University of Kentucky: The Plantation that Never Quits

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

This week, the University of Kentucky, who won the national championship in basketball with an all-black starting five, let go of one of it’s most legendary African American figures on campus, Chester Grundy.  Grundy was the head of the Martin Luther King Cultural Center and a leading icon on campus.

Grundy graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1969 and helped to establish its black student union.  He has been at the university for over 30 years and has served as the director of the Office of African American Student Affairs.   Grundy has been responsible for the cultural evolution of thousands of African American students through the years, and was one of the beacons of racial hope on a campus with a long history of embarrassing racism.

The University of Kentucky is the same place where a member of the Board of Trustees, Happy Chandler, consistently used the word “nigger” openly during board meetings and was never disciplined for his behavior (in fact, they have a building named after him).  It’s the campus where Aldoph Rupp refused to let African American players step onto the court (there is a building named after him too).  The campus that fires black men of distinction like Mr. Grundy holds onto the legacy of undeniable bigots like Chandler and Rupp in perpetuity; that defines the University of Kentucky in a nutshell.

The university says that it had to get rid of Grundy to fill a budgetary hole, but the move is interesting in light of the fact that they are very good at recruiting African Americans to fuel the economic engine from the basketball program.  Grundy’s greatest crime is that he is an intelligent and conscientious black man, which is an academic felony on campuses like The University of Kentucky.   Grundy would be better off if he were 6’9″, 250 pounds, with a fifth-grade reading level.  In that case, he’d be welcome with open arms, and there’d be no budgetary shortfall too big to keep Mr. Grundy on campus.

The degradation of African Americans at The University of Kentucky is pervasive across both space and time.  Dr. Lachin Hatemi, a non-black graduate from the university’s medical school, has filed a petition with protesting the treatment of African American medical students.  Dr. Hatemi says that most of his African American classmates were mistreated or kicked out of the program during their time at the university.  He says that since that time, the recruitment of African American students has been virtually non-existent and the medical school faculty is extremely undiverse.

Even as Dr. Hatemi has attempted to obtain data on the recruitment and retention of African American students and faculty, the university has refused to release the information.  So, while the university is more than happy to parade its thoroughbred negroes on television who dribble basketballs for public entertainment, it is entirely unwilling to show evidence that it’s respect for African Americans goes beyond the basketball court.  The reason the diversity information is hidden is likely because it is atrocious.

I am a graduate of The University of Kentucky and could personally spend the entire day discussing all of the racist experiences I had on the campus.  Sadly, many of the diversity goals stated by the university in 1993 have not been met to this day.  Most figureheads in charge of diversity are not given real power to make a change, and progressive African Americans are quarantined like a deadly virus.  In many ways, the campus is still the ultimate plantation.

When I was a student at The University of Kentucky, I used to write for the campus paper.   The racist breeding ground at U. Kentucky prepared me for battles later in life with national bigots like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.   I was accustomed to receiving hate mail and death threats from the students for nearly everything I said, but one black student wrote a letter actually supporting me.  Her name was Tanya, and writing that letter almost cost her her life.

On her way to class, Tanya was followed by two white students who pinned her behind the door of one of the buildings.  The students then put a knife to her throat and said, “If you don’t like your life on this campus, we can end it for you.”  After the incident, Tanya went to top university officials to report what happened.  Given that the basketball team was playing in the final four that week, the officials didn’t want any negative publicity.  So, instead, Tanya says they asked her to keep her story quiet.

Tanya ended up leaving the university, but we were not quiet.  Chester Grundy gave us the idea to hold a silent protest on campus, which eventually got national media attention.  What was most interesting was that during the entire time we protested, the brainwashed, giggling buffoons on the basketball team were forbidden from joining us in our marches and rallies – the last thing they needed was for powerful black men to learn to think for themselves.

Not all of the players were buffoons, however.  Nazr Mohammad (of the Oklahoma City Thunder) and a couple of others understood where we were coming from.  The team also consisted of Antoine Walker, who was later a financially-devastated relationship casualty of the infamous brawling bully, Evelyn Lozada, on the TV show, “Basketball Wives.”  One of the players even told me that the basketball coach didn’t want them reading my articles because he didn’t want my ideas in the players’ heads; so like slaves learning how to read by candle light, the players had to sneak and read my articles when the head coach wasn’t around.

The University of Kentucky basketball program is always happy to recruit fresh negroes each year, some of whom leave campus without ever learning how to read or write at a 9th grade level.  While the campus always finds excuses for not recruiting black students, staff or faculty, they never run short of ways to find big, black bucks to maintain their economic powerhouse.  In many ways, the campus is the worst version of what many universities have become across America:  Places where there is more talk than action, and “diversity” is just a meaningless buzzword recited in order to make people feel good.

Personally, I am sad to see Chester Grundy go.  Grundy, along with just two or three other people, serve as my only favorable memories from attending the otherwise hurtful and traumatic University of Kentucky.  Grundy introduced me to the teachings of Malcolm X, the greatness of Na’im Akbar and told me about the legend of Haki Madhubuti, none of which I would have learned from my professors, 100% of whom were white (it’s sad that black students can go to college four years and have to beg for even one black professor).  Unfortunately, disrespectful apathy among the whites in power, along with fear among blacks, keeps the campus paralyzed in 1972.  The loss of great men like Chester Grundy is the price we pay for silence.

Perhaps one day, the negroes on the plantation will revolt and not accept this nonsense any longer.  We got what we have today because those before us chose to fight.  So, to get what we deserve in the future, we’re going to have to learn to fight again.  Freedom is hardly ever free and sometimes it must be taken, especially when the oppressor sees nothing wrong with blatant disrespect and exploitation.

If you’d like to sign Dr. Hatemi’s petition, click here. 

To read a letter to the University of Kentucky president by Prof. Alan Aja, former Student Body president, please click here. 

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.



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