Interviewer: Sam Pollard
Production Team: C
Interview Date: April 30, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2120-2124
Sound Rolls: 256
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Charles Epps, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on April 30, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Dean Epps tell me about when you first came to Howard. Sort of establish for me the school as an institution of excellence.
Well, it was referred to as, you know, as the--
I need you to say, when I first came to Howard.
Oh, yes. When I first came to Howard, as you may know, it was referred to as the--
Oh, all right. OK. When I came to Howard in 1947 it was considered the capstone of Negro education. There were many outstanding people there, to name just a few, there was Charles Drew in Medicine, Aldon Locke in Philosophy, Frank Snowden in Classics, ah, Sterling Brown in English and many other people like that, John Hope Franklin in history. So, it was a campus rich with tradition and, ah, very keen academic atmosphere.
How did you feel, I mean, how did you feel being on a campus like this?
Well, I, I, I, I felt very happy being on the campus in that time. It was a, it was a happy time. It was before the Korean War and, ah, ah, it was very pleasant. It was a very warm, caring atmosphere.
Dean Epps tell me again about when you first came to Howard and about the school as an institution of excellence, the leaders of the people who were there, well respected teachers.
Well, when I came to Howard in 1947, it, ah, there were many, ah, outstanding people there on the faculty and, ah, to name just a few, in medicine there was Charles Drew in the School of Law there was James Nabrit who had been one of the leaders who had helped draft the, ah, ah, famous, ah, very important civil rights legislation. In the undergraduate school there was Frank Snowden who was in classics, John Hope Franklin in history, Sterling Brown in English, Lloyd Ferguson in chemistry, Herman Branson in physics. These were all people who had national reputations. They were eminently qualified in their own fields.
How did you feel about being in this kind of atmosphere?
Well I, I felt very happy to be a part of it and I, I felt that, ah, I would be able to get a first class education there and I did.
Tell me about a Howard as a capstone of Black education and about the prominent leaders and what they had done in this country for Black people and how it made you feel when you first got there.
Well, when I came to Howard University in 1947 it was regarded by people all over the country as the capstone of Negro education. There had been many people who had graduated from Howard since it was started in 1867 and these people had contributed significantly to the life of the country and of course to the Negro race. There were still many outstanding people on the faculty in that time and to name just a few there, in medicine there was Charles Drew, in physics, Herman Branson, in chemistry there was Lloyd Ferguson and Percy Julian had been a member of the faculty there. In English there was Sterling Brown, in history Raford Logan and John Hope Franklin. In law there was, ah, James Nabrit who later became president. Of course at that time Mordecai Johnson was president. But, ah, these were all people who had, ah, sig- played a significant role in the life the University but in the life of the country as well. And so it made me feel very proud to be a, a member of that academic community and, and it afforded me an opportunity to get a first class education from teachers who were revered, not only by the students, but who were recognized as authorities by the nation at large.
Dean Epps what was your reaction to some of the students who wanted to abolish the ROTC program at Howard University in '67, '68?
Well, when the students wanted to abolish the ROTC program in the, in the late '60s, that is around '67, '68, I felt it was an unfortunate, ah, action on their part for several reasons. First of all, ROTC traditionally had been the best means by which Blacks had been able to enter the Officers Corp in the Army and in the Air force, ah, to some extent in the Navy, where there were schools that had Naval programs. Because as a child I remember very well in World War II, Blacks were, ah, allowed only to be in the Quartermaster Corp in the Army. They were stewards in the Navy and, ah, there, as far as I recall, there were none in the Marines. And, ah, there were no, no pilots in the, ah, in the Air force except for those that were in the 99th and those divisions that trained in, in Tuskegee, but, ah, Blacks who obtained, ah, Second Lieutenants Commission through the ROTC units in the Black colleges had an entree into the Officers Corp in the military. And in fact in my own class which was the class of '51, I can think of at least two men immediately who became Generals, ah, and they went into Service in '51 and continued, Oh, for 20 years or more but they rose through the ranks to the, to become Generals. Now, this would have been possible only through, ah, Annapolis or West Point, ah, where, of course, the opportunities were limited. But many men were able to, ah, achieve officer rank through the colleges where there were ROTC programs. So I think that, that was a very short sighted, ah, ah, ah, effort on their part. And, but it's un- understandable in view of the tenor of the times.
In '68, the students demanded that Howard become a Black university. That was one of their demands when they took over the Administration Building. How did you respond to that? Wasn't Howard already a Black university? I want you to react to that.
In '68 when the students took over the A Building, one of the demands was that they wanted Howard to become a Black university. How did you react to that? Wasn't Howard already a Black university? What was your reaction to what they were saying?
When the students wanted to, when the students took over the building in 1968, '69 and wanted to.
It was '68.
When the, ah, undergraduate students took over the Administration Building in 1968 and voiced as one of their concerns that Howard become a Black university, I found something incongruous about that. In fact paradoxical because Howard had always been a Black university. We say predominantly Black but the fact of the matter was that it was Black. In my class of 1500 students there was one White student. So, there was no fact, there was no question about it being Black but it had a long tradition of training Black leaders in this country. And it was, for all practical purposes, a Black university. I don't know how it could have been more Black. And I'm not sure what they were trying to say but Howard provided a mainstream education which prepared people to be competitive in every field. I don't recognize and I don't think the world recognizes that there is any Black physics. There's no Black engineering. There's no Black medicine. So that the, the, the mission of the university was to train students to be competitive and competent in whatever field **and, and I'm not sure what they were trying to say. But, ah, there was no such thing as, ah, Howard becoming Black than it was. It was a, a Black, predominantly Black university.
What about the student's charges that the curriculum wasn't focusing on sort of giving them an understanding of their ancestry and their history. There was only one Black course in the school. What was your reaction to that?
Well, you know, I learned about, ah, I learned about Black history as a, as a student in my high school. It was unfortunate that we had to do it that way but they always had Negro History Week in, in, in high school when the whole school system literally stopped everything else and concentrated on Black history. And so I learned about Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Marion Anderson, Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, people like that when I was in, in, in high school, in junior high school. I don't know, and so I felt comfortable about my heritage when I came to college. I did take a course, by the way, from a Professor Leo Hansbery about Africa which I found very interesting. But, my mission there was to, was to become a doctor. And I, I needed, ah, ah, the sciences, ah, and, ah, to prepare myself for medicine. I, I, I, think that the, there's an opportunity for those who wished to take course about Black history could do that. But I think the major, ah, mission of the university is to prepare you for your life's work. And if there's an opportunity to take these other courses as an elective I think that's sufficient. There was a great interest in this kind of activity for a number of years as you may know. And what happened of course was that many universities sort of geared up and produced courses in Black, ah, in Black history but there was no real market for people who majored in Black history. I'm not sure what they're doing now but that was a fad that passed. I think it's important to, to know our history and to understand it but I don't think that we need to, to subvert or amend the basic themes of our programs to the point that they're compromised.
Dean Epps, with the students demands we were talking about, having Black studies program, what did you think of this idea of a so-called Black curriculum at Howard?
Well, with regard to their request for a Black curriculum I really don't think very much about that because I, I don't see the, the practical application of that. The curriculum should be, I think, standard, depending upon your occu- your, ah, vocational aspirations. To give you a good example, ah, there was a movement afoot at one time where the students were demanding Swahili in the high schools for example. They wanted to be taught Swahili to speak and, ah, that seemed to me to be, ah, a rather useless ambition because they needed to learn English. I had, ah, when I was in practice, ah, I used to hire high school students from Washington, to, to work in my office. And their skills and in English and in mathematics were poor. And some of them I couldn't use because they could not, ah, handle the English properly and they, they, their mathematical skills were very poor. So, you know, before we learn Swahili we should learn English and mathematics and history, the basic skills. I think that would be fine as an extra course for those who have the time and the ability but as a, as one of the main courses I think, I think not. I think the same would apply to, to students in college. I think the, the, you're there with a mission and the mission is to prepare yourself. And I think, ah, the Black, the Black studies would be good as, a, as a, as, as an elective but not for your main course of study. There's, you can't market yourself with just Black studies. You need to study engineering, architecture, history, English, math, something that lead to a vocation and an ability to earn a living.
Many of the students were saying there was only one--
Dean Epps I'm going to ask you again. The students, one of their demands was a request for Black studies. How important did you think a so-called Black curriculum was?
Well, the students did incorporate as part of their demands Black studies. I think that Black studies would be important for, for Black students as an elective, so they could learn more about themselves and about their heritage. I think one of the tragedies of, ah, of slavery was that we were completely cut off from our, our heritage and roots in that regard. But I think that you have to be more pragmatic in today's world and realize that, ah, while that information is good to know and I have personally enjoyed reading about Black, ah, heritage. I think it's more important to focus on why you're there in college and that is to prepare yourself to earn a living. You're focusing toward a, a professional school or a degree in the undergraduate school. So I think that, the, the, the basic curriculum is the much more important thing and that the Black studies would be something that you would take as an elective but not the major focus of one's study.
Give us an example, an analogy you used is Swahili.
Well, ah, there was at one time a demand by the high school students in Washington, there was a great interest in Swahili. They wanted it incorporated in the, in the curriculum and there were some people, students at Howard who wanted it also. But, ah, I had difficulty finding summer students, stu- students who work in my office during the summer who could use English properly and who could, ah, ah, count accurately. So that English and mathematics, you see, would be, in my estimation much more useful than Swahili. So that I wouldn't want to see Swahili become a, a second language until they had mastered English first. That's the language that they need. When you go out to hire a secretary you want a secretary be able to handle, ah, English properly. And that's a problem in getting a good secretary. And anybody who's tried to hire one today knows that. And if you want an accountant you want someone who can handle the figures properly. Not someone who speak, speaks Swahili so, so I think that would be, a, a low priority and only after you had mastered the, the essentials. In other words the reading, writing and arithmetic. Let's have that first and then the other things can come.
OK, cut. Thank you. Very good.
Good, I also. Let me ask a question. Can I also tie that in with Cheke[SIC] today because they had the same--
You don't want to go that far, OK.
Among the students demands in 1968.
Dean Epps, the students had targeted President Nabrit and Dean Snowden as symbols of people who they felt should resign from the school. What was your reaction, what was the reaction of the faculty to these charges.
Yes I was aware that the students in 1968 were demanding that, ah, president James Nabrit and Dean Frank Snowden resigned, in fact they said immediately. I think I shared the views with most of the faculty that first of all it is not the business of students to, ah, select and appoint faculty, and certainly not select or appoint the president of the university. Dr. Nabrit has an outstanding record as an attorney and a civil rights litigator before he became president, and I think he managed the university well during his tenure. Frank Snowden was and is an outstanding scholar of classics, and while they may not have enjoyed classics as much as he would have liked, you have to respect him for his accomplishments in the field. He represents a, ah, endeavor that has persisted for four thousand years, and if you ever had a chance to talk to him, he exudes enthusiasm about classics, ah, now that would be in sharp conflict with their, for example their request for Black studies. But, ah, I think you have to balance that, and I think they should judge Snowden on his abilities to manage the college of the liberal arts not as a classicist.
What did Snowden give them that they felt was unnecessary? What did you think he gave them that you thought was important?
I think he gave them--
Just say Dean Snowden--
I'm sure that Dean Snowden gave them, ah, management of the college, and that was his primary task, and frankly I never understood why they were so opposed to him during that era.
Lets cut a second
Dean Epps, as students focused on Dean Snowden with the charge that he was too classically oriented and he wasn't in sync with what they were sort of desiring, what they needed or they felt Howard should be symbolic of. What was your reaction to that? You had been one of Dean Snowden's students. Tell me about what was your reaction to the students.
Yes, I had been a student of Frank Snowden and he was a brilliant man who had an amazing command of classics. He lectured with great enthusiasm and insight. His classes were fascinating. Of course that would be in sharp contrast to what they were, what they seemed to have wanted, which was emphasis on Black studies or the immediate concerns of Black people. And while I think the university has a, has a role in trying to further the cause of, of Black people in general, ah, and producing Black leaders, ah, we can't model the, the curriculum necessarily in that direction. The university has a mission of preparing people to take their roles in society, for training engineers, physicians, ah, ah, teachers, you see. And, ah, I think the students were sort of overboard with the, with the Black studies business. That made a sharp contrast now. I think, ah, as someone who's reached this age and maturity it makes it possible to understand what the students' problem was. First of all, they're 20, 21, maybe 22 year-old and if you know, ah, young people at that age are supremely confident of their own knowledge, ah, they, while they have no doubts about their own abilities and knowledge they question everybody else, particularly individuals over 30. So, that, make them have questions about their, their own parents some time and of course the faculty and the Deans and president. I think as a, as a, a mature individual I can look back and understand that because they are, not only over confident about their own abilities but they want change immediately. They don't have patience. They don't have tolerance about these things. Very typically you see when they issued their demands they wanted all these things to take place within three weeks. That was part of their, their demands. And, ah, when one gets older you know that things don't happen like that. There's this old story about the son who, ah, was amazed that his father had learned so much between the time that when he was 20 and when he became 45. He could understand his father a lot better, it's that same sort of thing.
Students had a very strong reaction to Dean Snowden, they said he was too classically oriented. If I was one of those students I would wonder what did studying the classics have to do with me being a better physician or a being a better counselor. Why wasn't Black studies just as important?
Well, there was a great objection to Dr. Snowden because of his emphasis on classics. But you must realize that he was a, a classical scholar. But that's just one aspect of a, of a broad education which is what one is supposed to get in a college of liberal arts. You should get classics, the humanities. You should get the social, social sciences. But you also get biological sciences and it seems that they were asking for emphasis on the Black studies beyond what it's proper role should be. You know there is no Black economics. It's economics. There's no Black history except that the history of Black people would be a part of history. There's no Black mathematics. There's no Black medicine. There's medicine. And the mission of the university is to train people to function in that area for which they are, in which they're studying. And I think that the, the, the students in that respect were over-zealous in their efforts to institute what they thought were appropriate changes in the curriculum, at least from the point of view of the emphasis that they wanted put on these things. But that is, the, really the key of a liberal arts education that you learn a lot about a lot of different things and classics is certainly a part of that. History repeats itself and if you, when you think that you've discovered a new thought, you go back far enough, you'll find that somebody else has had it before. And there are lots of lessons to be learned from classics that will reflect on what's happening with us today.
When you were watching the student takeover on television, what was your sense? What did you feel? Did you think that for that one moment that the school could fall apart and things could fall apart at Howard University, that the polarization would be so great that the school would never be able to continue?
No, when I watched the, the student takeover I thought that it was unfortunate that they were wasting a lot of time that would have been better spent in the study halls, in the library, or in the classroom. And I realized also that in three years, none of those students who were, who were the instigators of that strike, would be there. You know in four years the student population turns over and the leaders of that strike would pass on to other things. The University has to persist. It's been there now 122 years. And, no matter what happens, in any one particular year, the institution has to, has to survive and goes on and it did. And the university survived that, ah, that, ah, '68 period very well, intact. And as a matter of fact I think it came out even stronger than it was before. Because there was good out of the, out of this, it wasn't all bad. It was good. They, the students and the faculty, ah, did develop a, a better communication and the Administration too. So that those three entities had a better means of communication after this, after the strike than they did before.
I'm going to ask you that question again. Let's cut. I can't have you go past after the takeover because were not, you know.
Dean Epps, watching the takeover on television, at any time did you think that the school was going to be so polarized that it would just, everything would just fall apart at Howard that there would be no Howard no more? What was your reaction?
Well, as I watched the, ah, the strike on television, I, I was very concerned about it in the sense that I thought that it was a lot of energy and time being wasted. I think the students would have been much better served if they'd put their energy into the classroom and to the study hall and into their books. But, in either case, ah, ah, I believe that as a result of that there was better communication among the students, the faculty and the administration. So that there was something positive that, that evolved.
Was there a concern with the student takeover by the faculty, federal appropriations that were crucial to Howard's survival?
Well, I think that there may have been some concern that they would, that the student takeover would adversely affect it but--
Would you include federal appropriations, grants?
There was some concern that the student strike might adversely affect the, the federal appropriation as well as, ah, contributions from alumni and friends. I think time has shown that that was not the case. But, while we were very concerned about it I think that the, the federal government could see that the, these things happen. As a matter of fact at the same time there were takeovers going on at almost all of the schools in the country or at least at many of the schools in the country. So there was a, almost a universal problem with, with student bodies. It wasn't just our problem alone. But, and in fact in some schools there was violence and great damage to property. At Howard there was no serious damage to property. The students were very circumspect in that, in that regard. They, when they occupied the building, they only occupied the, the public areas. They did not go into any of the private offices. And while the University was not operative because the switchboard couldn't function and no one could get into the business offices, ah, the Administration Building survived that takeover intact.
Dean Epps, Howard University is a school of excellence. If you could talk about those important professors who had been to the school, come out of the school, what they had contributed to society and how you felt about going there.
When I went to Howard in 1947 there were a number of, ah, men on the campus and women who were very outstanding in their own fields and revered on the, on the campus and recognized nationally as significant contributors to their fields. For example there was Sterling Brown who is Professor of English and, ah, ah, a poet, whose works were very highly regarded, John Hope Franklin in the Department of History was, ah, considered, ah, the preeminent in his field, very highly regarded as well. In, in Medicine there was Charles Drew who had been, ah, instrumental in the discover of blood plasma at, during World War II, and had returned as a Professor of, of, of Surgery and Head of the Freedmen's Hospital as Surgeon-in-Chief. And there was also James Nabrit who is, ah, one of the outstanding law professors. Dr. Nabrit had been very instrumental in preparing the, the briefs that led to the major civil rights battle. A lot of that work was done by the law faculty and even the law students assisted in that effort. Dr. Nabrit was extremely, ah, ah, important in that entire effort. People like that gave the University a, a, a, an image of importance and significance to, to Black Americans and to the whole country. And it gave one a feeling of, ah, of, of comfort and pride to be a part of a campus that had people like that working there every day.
Very good. Thank you. Let's cut. Very good.
I'm going to ask you again about, there was one, there was, I don't know if I did ask you this question, but there was one history course, one Negro history course that they had. Did you think that more was necessary, you know, given the traditional mission that Howard, you know, had toward students?
Yeah, well I think they probably could have had more courses and they probably would have got more courses but, ah, they didn't have to strike to get them, you know. I mean they could have had more courses I guess, ah. As a matter of fact when I was a student there in '47 to '51 there were at least two courses that I know of from that one man taught, Leo Hansberry. I took one of his courses but he had at least two courses. I'm sure there were other courses too. What I'm not so sure of is that the students wanted, ah, more than just that. That they, they were asking for, a, Black significance to be applied to everything, if I interpreted what they were asking about.
What was your reaction to that being applied to everything, a Black significance being applied to everything?
I think it was inappropriate.
Because that, you know, your main emphasis there is to get an education, to prepare one's self to earn a living. If you're, if you're an engineer, you're going to be, you got to learn the engineering course. And, ah, and while it's nice, if you have time, to, ah, take electives, your main mission must be to, ah, prepare yourself to go out and be competitive in that field. And if you are, I don't see where a lot of, of Black courses, studies would have helped an engineering student or an architecture student or a medical student. If there's time for them, fine, but that's not the main mission of being there.
If I was one of those radical students and I said to you, but having those Black studies courses will give me a sense of pride in my history, in my heritage, much like if I was from Greece or much like if I was from Italy, you know, make me feel better about myself, which in turn might make me feel, you know, more stimulated, more motivated and turn toward something important for the community. What would your reaction be to that?
Well, I'd ask, how many courses do you need? You see, you know, the, the scholar, the true scholar would only need one course to be introduced to the field and then the library's there. You can go to the library and read all the books that are there. Why do you have to have, ah, you know all these courses that would interfere with your main purpose in being there. So, that I would think that, ah, ah, an introductory course is what would be, at least there for the minimum. But there's no limit and that's what a university does, it stimulates the inquisitive mind.
Then you can go off and do it--
Exactly so that the students then could having been stimulated by the introductory course, there, there's boundless knowledge and information that he can, can acquire on his own. And that's, that's the mission of the university to educate people so they get information on their own.
That's the answer I want you to give me.
The students were saying there was only one Negro History course. They wanted more. I mean, if I was a student and I said, I felt it was important to know about my heritage, much like an Italian American or a Greek American and that's why I felt I needed more than one course to understand that. What would you say? What would your reaction be?
Well, what I would say to them is that they--
I think what I would say to the student who is asking for more Black studies in the context of what happened in 1968 is this. That, they should not lose sight on their primary objective which is to get an education to prepare themselves to take their role in life, whether they're an engineer, a physician, a dentist or whatever. And that they, one or two introductory courses should be sufficient because in a university what one does is stimulate the, the individual. There's a library there with countless books and he can explore that to his own satisfaction and as deeply as he wishes to. But we should not have an over-balance there so that you would, ah, lose sight on your basic objective. In other words, if you're there as an engineer, then you need to master the, the, curriculum so that when you are finished in four years you become an engineer with marketable skills and abilities so that you can go out and get a job for General Electric or anyone. Ah, the Black studies would be, ah, a good elective so that you could enrich your college experience through that and if you are stimulated to learn more about it then having learned the basic skills of self-study in the university, you could go on and explore that to your own satisfaction. But I, what I interpreted the students asking for was a greater emphasis, one that was inappropriately heavy in Black studies, as opposed to something that would be a basic introduction.
Dean Epps, some of the students were saying there was only one negro history course in the school. Do you think more, more courses were necessary, you know, given the traditional mission of the University?
Well, I, I, the student's request for more courses is an interesting one because I'm not sure that the number of courses is what's important. I think that if you realize what the--
The request by the students for more Black history courses is an interesting one because I think we have to realize what the basic mission of the university is. Of course, you, it's mission is to prepare people in their chosen field. And at the same time you want to stimulate curiosities, ah, make them inquisitive and stimulate their, their, ah, their desire to seek knowledge. Now, the, there, when I was a student there there were two, at least two courses, ah, both taught by Leo Hansberry who was a, a very outstanding professor. I took one of his courses. They were electives by the way. If I understand what the students were asking for was that they wanted a greater emphasis or perhaps even more courses. Now, I believe that the, the primary mission of Howard University is to prepare people to take their roles in life. So that, for example, if you were an engineering student when you finished that four-year course, you should have the skills of an engineer that would make you competitive with a graduate from MIT or, or Drexel or any other of the foremost institutions. If you're a physician you ought to be able to compete with a doctor produced by Yale or Harvard or Stanford or Johns Hopkins. Now in order to achieve that there is a requisite course of material that you, one has to master. Now, to the extent that one has opportunities for elective courses, I think that's fine and, and, and, but there has to be a limit on that. There is no Black medicine. There is medicine. And there are only so many courses that one would need. Now, in a university setting, as you stimulate the intellectual mind and you teach people how to study then the library is there. They are able to pursue any subject to a greater depth if they wish. And I think that's the function of the universities. So, it isn't so important to provide a great number of courses but having properly stimulated the student, to learn about himself and Black people, then he should be able to go on and study to greater depth to his own satisfaction. So, I, I, that's how I reacted to that particular request on their part.
Dean Epps what is your reaction to the kind of notoriety the students were getting from the press, the media and how was that a disadvantage to the administration and the Board of Trustees?
Well, as, as one, ah, viewed this entire process dispassionately and stepped back and, and watched how it evolved, you become impressed that this is a, an exercise that really serves the university very poorly. The, the students, as I said earlier, at that age are absolutely confident about their own knowledge and understanding about things and they question their, their elders and the faculty, administration. And they, when the press--
Dean Epps, during the takeover, the students were given a lot of notoriety, a lot of press, I mean, and the administration and the faculty wasn't looked at too well. What was your reaction to what was going on?
Well, I, as one viewed the entire process the strike as a process it becomes rather disconcerting to a faculty member because of what's happening. The, the press, as you know, seems to enjoy the--
You can't say that.
When one looks at the, the strike as a process, ah, it becomes rather disconcerting for a faculty member or for a member of the administration because the press, it seems, ah, enjoy the confrontation and have no interest in seeing it resolved. The, the students of course are there they are absolutely confident about their own positions, ah, they are, they want immediate solutions. They, they, they're not, ah, ah, amenable to a resolution over a period of time. They want it done immediately. And if you take someone who's 20 years-old who is, ah, who has a television camera on him every evening at 6 o'clock and has a microphone in front of his mouth and there's a reporter standing there writing down every word, they become very difficult to, ah, to negotiate with. And therefore you have these non-negotiable demands emerging. And, ah, I'm sure they get a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing themselves on, on the press. The faculty and administration have to be restrained under those same circumstances. And in fact they have difficulty getting their message over to the media because the media is interested in what the students have to say. So, I, I think that on balance the, the faculty and the administration are at a disadvantage always in these kind of situations because the press regards the student as the, as the hot item of news. And that was true in this, in 1968 in this situation too.
Dean Epps, the students made this request for a Black studies program, what do you think of this so-called Black curriculum that they wanted? Incorporate that story about the two high school students and Swahili.
During the same time frame, one of the things that the students were requesting and especially high school students in the Washington area were requesting Swahili. They wanted to learn to speak Swahili. What I regard as unfortunate about that is that they, ah, had not yet mastered English, which is our official language in this country and, and the language they that needed to market their skills. I don't, I don't know of any business where they could have gotten a job because of their knowledge to speak or read Swahili. Now, I had an experience during that same time, I was hiring high school students to work in my private medical office, as clerks during the summer and I found them lacking in, in the English skills. And so it was paradoxical that they would be wanting to learn Swahili when they had not yet mastered English. I think there was misplacement of, of values there. And I think basically when they're asking for African studies, I think they need to put it in proper context that they, they, they want to know these things so that they can learn more about their heritage and understand their roots. But that should not be confused with learning the basic skills to become a productive member of society with marketable skills.
Let me ask you this next question, I mean, as a Black American as a negro what were you told by your parents? How were you going to be able to make it in this society? They always said you had to have grades that was twice as good. Was that the attitude that you thought these students at Howard should have?
Well, my parents told me that, ah, son, this is, ah, the way life is but you're going to have to work twice as hard as the White man to get to the same point. What they were telling me of course and preparing me for was a, a society that, ah, is segregated and where there is gross discrimination. And I accepted what they had told me at face value and in fact I found it to be true. So I realized that, ah, my card to get out of the ghetto was education and I worked very hard at it and I was successful in getting out by, by education. And I think that still applies today. And I think that's the same message that the students needed to hear in 1968 that education is still the best way to earn one's place in this, in this society.
Dean Epps, my parents told me I had to work twice as hard to make it, to get a good education and all that. What was your reaction to, I mean, what did your parents tell you and what was your reaction with the students rebelling in '68?
Yes, I had, I had very vivid memories of my--
I had very vivid memories of my parents telling me that, ah, for a, a Black person in the United States the best way out of the ghetto was through education. And they empha--
Dean Epps, what did your parents tell you about how you were going to make it at the time as a Negro in America? And what was your reaction to the, what the students were doing in '68?
I have very vivid memories of my parents telling me that, ah, life was not always fair and because of segregation and discrimination that I would face, I had to work twice as hard as the White man to get to the same point. And I accepted that and in fact I found it to be true in life. Education was my ticket out of the ghetto and I believe it applies equally to the students of 1968 and I think that their most important mission while they're in college was to get the best possible education to prepare themselves. And I think to some extent that strike of course was wasting their time when they could have used that time and energy to more useful pursuits. I understand the problem that they were facing but I think they're impatience is what drove them to take the strike action. Whereas, ah, negotiation and more peaceful, ah, discussion of those matters would have produced the same result, I'm sure in time.
Cut. Thank you very much.