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Telling Their Story

Trailblazers panel recounts founding of the Black Cultural Center

As part of Swarthmore’s yearlong Celebration of Black Excellence, five alumni instrumental in establishing the Black Cultural Center (BCC) returned to campus 50 years later to discuss their efforts.

Their talk, moderated by Joy George ’20, a Black studies and political science special major from the Bronx, N.Y., focused on the panel’s experiences during the Black student protest movement at Swarthmore and the events that led to the BCC’s founding.

“The story I want to tell hasn’t really been told,” said Don Mizell ’71, who discussed the 1969 Admissions Office takeover, the blame that came with the death of President Courtney Smith, and the stress he felt speaking for the Swarthmore African-American Student Society (SASS) during such a tumultuous time.

Panelists Rosalind Plummer ’73, Jim White ’73, G. Isaac Stanley ’73, and Ashabi Rich ’76 joined Mizell in describing their successful efforts to lobby President Robert Cross to secure funding for the center. Mizell also credited Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Michener ’29, H’54 with providing $100,000 to help transform the Robinson House into the BCC. 

“We didn’t freak out. We didn’t quit. We didn’t burn down Parrish Hall. We came at it rationally,” said Mizell. He added that despite all of the resistance he and SASS faced, “you have a great college here, because it’s willing to grow and change.”