News  A half-century of black issues at McGill, in Montreal, and in Canada

October 1958 The Daily prints a feature from the magazine Justice criticizing southern U.S. states for failing to uphold a Supreme Court decision to integrate schools. Author Henry Golden discusses the harm segregation has caused to both black and white Southerners, and argues that segregation has degraded Southern culture.

October 1961 After a McGill fraternity is accused of discrimination against a Jamaican student, The Daily publishes a feature titled “Segregation at McGill – Yes or No?” that “is not presented with the intention of taking sides, which our readers will do for themselves.” A few weeks later, an opinion piece in the paper claims that fraternities have the right to refuse a student membership on the basis of race, religion, and nationality. The author equates such a right to the NAACP’s right to bar a white supremacist from joining the organization.

October 1962 Daily news coverage of demonstrations against the desegregation of the University of Mississippi is accompanied by a text encouraging support for American civil rights: “It is essential that students across the continent clearly express their stand. It is a responsibility which attaches to us as students.”

October 1962 Daily writer Jerald M. Cohen visits the southern U.S., and unpacks the mindset and hypocrisy of segregation. He writes: “The older man spoke highly of the abilities of Negro students to enter the best universities. He seemed a reasonable, moderate man. But one of the last things he said to us was: ‘If the federal government tried to integrate the schools in this town, I’d be the first to go out and burn down a church.’”

October 1965 Coverage of a talk on Rhodesia questions the possibility of human rights while the right to vote is limited to whites, despite the election of a more moderate government. “Where, from the new Labour administration is the long awaited ‘firm stand’ against the continuation of racism and robbery in this oppressed land?”

February 1969 Concordia students claim a professor is failing black students without just cause. Police intervene and things turn violent when protesters occupy the university’s computer centre. Student records are destroyed and computers are thrown from the building’s windows.

October 1969 The Daily reports on disruptions of an African Studies program conference by 10 students calling themselves the Black Caucus, claiming that the conference should discuss racism in Montreal. After various letters in The Daily, two writers publish a page-long response entitled “Disruption as a means of self-determination for black people.”

September 1970 McGill students organized a Black Students’ Association for the University, in response to lack of accessibility and administrative indifference. The organization’s chair, Sally Cools, summed up the feelings shared by many black students: “We’re being fucked around left, right, and centre at McGill.”

December 1971 A noted supporter of trade with South Africa is slated to appear on the TV program Under Attack. One hundred students disrupt the taping and stop the program from going forward. William Kunstler, a U.S. lawyer who has defended Angela Davis, comes out in favour of the students. “Everyone has the right to speak, but others have the right to prevent him if they find his views intolerable,” he says.

January 1972 Len Bently, president of the Sir George Williams University Students’ Association, accuses the administration of racism after the board of governors dissolves the union. “Today, the principal views a black student as a potential threat to the welfare and good name of this university,” he says.

November 1978 Dawson College’s board of governors votes to withdraw their accounts from the Bank of Montreal (BMO) because of its involvement with the South African apartheid government, while McGill and SSMU continue to deal bank with BMO. McGill does not divest from South African investments until 1985.

January 1984 SSMU president Bruce Hicks emerges as a leader for divestment, delivering a 95-point motion to the Board of Governors on South African human rights violations. He is later criticized for not consulting the South Africa Committee, a student group pushing for divestment. Hicks forms his own organization, the South Africa Advisory Group, but admits that some members do not know who Nelson Mandela is.

September 1986 Ten months after voting to divest, McGill is discovered to have acquired stocks in companies tied to the South African regime. The Daily reports that the University’s South African investments have only decreased by 20 per cent.

January 1987 In a comment piece, social worker Alix Jean tells the Daily about racial profiling by Montreal police officers. “You meet any black person you see on the street and three out of five would be able to tell you of at least one incident where they had been harassed by the police.”

February 1987 The Daily polls black students’ attitudes towards apartheid, revealing that while 84 per cent believe “divestment should be a dominant issue in the West,” only 22.5 per cent describe their participation in anti-apartheid activities as “significant.” The poll comes a week following prime minister Brian Mulroney’s visit to white-ruled South Africa.

November 1999 Stickers appear on campus claiming that blacks and bisexuals are more likely than other groups to be infected with AIDS. The stickers are produced by a white supremacy organization and refer to white people as an “endangered species.” The BSN calls for a comprehensive, campus-wide response, but McGill’s director of security claims, “The fact is we can’t really do anything.”

February 2000 To solicit Valentine’s classifieds, the McGill Tribune runs a cartoon of white male birds trying to impress nearby females, who are distracted by an attractive black crow. The white males remark, “[Females are] easily impressed by spades,” a derogatory term for black people. The BSN’s political coordinator says “Clearly there is nobody with any racial sensitivity working at the Tribune.”

November 2000 SSMU rejects the Black Student Network’s (BSN) proposed constitution, calling it “inflammatory” and “exclusionary.” The preamble to the constitution refers to James McGill as a slave-owner and describes the socioeconomic disadvantages facing blacks today. The BSN calls for SSMU to receive racial sensitivity training, though the Society maintains that the rejection was based on policy, and not politics.