The Final Call Online Edition

FRONT PAGE | NATIONAL | WORLDPERSPECTIVES | COLUMNS
 ORDER VIDEOS/AUDIOS & BOOKS | SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSPAPER  | FINAL CALL RADIO & TV

WEB POSTED 05-15-2001

 
 

 

 

Terror on campus
Deaths, hate mail mark tense time for Black Penn State students

by Memorie Knox

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—The recent unsolved deaths of two Black men have racial tensions high in this university town despite recent concessions by university officials to expand Black programs and enhance diversity at the school.

On April 24, the first body was found in Bradford County near the Penn State Wilkes-Barre campus. The victim, a 6-foot Black male dressed in black, died from a gunshot wound, according to a police report.

Then on April 27, a second body was found. This time, the body was in proximity to where an earlier letter threatening a Black student said a body would be found in Centre County, where the university is located.

According to a Penn State University police report obtained by The Final Call, the victim was found within 20 miles of the campus. He was a Black male and died of a gunshot wound.

State and university police maintain that the death does not seem to be related to the university. An April 28 university police memo states: "The State Police have no reason to believe that this apparent homicide has any relationship to the hate mail incidents that occurred at Penn State. Moreover, no Penn State students have been reported missing."

The homicides occurred in an atmosphere of death threats and hate mail received since last October by Black students at Penn State. During that time, Black Student Caucus president and senior broadcast journalism major LaKeisha Wolf received a series of hate letters informing her, among other threats, "We ought to tar and feather you ... stupid Black b----. You keep your trap shut or we’ll shut it for you!"

Ms. Wolf, age 21, a petite woman clad in an ivory bulletproof vest for her protection, met with The Final Call May 4, along with other members of the Penn State Student Black Caucus, to detail their turbulent year.

"In October five letters were written targeting four people—a university trustee, two other students and myself," Ms. Wolf recalled. "The letters were all very personal and threatened violence."

According to the students, this was nothing new for Penn State. They provided The Final Call with documentation which shows a pattern of hate mail activity dating back decades. In response to the latest threats, students organized the Gye Nyame ad hoc committee and started to communicate with the university administration on the highest level concerning its diversity policy and student safety.

"Our greatest fear was that administrators would continue to ignore the climate of hate and the incidents of harassment that have become a feature of life at the university," said student leader Brian Favors.

University President Graham B. Spanier and State College Police Chief Tom Harmon were unavailable for comment to The Final Call after repeated attempts. Dr. Terrell Jones, a Black administrator and vice president for Educational Equality, expressed concern that Black faculty and administrators were not used more effectively by the students.

"I think in some ways the Caucus drove a wedge right through the Black community early in the year," he said. "Some of the tactics they used ... we had some people come up and say basically that any Black faculty who were here could not be trusted, they were only here picking up a pay check. It was not until we were able to get senior Black faculty back into negotiations were we able to make progress," Dr. Jones said.

The fall semester ended as student leaders won a modest victory with Faculty Senate members and President Spanier signing an agreement that the university had not met its initiative to foster diversity at the institution. It also agreed to meet with Black Caucus student leaders to address the issues.

As 2000 faded into 2001, according to Caucus vice president Sharleen Morris, it became evident that only lip service was being paid to the issues the students had brought to the forefront.

"We also learned that the hate mail was more widespread than we had been led to believe. Members of the football team were especially affected," she said.

Emboldened, the students took their fight to Harrisburg, the state capital, eliciting the support of the state Legislative Black Caucus. "These are our children up there, figuratively and literally, and we have a responsibility to our children to see that they’re in a safe environment. Anything we can do to assure that, we are going to do," State Rep. John Myers (D-Phila.) vowed.

In a symbolic gesture supported by Black legislators in mid April, the state House of Representatives voted to trim $9,520 from Penn State’s millions in appropriations, sending an immediate signal to university officials.

At this point, according to Ms. Wolf, the proverbial roof fell in. She received another hate letter. This one much more explicit. The letter, obtained by The Final Call, stated, in part: "I have tried with little success to be patient with you stupid litttle black b----, dont you realize i (sic) could have killed you ten times by now. .... We mean business just how serious we are, have the authorities search ... the young black buck must have been of no account even to niggers, because no one even missed him, he put up one hell of a fight."

"This letter caused us grave concern," Ms. Wolf stated. "We felt the university was negligent in warning the Black community. Because of this, we felt we were forced to take action."

On April 21, Penn State hosted its annual Blue and White scrimmage football game. Steeped in tradition, it attracts alumni and students. At the playing of the national anthem, 26 members of the Student Black Caucus slipped onto the field and locked arms on the 50 yard line in prayer. The story was carried on every major TV broadcast in the state.

What happened next is something right out of Mississippi in the 1960s, all of the Caucus members agreed.

The participants were arrested and charged with misdemeanor offenses. The next day, not only were their names published in the local paper, but their addresses as well, thus creating a hit list for hate.

"This caused us to go into panic mode," Ms. Wolf said. "We were now afraid to leave the student union building and return to our homes."

In response to the threats, the school organized a "No Hate at Penn State march" on April 24, which the Black students physically halted, according to Ms. Wolf. "President Graham Spanier fled the scene of the rally and refused further negotiations with the Black Student Caucus," she said.

The students, fearful, set up a village in the student union center and began to camp out in protest. Soon thereafter, their worst fears were realized—the first body was found.

According to Ms. Wolf, the students were now near hysteria and began seeking the assistance of national organizations. It was during this time that Minister Angelo Muhammad of the Nation of Islam Harrisburg, Pa. study group was contacted.

"He made several trips to State College and provided immediate assistance to the student protesters," Ms. Wolf said. "Brothers from the F.O.I. (Fruit of Islam) gave the students a sense of calm and safety when on campus, and Min. Angelo has offered spiritual counseling and sound advice for all those involved," she added.

Dr. Terrell Jones concurred during his interview with The Final Call, crediting Min. Angelo with getting the students and President Spanier back to the negotiation table. He said the local NAACP attempted to intervene, but could not gain the students’ trust. As a result Min. Angelo’s efforts, further agreements recently were reached between students and the administration.

On May 3 the university agreed to establish an Africana Studies Research Center, upgrade the number of faculty in the African American Studies Department, strengthen current diversity requirements and restructure the Vice Provost for Educational Equality position, ending the 10 day sit in.

The situation at Penn State is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office, the FBI as well as Senator Arlene Specter (R-Pa.). During a May 4 meeting with students, Frank L. Brown, Esq., legislative counsel for Sen. Specter, guaranteed them, "I will personally see that Sen. Specter is apprised of your situation."

Recommend this article to a friend.
Your email: Recipient's email:

 


FRONT PAGE | NATIONAL | WORLD PERSPECTIVES | COLUMNS
 ORDER DVDs, CDs & BOOKS SEARCH | SUBSCRIBE | FINAL CALL RADIO & TV

about FCN Online | contact us / letters | Credits | Final Call Customer Service

FCN ONLINE TERMS OF SERVICE

Copyright © 2011 FCN Publishing

" Pooling our resources and doing for self "

External web links are not necessarily  the views of
The Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan or The Final Call