The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 30.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Williams gives own view

By Craig Jungwirth

Professor of Mechanical Engineering James H. Williams Jr. '67 warned black students that many of them are being trained to mediocrity, that many are afraid to think and act and that many minority administrative leaders do not represent the true concerns of the minority community.

He related his experiences as a black American and a minority member of MIT at a luncheon session during the MIT Black Students' Conference on Science and Technology Saturday.

Williams last attended the conference in 1973, when he proposed the establishment of a black think-tank. Others who were present at the conference thought the idea impractical, and therefore impossible, he said.

Williams hoped to help "the young people in the audience gain better perspective that presence was "fueled by a lot of work by some liberal white and some Jews. But mostly fueled by sacrifice and bloodshed of blackfolk."

I would like to help the young people in the audience today to gain a better perspective of the fact that your presence in this room today is really the result of a vast societal effort that was fueled by a lot of work by some lib. whites and some jews, but mostly fueled by the sacrifice and bloodshed of blackfolk. I would like to help these same people realize that many of our liberal white and jewish friends have given up the struggle and yet their exit from the struggle provides you with an opportunity to dedicate

Williams hoped the young people in the audience would gain a better perspective of the history of the black struggle. Civil rights progress was "fueled by a lot of work by some liberal whites and some Jews, but mostly fueled by sacrifice and bloodshed of blackfolk," Williams said.

Many of these liberal whites and Jews have "given up the struggle," Williams said. "There is a lot of work for you to do."

William's presents his

personal time-line

O+ May 17, 1954: The Supreme Court rules that segregation in the public schools is unconstitutional. Williams was in seventh grade in the Newport News, VA public schools at the time. "The White resistance will prevent the integration long beyond the graduation desegration," he said. Williams pursues his studies in Virginia under the 1896 ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson: "separate but equal."

New York Giants are led by Willie Mays and win the penant. (World Series?)

"The new Greyhound station has nice bathrooms in quadruplets. In other places, we have to go out back or hold our bladders."

"Little colored boys and little colored girls don't dream of being engineers," Williams said. They think of engineers as the people who "drive trains."

"Many whites say that Negros don't have the skills to excel at that all-American game basketball."

... reside in a country I have never heard of that is called South Africa."

In his family and community, Williams found no need "to be shrill." There are rumblings.

O+ Dec. 1, 1954: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. The civil rights movement begins. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is its leader.

O+ Oct. 4, 1958: A tremendous uproar in the US is caused by the launch of Sputnik by the Russians. MIT responds to the nation's technical needs.

"But when I discover that tuition is $550 per semester at MIT, I keep my ambitions to myself because I believe my parents will have to sacrifice too much," Williams said.

O+ Summer, 1959: Williams conducts a single-person demonstration at his high school graduation. He graduates first in his class.

O+ 1960: Williams sees Malcolm X on television saying, "Violence perpetrated by crackers on Negros will be met by violence by Negros on crackers." Malcolm X then became a hero of angry young men, Williams said.

O+ Feb. 1, 1960: Four Negro students go into a Woolworth's and demand to be served at the counter. Within a year, 70,000 sit-ins are conducted by college students across the South.

O+ May, 1963: Williams travels to Boston to gain admission to MIT. He graduated first in his class and earned a full scholarship from a company he had worked for.

"Look, you can't make it at MIT," the director of admissions informs Williams. "But look, if you want to come here, I'll let you come here and embarrass yourself, waste your time and spend your folks' money." Williams replies, "Fine, let me do that."

Ten years later, Williams was faculty marshall at the graduation cermonies at which the director retired.

O+ August, 1963: Williams enters MIT as an undergraduate. On August 28, on his way to Boston, he attends King's "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, DC.

Williams is one of three Negro freshmen at MIT. The total number of women enrolled at MIT in his four years exceeds 100; "however, there are no Negro women."

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy "fortells one of the most turbulent" eras in the nation's history, according to Williams.

O+ 1964: King wins a Nobel Peace Prize. "Without Malcolm, there would be no peace prize for Martin," Williams said.

The first Negro woman comes to MIT.

President Johnson promises to "do whatever he [needed] to do" in entering the situation in Vietnam.

O+ Mid-1960s: Riots over racial issues plague the nation.

O+ By 1966: "Isolation of minority students at MIT, especially females, and the national movement" prompt discussion among minorities at MIT. Williams said the sole outcome of the meetings was the decision that MIT should increase the number of black students. "need the Institute to increase our numbers."

The concept of black power transforms Negros to black people, Williams said. Most leaders of the black movement at that time resist the change, according to Williams.

O+ 1967: Williams considers applying to graduate school. His academic advisor suggests that he should "go back to Virginia [because] you have exceeded your parents' achievements."

O+ Summer, 1967: 70 cities in 22 states are hit by riots. Williams is now one of 16 minority graduate students entering MIT.

O+ April, 1968: King is assassinated on Williams' birthday. Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated. MIT accepts 59 minorities, 52 of whom are black, into the first "big class" of minorities at MIT.

O+ 1970: National guardsmen shoot students at Jackson State and Kent State. Williams is appointed assistant professor in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering in this "time of transition." He is the only black professor in the school of engineering at that time.

Black students shut down an MIT faculty party. The students call for the admission of more black students and additional support for black students already at the Institute. Williams and three of his colleagues on the faculty back the students.

O+ 1972: Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Wesley L. Harris, Associate Dean for Student Affairs Mary Hope and many other minority faculty and administration members arrive at MIT.

"Through meetings on the Task Force on Educational Opportunities, whatever that is, the concept of the Commission on Minority Education is formed.... As one of the architects of that concept, I'm asked" to chair that commission.

"Black students [were] flunking out like mad." It was "a national issue. Black students everywhere [were] flunking out of engineering and science," Williams said.

The improvements in education that would benefit "black students will help white students."

Williams proposed to the MIT administration that he be supported in his Commission efforts for two years, at which time he would resign his faculty position. The Institute declined his offer and asks him to pursue the Commission in addition to his responsibilities as an assistant professor.

Williams does not accept the position for two reasons: the "master's view of our problems will always be less than our view of our problems, and the master's solutions to our problems will always be less than what we need; [secondly] I choose my own battles. So if the master asked me to undertake a battle that will benefit the institution, he's got to give me the resources that I need in order to be able to have a chance at being successful according to my criteria."

O+ 1975: Wesley Harris is appointed first director of the Office of Minority Education (OME).

O+ 1980: Shirley M. McBay is appointed dean for student affairs, Paul E. Gray '54 becomes president of MIT and Ronald Reagan is elected president of the United States, Williams said.

O+ November, 1983: The insensitive dismissal of Mary Hope "displayed not only a lack of compassion for a sister but also demonstrated an appalling ignorance of both the history and sentiments of the minority community at MIT. The irony is that ... a whole lot of you don't even know who Mary Hope is. ... In my opinion the initial support and existence of this conference and its year-by-year persistence" is due to Hope.

"Why am I here?"

Williams discussed a "double-edged sword called affirmative action. I was winning awards, but a job was being done on my head," he said. He characterized affirmative action backlash as the master saying, "If you succeed at something, it is because of our generosity."

He explained to the audience why he remains as a member of the faculty if he is not pleased with the state of MIT. He is "here by [his] selection for the fulfillment of [his] professional goals."

"MIT ... violates Euclidean analysis," he said. "MIT is greater than the sum of its parts."Because MIT is "paid for substantially by the federal government," Williams said, "it belongs to me as much as anybody."

The state of minority affairs

Minority affairs are presently "in a mess," Williams said, adding that conditions are worsening. "Some of us, in fact now, some of us here believe that our phones are tapped. Some of us believe that the master has secret files on us and in fact we know that. And in many instances these files are maintained by our own sisters and brothers. Some of us ... are paid less than our comparable white colleagues."

"We [minorities] are devouring ourselves," Williams continued, because of the lack of a common agenda and a common vision. "Many of us are getting very tired."

There is very little cameraderie among minority members within MIT, as jealousy is common. No common agenda "is our major failure," Williams explained.

The minority community's leaders are "hand-picked by the master." Some blacks are used to take the pulse of the black community, to relieve the master's guilt complexes and are provided as leaders, Williams said.

"These Negros are not the leaders of anyone except other Negros," Williams said. He found "them capriciously insensitive to the educational needs of our young people. They occupy a particular no-man's land," Williams said.

These "hand-picked leaders" constitute:

O+ "a greedy bunch.... They have actually stripped OME of any black faculty participation. They want OME to be charge of Negros." An OME "operated by an Office of Student Affairs [is an] insult.... Nowhere at MIT is there a comparable treatement of white educational activities."

O+ a "staff [that] is being advertised. He's saying, `Hey, everybody, check these niggers out down here.' "

Williams also discussed issues of quantity and quality:

The "number of black freshmen has decreased. Over the past decade, the number of minorities has decreased [and] the number of black faculty has decreased."

"Many of the people who have left here are better than those who remain. But the master has control of our blood." Blacks coming to MIT are "coming in the person of new niggers ... as students, faculty and administrators," Williams explained.

They are characterized by thinking "they are here on the individual basis of their own merit," they "have no concept of what went down before they arrived ... they will argue that in the year of 1985, there is equality" and "new nigger professors don't realize that they're here on a two-for-one basis," Williams said.

"What should I do?"

"Nothing I have said, say today, or will ever say should suggest that you should hate anyone," Williams said. He encouraged the students to strive for equality in education through action, but equated hatred with sickness. "Hate destroys the hater more than the hated."

Williams asked his audience to "to think, and then act.... You are being trained, not educated. Many of you are so simple-minded that you don't care."

The re-evaluation that MIT is conducting on its undergraduate curriculum has little to do with blacks, Williams said.

"The education ... for black people on campus will be lacking in the new MIT education," he said. "You will not be poised for leadership. At MIT today, you are being trained into mediocrity, not educated into superiority."

Advice to minority students

Williams concluded his talk with four final points:

O+ Ignore those people who attempt to limit your education.

O+ Study extremely hard to develop skills to make you first class in creative areas.

O+ "Get the hell out of here when you graduate, then pursue those goals."

O+ When you look back at the blacks here at MIT, "ignore us. There are no black heroes here."

"The civil rights movement has stalled because it is dead. We are now in an equality movement. We cannot adopt the master's rules. They have failed us."