DePauw’s Archives: Why are we having the same conversation on Race?

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Photo of the late Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo courtesy of Unseen Histories)

Black History Month may be coming to an end, but the urgency to talk about Black history will never waver. For my History of Public Discourse class, we went to the Archives and Special Collections Center at Roy O. West Library, where we did archival research with Bethany Fiechter, the coordinator of the archival center. During our time there, we looked at periods of protests and demonstrations, and needless to say, I had a critical eye when it came to my findings.

We looked at archives from the Civil Rights Movement and as interesting as it was to see the articles from The DePauw, it was disheartening to notice how familiar the content was to our present racial climate, and to visibly see the discrepancy, or in this case lack thereof. 

I found an article written by then-student, Fritz Ettle, from The DePauw in the year 1968. This article included an intended labor and automation speech by Brendon Sexton. It immediately turned into his concern for the racial atmosphere and outlook of America's future in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s death.

It quotes, “‘I don’t envy the youth, I am glad I don’t have to confront the nation you’ll have to confront,’ Sexton said. Pointing his finger at the ‘lilly white’ audience of DePauw students seated before him, Sexton suggested that America has structured a racist society. ‘This is true not only of DePauw, but all universities of America,’ Sexton said.”

What is fascinating about this is the language of honesty and reality that was employed by Sexton. The idea that my assumption that every white person during that time was a racist bigot may not be true is weird, but also fascinating. However, the thing that is infuriating is we are having these same exact conversations about race in America today, and it feels like we can’t move forward no matter how much we riot, burn, beg, and cry. 

In the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and recently, Tyre Nichols, police brutality is and will be continual, and I am unfortunately a part of the youth that has to continue to see it. 

According to The Guardian, “Law enforcement killed at least 1,176 people or about 100 people a month last year, making it the deadliest for police violence. 2022 was the record high of killings by the police in the United States.” 

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I am not convinced it will go down in this year of 2023; it’s already started. It seems Sexton was onto something about the future of America, and its hands of those that are in power, and the greed for more that they will continue to chase at the expense of those who are suppressed. For more information, head to DePauw Libraries and search for the title “Labor Leader turns comments to King.”