Cleveland Donald Jr., the second African American to graduate from the University of Mississippi, was a civil rights activist, scholar, and university administrator. A Jackson native, Donald participated in black freedom struggles in both the Deep South and the Northeast, and his research on Brazil informed discussions of race relations in both Latin America and the United States.
Born in 1946, Donald began participating in the Jackson civil rights movement as a student at Brinkley High School. During the summer of 1963 Donald landed in jail for protesting segregation at the state fair in Jackson. He earned outstanding grades at Tougaloo College and applied as a transfer student for the 1964 summer term at the University of Mississippi. Donald’s application did not incite the violence and ugliness of the James H. Meredith case, but the university also did not welcome him. Administrators tied up Donald’s application in hearings and delays for four months before finally giving in to a court order. The judge who ordered Donald’s enrollment took the unusual step of stipulating that Donald could not participate in any civil rights demonstrations while attending. Fears of a repeat of the events of 1962 led university officials to call in extra security when Donald arrived on campus. For the most part, however, white students treated their new classmate civilly, if coldly. After a few days, the extra security left Oxford. Donald earned excellent grades and graduated in 1966 with a degree in history.
Donald attended graduate school at Cornell University, where as a member of the Afro-American Society (AAS), he participated in the April 1969 takeover of the university’s student union to protest sanctions that administrators had levied against black students for their roles in previous demonstrations and to demand better social and academic treatment of African Americans at the university. AAS members had armed themselves, making the protest extremely tense and controversial. Donald initially struggled with the idea of using the threat of violence at an institution of higher learning, but he later reconciled himself to the fact that white fraternity members’ attempts to use guns to remove the protesters made weapons necessary for self-defense. Inside the union, Donald, with his calm demeanor and his experience with tense situations in Mississippi, proved invaluable in soothing his nervous compatriots. The conflict ended peacefully, with administrators agreeing not to prosecute AAS members.
Donald completed his doctorate at Cornell in 1973, returning to the University of Mississippi five years later to serve as the first director of the Black Studies Program. He remained there until 1980, when he took a position with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Donald’s scholarship and leadership earned him esteem in the fields of Latin American and Africana history. In addition to the University of Mississippi, he taught and served as an administrator at the State University of New York at Binghamton, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Connecticut, Waterbury campus. He died on 26 January 2012 in New Milford, Connecticut.
- Russell H. Barrett, Integration at Ole Miss (1965)
- Cleveland Donald Jr., Divided We Stand: Reflections on the Crisis at Cornell, ed. Cushing Strout and David Grossvogel (1970)