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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rebuilt OSU black cultural center had cross burning in 1976

headline, 'Legacy continues at BCC,' Barometer Apr. 16, 2015, p. 1

PHOTO: Courtnee' Morin, "Celebrating Lonnie B. Harris, his legacy," OSU The Daily Barometer, Apr. 16, 2015, p. 1 said, "The grand opening event included speeches by people such as Jaymes Winters, Larry Griggs and Geoff Brooks, people who'd had personal ties to Lonnie B. Harris. They spoke of his legacy and how it can continue even now, after his passing, with the cultural center. Oregon State University President Ed Ray and the Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole also spoke at the event. . . . The building itself is an homage to different African cultures using architecture and textiles in the building materials and decor that were inspired from cultures all across Africa, from the shotgun house styled gathering hall to the circular sitting room. The center will host many on-campus groups including the OSU National Panhellenic Council, the African Student Association, the Black Graduate Student Association, Black Student Union and the National Society for Black Engineers."

Oct. 20, 1976 front page of OSU Barometer with headline 'Black cultural center victimized by vandals'

PHOTO: front page story, "Black Cultural Center victimized by vandals," reported in 1976 that a burning cross had been placed on the lawn of the Oregon State University Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center just one year after the center was founded. Several students were caught and the university president gave them an "unspecified punishment," which upset many people on campus (See official campus student newspaper reports: Barometer, Oct. 20, 1976, p. 1, Oct. 21, p. 4, Oct. 22, p. 1, Oct. 25, p. 1, 11). The incident was also deemed important enough to be documented in the 1977 Beaver Yearbook (p. 271). See previous posts OSU cross burning 1976 (8/5/06) and OSU gay history at site (1/16/12).

The OSU black student center, which students placed a burning cross on its lawn in 1976, was recently torn down and rebuilt:

"The Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center at Oregon State University is ready for its close-up. The center. located at 100 S.W. Memorial Place, is hosting a grand opening ceremony at 3;30 p.m. Wednesday, and the community is invited to participate. Lonnie B. Harris was the first director of the Educational Opportunities Program that was set up to increase recruitment and retention of black students at OSU. . . The center was built on the same spot as its predecessor, but the larger footprint includes expansive meetings rooms, study spaces and a large kitchen. . . The Harris Center is one of four OSU cultural centers with new spaces. The Native American Longhouse moved into its new building in 2013 and the Cesar Chavez Centro Cultural opened in 2014. The Asian & Pacific Cultural Center holds its grand opening April 29." (Quoted from James Day, "OSU sets ceremony for new center," posted Apr. 13, 2015)

Oregon State University's four cultural centers mentioned in the news story (for black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian American students) are always mentioned by University officials separately from the OSU Pride Center for LGBT students, which in my opinion is due to political sensitivities that I understand, but hope will not be issues in the future. For example, many racial minority students don't want to be compared to gay students for homophobic reasons similar to those held by some university officials and some state conservative politicians who believe gay students have "chosen their gay lifestyle or sexual preference" and therefore are undeserving of any help from taxpayers. However, a small shift in this political talking point could be heard from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Hispanic and the youngest Republican candidate for President, during his Apr. 19, 2015 "CBS Face the Nation" interview, when Bob Schaeffer asked about gay marriage and if being gay is a choice -- Rubio ironically said, "I don't believe people choose their sexual preferences" and added that gay marriage should be left to State Legislatures to decide instead of Judges, which is a point that still fits with conservative state rights dogma, but bravely goes against the theocratic Republicans who want to legislate, against secular gay marriage, based on their interpretation of God's word.

I am happy that four of the OSU cultural centers have been rebuilt and I hope that the university will also be able to give the OSU Pride Center the same attention in the future, as well as the Women's Center where gay activism started at OSU in the 1970's with the help of lesbian leaders.

The newspaper story about dedication of the newly built OSU black cultural center inspired me to submit the following letter to the editor of a newspaper that serves the small City where OSU is located, but the editor chose not to print it (UPDATE: 4/20/15 it was printed on Monday see link below):

In 1976, students placed a burning cross on the lawn of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center at Oregon State University, and they received only an "unspecified punishment" by the President of OSU, according to page 1 stories in the campus newspaper, starting Oct. 20, 1976, and the 1977 Beaver yearbook, p. 271.

Similar to 1976, when no students overtly considered themselves racists, today's students can still learn lessons from the Apr. 15, 2015 grand opening of their newly built cultural center.

(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "Letters: New black cultural center recalls context of the past," Gazette-Times, April 20, 2015, p. A?)

Some related links and thoughts: