On Jan. 19, 1973, a four-page broadsheet, Perspective, made its debut on campus. Tucked inside the Concordiensis, the weekly student newspaper, the new monthly supplement offered to present “Black student perspectives and relevant issues concerning the Black community.”
Launched by the Black Student Alliance, Perspective followed its predecessor, The Black Dispatch, which published four issues in 1970. While The Black Dispatch was aimed toward the campus community, Perspective strived to reach the broader Black community in Schenectady.
“Black students at Union have for a long time recognized their commitment to the Black community and now we have a chance to honor, at least in part, that commitment,” wrote Thomas Watts ’75, Perspective’s first editor, on the front page of the inaugural issue.
The introduction of Perspective came as other Black student newspapers were appearing on campuses across the country. With names like Black Rap, Black Talk and The Black Explosion, these publications sought to give Black students an outlet for expression.
Perspective’s mission was to “provide an organ for the minority students on the Union campus to express their concerns, grievances or thoughts,” editor Charles Weekes ’77 reminded readers in the Jan. 26, 1976, issue.
This was critical at places like Union, where Black students made up a tiny percentage of the student body. In 1965, Black students in the College “could be counted on one hand,” according to the "Encyclopedia of Union College History." Ten years later, the College enrolled 75 Black students, or less than 3 percent of the entire student population.
In January 1976, President Thomas Bonner sat for an interview with Perspective, which pressed him on the paucity of Black students on campus. He acknowledged the College had failed in its mission to enroll more Black students and vowed to do better.
“I will personally support the efforts that are underway to increase minority recruitment,” he told the staff. “I’m very much interested in seeing the College improve the environment on campus for all students but particularly minority students.”
Working out of a residence hall on Lenox Road students dubbed "The Black House," Perspective published critical commentary, poetry, prose, book and movie reviews, and recipes. It also had its own advice columnist, Sisterly Love.
Not everyone embraced the idea of a separate newspaper written by Black students for Black students. In 1974, the parent of a student wrote to President Harold Martin questioning the need for such a newspaper.
“Why not the Italian Students of America,” or “The Arab Students Union newspaper?" wrote the parent, who asked the Concordiensis to print his letter to Martin. “You realize that this list can go on indefinitely. For what practical purpose does this expression of these students further our understanding and involvement of the democratic processes?
“I believe the College should take steps to delist this publication immediately and/or include the negro (sic) students’ newsworthiness as part of the regular news and features that occur and are reported through Concordiensis.”
Under an editorial, “A More Perfect Union,” the editors of the Concordiensis defended the need for a separate Black newspaper.
“Perspective serves as a sounding board for the Blacks at Union,” the editorial reads. “It is a place where students can write without the fear of being censored by white students, faculty or administration.
“Prejudice is the child of ignorance. Hopefully Black and White students will read both Concordy and Perspective to learn about all aspects of College life.”
Sharon Brown ‘75 (now McDonald) spent two years on the staff of Perspective. While she covered a variety of things, she contributed the majority of poetry that graced its pages.
“We just wanted to be heard,” Brown said from her home in northern New Jersey. “We wanted to have our voices and our opinions out there as much as possible because no one was really asking us what we thought.”
Asked if she thought the newspaper made an impact, she said, “We didn’t know if others were reading it, but we knew the African-American community at Union enjoyed it. We were their voice.”
A psychology major at Union, she made history when, in 1978, she became the first Black female trooper for the New Jersey State Police. She retired in 2005 at the rank of captain. She spent another six years as undersheriff with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office. She now works as a private security consultant.
Isidra Person-Lynn ’75 arrived at Union from Linden, N.J. During a class taught by Professor Twitty Styles, she became friendly with Watts. He wanted her to join the staff of the new Black student newspaper that he would lead.
“He didn’t recruit me, he appointed me,” Person-Lynn recalled with a laugh recently. “He would not let me out of it. I was scared. I said, ‘Thomas, I cannot do this. He said, Yes you can. So I did.”
A pre-med major who switched to English, Person-Lynn had little writing experience when she started. She and the small staff covered issues on campus, guest speakers and the like, all from the Black point of view.
“I absolutely loved writing about the things going on around campus,” she said. “I was also surprised I could actually do it.”
She said her two years with Perspective helped prepare her for a long and successful career in radio and public relations. After Union, she received her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California. She spent more than a decade at KACE, a historically Black-oriented station in Los Angeles. A mother of five boys, she also opened her own public relations firm, House of the Rising Sons. She is now semi-retired and lives in Los Angeles.
Person-Lynn remains grateful for Watts giving her the chance to be part of something new and bold at Union. After graduating from Union, Watts attended Meharry Medical College, a historically Black medical school in Nashville, Tenn. He was working as an intern at a hospital in Columbia, S.C., when he died unexpectedly. He was 25.
“He was going places,” she said. “He was so talented. He was a truly great writer.”
Perspective had a run of 30 issues, the last published in June 1977. Special Collections is inventorying its collection to identify any missing issues. Plans are to digitize the collection to make it accessible to the public.