For The Mission or "For All The People?" George Mason College's Response to Civil Rights Investigations

In 1972 Edmund D. Cohen, a professor at George Mason College (GMC), sent a memo to GMC Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson concerning an “anti-discrimination policy” for hiring new employees. “It would be an easy matter to write a short history," Cohen stated, "taking pride in the fact that past investigations have turned up only trivial discrepancies.” These "trivial discrepancies" included one Black member amongst GMC's 124 full-time faculty and a virtually all-white student population. This exhibit offers another kind of short history documenting how GMC administrators responded to concerns of racial inclusion at the college.[1]

George Mason College originated in 1957 as a small northern branch of the University of Virginia (UVA). GMC initially enrolled seventeen undergraduates with an old Bailey’s Crossroads elementary school serving as the first campus headquarters.  In 1964, the newly constructed Fairfax campus opened to host 359 students.[2] During this formative period, GMC's student body was entirely white.[3] In 1964, the college admitted likely its first Black student, Bernard White.  He was followed by three Black students in 1965. The next year one Black undergraduate arrived. Two Black students came in 1967 and 1968, respectively, and five more in 1969.[4] 

GMC enrollment grew from 577 to 1,470 undergraduates between 1965 and 1968. By 1971, GMC had 2,456 students taking classes at the college. In 1970-1971, around .7% of all students (sixteen in total) were Black.[5] This notable statistic and alleged violations of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (administering a donor-funded scholarship for white Christian women only and hosting golf and tennis team activities at the segregated Country Club of Fairfax) triggered serious investigations of racial dynamics at GMC as the school transitioned from branch college to independent university.

 

By Anthony Guidone

[1] Edmund D. Cohen to Lorin Thompson, 16 November 1972, George Mason University Office of the President records, Collection #R0019, Series 3: Lorin A. Thompson, Box 4, Folder 3, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries, George Mason University; Virginia State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, George Mason College: For All the People? (US Commission on Civil Rights: July 1971), 4; Gunston Ledger vol. VI, no. 11, December 13, 1986; Edmund D. Cohen to Faculty of George Mason College, 20 May 1970, Office of the President Records, Series 3, Box 12, Folder 1, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries, George Mason University.

[2] Resume of the Development of George Mason College of the University of Virginia, Office of the President Records, Series 3: Thompson, Box 9, Folder 9, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries, George Mason University.

[3] Desegregated-Segregated Status of Institutions of Higher Learning in the Southern United States, United States Commission on Civil Rights, November 15, 1963, George Mason University Office of the President records, Collection #R0019, Series 2: Early History, 1949-1967, Box 2, Folder 19, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries, George Mason University.

[4] George Mason University Yearbook collection, Collection #R0002, 1965-1967, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries; Lorin A. Thompson to Mark A. Tannenbaum, 17 December 1969, Office of the President Records, Series 3: Thompson, Box 13, Folder 6, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries, George Mason University. For more on George Mason College's early Black students, see Anne Dobberteen & Anthony Guidone, "The .07%: Black Students at George Mason College," Black Lives Next Door: George Mason & Northern Virginia in an Age of Disparity & Opportunity, accessed September 8, 2021, http://silverbox.gmu.edu/legacy/s/blnd/page/the-point-seven-percent.

[5] Virginia State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, George Mason College: For All the People? (US Commission on Civil Rights: July 1971), 3-6.

Prev Next