A tribute to the cadre of black students who arrived at the College of the Holy Cross in the fall of 1968, and to the professor who recruited them.
In the mid-’60s, Holy Cross typically admitted only two black students per year. Convinced that this ethnic homogeneity risked consigning his college to irrelevance in a changing era, the Rev. John Brooks, a professor of theology, set out to recruit promising black students for the class entering in the fall of 1968. Brooks proved to be an extraordinary talent scout. His incoming group of 20 included Edward Jones, who would win a Pulitzer Prize in 2004; Edward Jenkins, who would play for the Miami Dolphins; Theodore Wells, today one of the nation’s premier trial attorneys; and a sophomore transfer student named Clarence Thomas. In this workmanlike debut, Bloomberg BusinessWeek contributor Brady follows this group of courageous young men as they adapted to the challenges of college life in an overwhelmingly white institution and city, and as the college adapted to their arrival. Brooks was a persistent mentor and advocate for these students and their successors in later classes; he insisted that some adaptation was necessary, as the black students “didn’t have the role models in the classroom or the easy comfort of being in the majority.” He argued for extra consideration but not lower standards, encouraging his colleagues to strive “to understand where skin color made a difference, and where it did not.” The actual conflicts that arose as a result of the influx of black students are familiar: demands for more black faculty and students, black studies classes, more scholarship aid, separate black living quarters, a disciplinary process more sensitive to the concerns of students of color. Brady narrates the college’s navigation through these controversies without much further analysis. Similarly, her portraits of various students ably describe their personal struggles without considering which racial issues they confronted may have been unique to the times and which are of persisting relevance.
The book succeeds as an encomium to Brooks and his band of pioneering brothers, but misses an opportunity to excel as either biography or timely history.