Sometimes we can have once in a lifetime moments that occur because of little effort of our own. These moments seem to happen unexpectedly and catch us off guard. Once in a lifetime moments can be described as being in the right place at the right time. During my freshmen year at Savannah State University, I experienced one of these moments.
I was enrolled in Professor Juanita Adams freshmen experience course. This course, like many other similarly named courses at other universities across the country, are designed to familiarize students with the school while also assisting students in the transition from high school to college. A portion of this course taught some of the history of the school. I remember Professor Adams detailing the history behind some of the buildings and campus improvements. She focused in on a few of them that were the result of a student protest that occurred in April of 1963.
The students were upset over the firing of a very popular professor. In the midst of their advocacy for his rehiring, they started to discuss other issues on campus. This was 1963 and several roads on the campus were not paved, the campus was not well-lit, dorms and academic buildings were also inadequate in the student’s opinion. At the height of the protest around 1,100 students’ boycotted classes and several hundred of them withdrew completely. The protest came to a climax when two of the leaders Bobby Hill and James Brown were expelled for their involvement in the activities. In response, the students hanged and burned an effigy of President William K. Payne. The incidents made national news. Three months after the protest began, at the age of 60, President Payne died of an apparent cerebral hemorrhage. In response to the student’s efforts was very fascinated by Professor Adams story.
During my tenure at the school, I hosted my talk radio show on the campus station WHCJ 90.3 FM. I remember making this story the subject of one of my shows and going to the school’s library to find out more information about it. I went into the school's archives department which was located on the library’s 2nd floor. I was confused when I couldn’t find one piece of evidence about the story. The archives director helped me look through the school's newspaper files and not one single sentence mentioned the event. The librarian who noticed what I was looking for even started pulling micro-film clips for me to look at.
I was minutes away from calling it a night when she walked in the room and said “Dr. Hall, this is a student here at Savannah State and he is working on a project. I thought you two should meet.” To my surprise, Dr. Clyde W. Hall was the university’s Acting President from 1978 until 1980. During his, tenure Hall developed A Plan for the Desegregation of Savannah State College. Dr. Hall also wrote the only in-depth book that covers the university's history. Dr. Hall had come to the library that night for some work of his own. When the librarian noticed him walk through the door she decided to tell him about what I was doing and introduce us. He sat down beside me and because of the last name similarities he begins to question me about my family and where I had originated from. We discovered we were of no relation. Next, he said “well I here you are doing some research and you’re getting a bit frustrated. I know these incidents were documented because I used a lot of stuff from this library for my book. I know it’s something we can find.”
Dr. Hall sat with me and we did find some articles in the city newspaper and even in Jet Magazine that mentioned the incident and included pictures. He wasn’t shocked that the school's publication ignored the incident on paper as the administration probably would not have approved of it. We talked for a while event after finding the information I needed for my radio show. I never really saw him on campus again. I always look back fondly on that meeting and appreciate his willingness to pour into a young freshman.
Yesterday, with Dr. Hall’s permission, the University has made his full book accessible online for free. What a generous move on Dr. Hall’s part. I would urge all Savannah State University students to read this book. This is one of only two full texts on our school's history. Furthermore, I would encourage everyone to do their research!
Willie B. Hall
Link to download book: One Hundred Years of Educating at Savannah State College, 1890-1990