Student from the 1920s writes about racial equality of the time


Editor’s note: The K-State Collegian published this column on March 22, 1927. This piece by Frank Marshall Davis is the fifth in a series published this month to honor Davis’ memory.

When Davis came to K-State in 1924, he was one of only 26 black students enrolled. He wrote a weekly column called “A Diplomat in Black” in which he discussed politics, history and campus life with humor and candor.

We ask readers to enjoy this piece of history.

This morning, while getting ready to make my eight o’clock class in American Lit, I picked up an old copy of Crisis magazine in which was announced the winning poem in the annual poetry contest. This particular work had heretofore escaped my notice. I read and thought of other black poets of both before and after the Civil war. Phyllis Wheatly wrote stuff that was considered to be the best in her time. Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote stuff that caused the great John Drinkwater to say he was the best writer the South ever produced.

This brings to mind quite a few things which I don’t understand: if these two were of the best, why aren’t they mentioned in my textbook out of which I am supposed to study the writings of the best American authors? Maybe I don’t understand that it, too, draws a color line; maybe a printer was in a hurry and overlooked the writers’ work; or maybe the author could not spell their names.

I wonder why the girl who asked me questions the whole period during my botany quiz, and the boy who borrowed a pencil from me in both of the last sessions of our class in economics, failed to see me when we passed on campus today. Both are members of the frats and sororities.

Perhaps some of my profs are not yet acquainted with the 26 letters of the alphabet. At the beginning of the semester one of my instructors announced his intention of seating the class alphabetically for the purpose of taking the roll with greater ease. My last name begins with “D” but I was not seated until after the “Ws.”

Not that there was any especial virtue in sitting between two white students. But a brown face in a sea of white faces is always conspicuous, and it is quite embarrassing to take one’s seat to the music of suppressed giggles of another race.

There is a basketball game tonight, and I shall surely go. But some of my colored college group will not go. Why pay, they say, $5 each semester to see games played in which Negro lads are barred from competing? We have men capable of playing upon some of the athletic teams if they were only given a chance.

But though these things weigh heavily on my mind, I still have much over which to rejoice and be happy. In winter, gray Kansas hills are covered with snow, a few evergreens, and they are beautiful; in the spring they are covered with grass that fits like a green dress, and this is also beautiful. I wear a jeweled fraternity pin, and my organization ranks second or third in scholars among all social fraternities of the college.

If I were to change this brown skin for one tinted in light pink, I would gain nothing but a few conveniences. But the pioneers, makers of these United States, forsook ease and convenience and went into life rough-and-tumble and made history.