By Daniel Adams
Ferrum College's President Dr. Ralph Arthur believed that segregation was immoral and unchristian. He favored desegregation at Ferrum from the time he started here in 1954, which was the same year as Brown v. Board of Education mandated the desegregation of public schools. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dr. Arthur saw his chance: the new law threatened to take away federal funds to institutions receiving those funds that did not desegregate.
Dr. Arthur laid it out on the table to desegregation’s opponents: If Ferrum didn’t integrate, it stood to lose a lot of money. In 1966, well before it was legally required to, Ferrum accepted its first black student: Jerry Venable, a basketball player who came from an all-black high school in the Shenandoah Valley. He would go on to play basketball for the University of Kansas, then professionally for the Harlem Globetrotters.
African-American students became a still-small but major presence on campus in the 1970s. The first Black student union was founded in 1966 at San Francisco State University. Shortly after, Black student unions were established at other campuses across the nation. Black student unions developed from the Black Campus Movement, which took place between 1965 and 1972. This was a pivotal moment in history where African American college students demanded and protested for increased campus inclusivity.
Ferrum's Black Student Union formed in 1971—just five years after Jerry Venable enrolled—and there were other all-black organizations on campus, such as the choir Voices of Hope. More African-American faculty were added by the early 1970s, including history professor Dr. Andrew Baskin. What started as Black History Week, the 2nd week of every February, became Black History Month nationwide by 1976—appropriately enough, America’s Bicentennial Year.
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Micah Allen, class of 2022, majored in History while at Ferrum College. He spent his Senior History Internship working at Stanley Library digitizing and transcribing the history of the Black Student Union utilizing the college's paper, The Iron Blade, yearbooks, and other Ferrum College publications throughout the 1970s-80s.