On May 18, 1964, the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court's epochal Brown v. Board of Education decision, newspapers across the United States heralded a new "cooperative agreement" between Brown University and Tougaloo College. The agreement brought together, in a sometimes uneasy embrace, a privileged, historically white Ivy League university and a politically embattled, historically black college in Jackson, Mississippi. Thus began one of the most interesting and least remarked experiments in the history of American higher education.
The year 1964 was a pivotal one in the history of the African American freedom movement, especially in Mississippi, where activists from groups such as S.N.C.C. (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality) challenged the last great citadel of Jim Crow. Braving an onslaught of racist violence and terror, organizers launched voter registration campaigns, "Freedom Schools," and a new political party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to challenge the state's regular, segregated Democratic Party. Local activists' efforts were seconded by a cohort of more than a thousand college students, mostly from white, privileged institutions in the North, who flocked to Mississippi to participate in what many had come to regard as the central political and moral crusade of the era. Many of these activists, both locals and visitors, found a haven at Tougaloo College, which as the sole black private institution in Mississippi, had become a center for Civil Rights activism. Tougaloo's growing prominence, in turn, ignited the ire of white supremacists in the Mississippi State Legislature, who introduced a bill to revoke the school's charter.
It was at this poised moment that Brown and Tougaloo established their cooperative arrangement. While administrators at the two institutions appear to have entertained different ideas about what the arrangement might entail, all agreed that Brown, with its wealth, political connections, and rich academic resources, might help Tougaloo to weather the current crisis. Some already looked beyond Jim Crow, to an "integrated" future in which black Mississippians would need a "first-rate liberal arts college." With financial support from private donors such as the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, the two schools launched a host of initiatives, including pre-freshmen and post-baccalaureate "bridging" programs for Tougaloo students; faculty exchanges (in which Brown faculty spent semesters as "leave replacement" teachers at Tougaloo, enabling the college's regular faculty members to enhance their academic qualifications); and, most enduringly, a student exchange program, under which students at each school could enroll for a semester at the other. The Brown-Tougaloo agreement quickly became a model for similar "cooperative" relationships between northern universities and historically black colleges in the South, a model later enshrined in Title III of the 1965 U.S. Higher Education Act.
As the documents contained in this website suggest, the Brown-Tougaloo relationship has been no stranger to controversy. On the contrary, the relationship quickly became a focal point for many of the racial and political tensions overtaking the Freedom Movement in the years after 1964. While Brown administrators typically spoke of "helping" Tougaloo to fulfill its new mission of preparing African Americans to enter the American "mainstream," a growing number Tougaloo students questioned the value of "integration," while bristling at the alleged "paternalism" of their new partners. Rumors swirled that Brown's president Barnaby Keeney had been instrumental in the forced retirement of Tougaloo president Daniel Beittel, a vocal supporter of Civil Rights activism, and his replacement by the more conservative George Owen. Perceptions of paternalism and political meddling were not helped by press coverage playing up Brown's tutelary role ("Brown Adopts Academic Waif," a headline in the New York Herald Tribune declared) nor by the first scholarly project launched under the cooperative agreement, a Brown-designed "Language Project" to teach Tougaloo students to speak "standard" English. In 1967, Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael memorably denounced the cooperative project in a speech at Woodward Chapel, claiming that Tougaloo had been reduced from a black college to a "Brown baby."
Despite a wealth of missteps and misunderstandings, the Brown-Tougaloo relationship has survived for nearly forty years now. This website, the fruits of a collaborative research project between students and faculty at the two institutions, is only the most recent initiative launched under its auspices. Faculty continue to move between the two institutions, though most exchanges are now for shorter periods than a full semester. The Brown Medical School maintains a special feeder program through which dozens of Tougaloo undergraduates have been trained as physicians. Most importantly, the student exchange program between the institutions has endured, enabling literally hundreds of Brown and Tougaloo students to leave their own campuses and spend a semester living and studying at their sister institution. As some of the documents collected in this archive suggest, many remember that experience as one of the most challenging and transformative experiences of their college years.