Lead the Way to a Better Black History
Black History Month, as I think back on my student life at Oberlin,
one event in particular stands out in terms of its national media
exposure and personal impact. Several of my classmates reenacted
the Underground Railroad for their Winter Term project in 1980.
I remember hearing David Hoard 81 and Lester Barclay 81
talk about the project and then bring it to reality through getting
grants and figuring out logistical details. I remember talking to
my best friend, Marzella Player-Credit 82, about how the group
traveled at night sleeping outside, in barns or churches. I was
saddened to hear about the racial slurs and mean-spirited people
they encountered along the way. However, what struck me most was
the growth that I saw in each participant. They returned stronger
than before, probably because they had figured out how to survive
a 33-day, 420-mile journey in the middle of winter through Kentucky
and Ohio. They seemed to learn to appreciate even more those people
who were helpful by providing shelter and food while ignoring or
minimizing those who sought to be negative. Also, it was obvious
that they had to reach deep inside themselves to persevere at times
and the result was a heightened sense of confidence in themselves
and what they individually and collectively could accomplish.
It is a very positive point for me that Oberlin has played a significant
role in Black history. The fact that Oberlin was the first private,
co-educational liberal arts school in the U.S. to admit people of
African ancestry in 1835 stood out for me when I first saw it in
my history book in the ninth grade. It was a key reason that I made
my first visit to Oberlin. I am sure that those first students of
color had experiences in common with those on the Underground Railroad
as they learned to navigate uncharted educational territories successfully.
Also, I am sure that they emerged stronger than before as they learned
how to survive and ultimately thrive.
Current students of African ancestry are carving their paths at
Oberlin right now and creating Black History that will better themselves
and the Oberlin community. As an alum, this increases my pride for
Oberlin and I look forward to hearing about those experiences.
Dawn Alexander OC 82
Alumni Association Executive Board Member
Oberlin Alumni Association of African Ancestry Member