Consciousness Raising

Duke Rhodes' dormitory wall, 1969 Loras College Purgold

‏‏Social movements are often preceded by periods of information gathering and intellectual study. Throughout 1968 and 1969, black students in Dubuque spent an abundance of their time learning from Black Power scholars, philosophers, activists, and perhaps most importantly—each other. In her book, The Black Revolution on Campus, Martha Biondi explains that students were simultaneously impacted by national figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael. Although these figures were profoundly influential, those on the front lines of the struggle were indigenous young people organizing in their own communities (Biondi, 5). The black students at Loras and other area colleges gathered together to educate themselves about Black Power first, and then turned focus to the Dubuque community at large.  

On January 16, 1968, Loras College and Clarke College (now Clarke University) sponsored a lecture by Reverend James E. Groppi. A crowd of 2,300 students, nuns, priests and laymen gathered in the Loras Field House to hear him speak (1). Groppi was a Catholic priest and controversial Black Power advocate from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Groppi’s message was highly relevant to a white Christian community. “The white man has forgotten the essential teaching of Jesus Christ, and that is brotherhood,” he stated to his mostly white audience. Religion, he argued, had become irrelevant to the lives of self-proclaimed Christians. Groppi explained his role as a white Christian, stating, “We’ll do whatever is necessary together to wipe out the caste system in this country. This is real involvement, and that, I believe, is relevant Christianity” (2). Groppi defined Black Power as an “equitable share in the ultimate power of God” (3). 

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Groppi speaks at the Loras College Field House, 1968 Loras College Purgold

“Black power is something good… something Christian. There is nothing anti-Christian about power and the correct use of power. The only thing anti-Christian about power is the abuse of power” (1).

Reverend James E. Groppi

There was a nationwide surge in student Black Power organizations after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The “Students for Black Power” was organized in Dubuque shortly after. Many young black Americans felt the death of the nonviolent icon represented the end of the philosophy’s applicability. The Students for Black Power began meeting and having open conversations about Black Power that spring. They began recruiting black and white students from Clarke College, The University of Dubuque, Loras College, and several area seminaries in September 1968. Regular meetings were held on each campus, open to anyone interested in learning about Black Power (Article courtesy of the Clarke University Archives, 4). They used a grassroots and loose organizational structure—learning from one another through conversation rather than talking at each other. They worked to understand and raise awareness of black people’s position in society (5). Clarke’s campus newspaper, The Courier, reported that the Students for Black Power wanted “to inform the local community too, but begin by educating themselves on the effective use of public pressure. Then they will start working on Dubuque—to educate, to present their ideas or even to boycott, if necessary” (Article courtesy of the Clarke University Archives, 4).

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Photo by Jerry Streff, 1969

The Students for Black Power were involved in panel discussions and invited a series of notable Black Power lecturers to Dubuque throughout 1968 and 1969. These students intentionally searched for local voices that would inform their grassroots struggle. On May 5, 1968, a panel discussion on racial equality was held at the Nativity school auditorium. Panelists were Rev. James L. LaChapelle (Divine Word College), Thomas Auge (assistant professor of History at Loras College), and Hugh Nocton (instructor of philosophy at Loras College). They discussed racism in the Church, racism in American history, and the meaning of Black Power. The Telegraph Herald stated that students from the Black Power Movement at Loras College attended the discussion and engaged in the question-and-answer period following the main event (6).

In the fall of 1968, the Students for Black Power launched a yearlong “Splinter Series” of lectures on Black Power in America. On September 9, 1968, Sr. M. Dorita Clifford (head of Clarke College history department ) introduced the series, explaining that the American Dream had become splintered and fragmented, and should be restored to its original statement of freedom and justice for all (7).

On September 26, 1968, Dr. Charles Hamilton, professor of political science at Roosevelt University and Black Power leader, opened the splinter series. Hamilton discussed themes in his book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, co-authored with Stokely Carmichael. Dubuque’s newspaper, the Telegraph Herald, summarized Hamilton’s lecture. Hamilton acknowledged the common accusation of Black Power’s use of violence. He drew attention to two separate types of violence—expressive and instrumental. “What we have experienced is expressive violence…an eruption…unplanned, visible, leaderless, and its goals are inarticulate. Instrumental violence is planned, guerrilla warfare with selective retaliation and very clear goals.” Hamilton explained that “The purpose of black power is to re-establish an identity, a movement of ‘black solidarity,’” and “is an attempt by the black society to find identity for itself outside the white value system because this system is no longer legitimate” (8).

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1970 Loras College Purgold

Some white Loras students agreed the white value system was no longer applicable. Just one week after Hamilton’s lecture James Gardina, a white Loras student, told the Telegraph Herald, “We are rejecting the value system our parents lived under. We have accepted a new set of values and we lead our lives accordingly. Our system rejects the system of values that judges a man by his color" (9). Gardina was a member of the “Students for Human Rights” at Loras, which was organized to support black students on campus. In the fall of 1968, 35 white members of the organization began living with all 16 of Loras’ black students on the fourth floor of Keane Hall, which became known as “The Black Floor.” Although Black Power activism holds racial unity in high regard, having the support of white students was important to their success at a white college in a white town.

Dr. Alvin Pitcher, associate professor of ethics and society at Divinity School of the University of Chicago, spoke on the white American’s role in fighting racism during his splinter lecture on January 21, 1969. Pitcher was the director of the “Committee for One Society,” which was concerned with the “training of white persons interested in challenging today’s racist society, its institutions, attitudes and behavior.” While Hamilton’s lecture was primarily concerned with black self-determination, Pitcher focused on tasks the “concerned and useful white man” could do to support Black Power (10).

The Students for Black Power invited a wide range of splinter lecturers that spoke on different ideas and topics. Throughout the academic year, they hosted Robert Reitz who spoke on Native Americans, Saul Alinsky who spoke on organizing communities among the poor, and Rev. James Barta who closed the splinter series by proposing a new future for the “American Dream” (7).

Special thanks to Clarke University Archives for access to the Courier
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Cited Sources
Further Reading
  1. Black Power Is Christian—Groppi

  2. Groppi: Black is Beautiful; Black Power is Christian

  3. [1968 Purgold] Father Groppi

  4. Movement Here Aims to End Race Prejudice 

  5. Black Power: Talk in Action

  6. Racial Equality is Panel Topic

  7. Charles Hamilton Probes Splintered Black Dream

  8. Educator:US Polluted With Racism, Hamilton's Conceptual Approach Sees Duality in American Society

  9. ‘Black Power Experiment' at Loras

  10. 'Splinter' Speaker to Explore White Role in Ending Racism

  1. Clarke, Loras to Sponsor Racial Leader Fr. Groppi
  2. Father Groppi To Speak at Clarke Jan. 16
  3. Driscoll: Groppi Visit "indicates Loras' Openness"
  4. And More on Groppi
  5. Letters
  6. Sunday Rite Here for Dr. King
  7. Clements, Scheer to Talk Here
  8. Fiery Black Father Gives Militant View
  9. Father Clements: Black Man has Learned to 'Go it Alone'
  10. Mass Here for Malcolm X