the spring of '68, Brown remembers, "It was no longer possible not to declare your position," and as president of the student assembly, Brown did. Politics was all-consuming, and his father, a businessman in Bermuda, thought he had gone overboard. He cut off financial support for his son, a lean, bespectacled mild-looking young man.
About 1968, he has only one regret. "The only Part I wish had not occurred was the vicious infighting between the black students and the administration. I wish we could have called attention to the problems without providing so much entertainment for white folks."
Today the tension of being a black in a predominatly white society, a sense of pervasive prejudice, drives the 31-year-old physician. "My politics today are not organized but I am fighting white supremacy every day," says Brown. "I have patients who come to me and say, 'I didn't keep my appointment, I don't have the money, I had to go to the welfare office.' Well, we are all on welfare, we are all under white supremacy." The Psychiatrist
Since childhood, Didi Bailey had heard about the legacy of Howard. But that didn't stop Bailey, daughter of jazz clarinetist Buster Bailey from dismissing Howard as trivial. "I thought the teachers were unreasonable, unfair and irrational.That prepared me for a lot of things," says Bailey, with an unsmiling shrug. "But also I thought college was unnecessary. I knew I wanted to be a doctor from childhood. I must marked time at Howard.'
Bailey, a tall, attractive woman of 30, is now a psychiatrist, with a private clinic in Georgetown as well as an office with the Department of Human Resources. She lived through Birmingham 1963 and Howard was small change.
"Once I was in bed and the roof fell in. Night after night I heard the explosions and didn't know where they were coming from. Then I lost friends." Bailey says that very quietly.
Her friends were the four girls killed in the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, September 1963. "I was numb, the whole city was numb but it didn't affect me until I got to Howard," says Bailey. "I started hating white people, the people in the streets, the salespeople. My friends at Howard thought I was unreasonable but it ate away at me."
At the time she thought boycotts were useless; she felt only violence brought results. She didn't embrace any vocal 'hate whitey' rhetoric but kept it all inside, becoming she says, "a worn-out, slowed-down person." Years later that attitude changed when she converted from Baptist Christianity to Buddhism.
She gazes across her spare living room, with its elegant silkscreens, and sums up why her life, despite its trappings, is not mainstream. "My life is black. I am black, most of my patients are black. It's not a counterculture life because blacks can't afford to educate our people to a life of leisure. The Director
Standing on the steps of the red brick building named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass, student leader Anthony Gittens shouted, 'Howard university is a contemporary plantation. We're going to get things straight in 1968." Then, his fatigue jacket open to the spring breezes, Gittens led the march to the administration building.
"I remember the exhilaration of turning around, of seeing those people behind me. None of the leaders expected that response," says Gittens. Sitting in his office at the University of the District of Columbia, where he directs the Black Film Institute, which he created, Gittens recounts those experiences in his husky, highly-charged voice.
When Gittens arrived at Howard from Bedford-Stuyvesant, he was ready for political participation and quickly became one of the most visible campus leaders. In 1967, he was expelled and, after a court case, won the right to return. "I was seen as a ruffian, not in the Howard tradition, but I returned, turning down an offer to go to Yale because I thought Howard should say something about what was happening in the country," says Gittens.
Now, like many of the other students, Gittens has taken the period's dominant lesson of black consciousness and made it a code for his everyday life."Through the institute's examination of images and reality of black life, we try to promote awareness of black issues.We show a film about South Africa, and then have a discussion of Soweto. Or show 'Cabin in the Sky,' and then talk about actual function of religion in the black community," says Gittens, 33, who is a single parent, raising his son, Kai, alone.
Though he is not politically active now, Gittens is concerned. "White society is still not ready to give up power. And what is disturbing is that we don't have a network to concentrate the frustration. Again, we are tlaking, again there's a void." He shrugs. "The question is what am I going to go through to make the trends that take away black gains change. I don't know." The Campus President
He was a stockbroker for five years. Now Alfred Babbington-Johnson works for the Pillsbury Co. in Minneapolis. International trade development. He also counsels investments for his alma mater. "Be sure and mention that," he says. "Bab" was president of the class of '68 four years running.
"I have an incredible love for the school," he said on the phone the other afternoon. "They were the best years of my life, cliche or not. Even with the bad stuff, I still have fond memories. I can still see Rap Brown throwing footballs on the lawn.Behind his back, by the way. For 40 and 50 yards. The rumor was he was going to quarterback the football team."
You can't divorce what happened at Howard from its time, he insists. "People tend to look at it now as black issues or white issues. But it was just part of the upheaval generally in higher education. I mean astrology, Vietnam, drugs and our class all sort of grew up together."
Babbington-Johnson was personally involved in the takeover. He forgives - and hopes the university does too.
"I don't know where this fits in your story," he says, talking slowly. "But I'm a Christian now. For a long time I was an agnostic. Turning to the Lord was the pivotal point in my life." The Editor
For some, the blows of '68 were more severe. And their effects are more visible now.
Adrienne Manns, once editor of the Howard student paper, the Hilltop, lives with another woman on a 6 1/2-acre farm in western North Carolina. She's a vegetarian and practices yoga one to two hours a day. She doesn't think of herself particularly as counterculture, though "maybe a little piece of me is." There were lots back then more radical than she, she says. These days her life is pared down. No, she doesn't get lonesome. "I have goats." A warm smile flashes.
Adrienne Manns talks quietly. She can laugh at herself. When she speaks, she seems to be looking in as much as out. She struggles to get things right, with pauses then burst of thought. She seems nakedly honest.
"I left a lot of myself at that school," she says, almost tonelessly. "The person who came up there was nothing like the one who left." She hasn't been back, she says, since '73. She's out of touch with her classmates.
The person who came up there, in the fall of '64, had been raised by an aunt - who worked as a domestic - in Massillon, Ohio, a steel town. Though she probably could have gone anywhere, Manns came to Howard on a scholarship because she wanted to go deep into her black heritage. "Only to find when I got there Howard wasn't very black at all."
The administration was the puppet of a white government, she feels. There is no acrimony in her voice. The school didn't want to make waves for fear of being cut adrift financially. (In 1968, 53 percent of Howard's budget was federally funded. The figure is still high.) "Personally, I felt the University wasn't really involved in the civil rights struggle."
She has remembered something. "Do you know they wouldn't even let us listen to jazz in the fine arts building? Nigger music, I guess." She giggles, at herself as much as the memory.
Her junior year, Manns wrote a column in the Hilltop called Coon's Corner. Times change.
When she left Howard, with an MA, Adrienne Manns worked at several journalism jobs. But she began to feel her life devoid of meaning, losing impact. "I looked around and decided those of us who had once thought ourselves black nationalists were as bourgeois as those we had accused of the same thing."
Eventually she left. She didn't see it as dropping out. More coming home. For a time, until she developed a hacking cough from the lint, she worked as a spinner in a Carolina cotton mill. On her application she listed her education as "high school." But I liked the job. It was . . . tangible."
Last August Manns came back north to enrooll in a Ph D African studies program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. SHe still isn't sure it's right. "The noise, the pollution. I mean, when you go to a store down there, they remember your name, what you bought last time. This is only temporary." This summer she's going to Africa. Writing, especially fiction, is still a goal.
From a distance, she can appreciate her alma mater. "Now that I'm at Hopkins, in a totally white environment, I can recognize the strength Howard gave me. That's one of the things I've learned."
Manns never planned to attend this past weekend's class of '68 reunion brunch (which was canceled for lack of interest). She felt charging $18 per person was ludicrous. "I have $18," she says softly. "It wasn't that."
A bald, lightly freckled, 78-year-old man sits on a recliner rocker in his home on upper 16th Street. Dr. James M. Mabrit, even in retirement, is vigorous - capable of talking you down. The day before he had shot a 94 at Bretton Woods. Golf is mostly what he does now, says the prominent civil rights lawyer who led Howard from 1960 to 1969.
The disruptions of 1968 were generally good for Howard and higher education, he says - even though once he faced his own brush with danger. A student came out to his house one night and threw a molotov cocktail on the lawn. He recounts this evenly, with no resentment. "I always felt, you see, it wasn't me personally. It was the job I held. I was the symbol." And then: "I ran it the way I knew best. Whatever happened, I was finally responsible. I can live with that."