Kenyon and the Civil Rights Movement

Photo by Greg Spaid
Bexley Seminary students march through Mount Vernon in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kenyon College played only a very small part in the Civil Rights Movement. Its efforts remained largely academic in nature. The College brought various speakers to campus to inform the students of the rise of black power, awareness of racism and the emergence of African-Americans in new social and political spheres. Students were only slightly more active. Bexley Seminary students, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized a march through Mount Vernon to run concurrently with his funeral. They invited the Kenyon community, and Gambier and Mount Vernon residents. Very few outside of Bexley attended the march.

By the late 1960s there was still only a handful of African-American students at Kenyon. The College was near bankruptcy and could not afford the extra financial aid to qualified "ghetto" students, the inner-city African-Americans. The few black students who were on campus strove to supplement the administration and faculty with African-Americans. This action of concerned students pushed the College to reach out to "ghetto" students in whatever way it could. With what little money it had left over after the construction of the women's college in 1969, Kenyon began recruiting African-Americans, offering scholarships to academically-capable students who would otherwise have been unable financially to attend college.

The next step in "integrating" Kenyon College was establishing the BREAK (Black ReEducation At Kenyon) program. While teaching black students about the primarily white environment they would be entering, Kenyon also offered a five-week series of classes to teach Gambier residents and the Kenyon community about black culture, literature, and history. By 1970, enough black students attended Kenyon to form the Black Student Union.

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