Emergence (1968 - 1969)
After being formally recognized as a student organization, the then Afro-American Society hit the ground running by organizing speakers and writing articles promoting these speakers and their political ideals for the Billboard, Wilson College's student newspaper.
In the October 11th, 1968 issue, student Paula Young wrote an article entitled "Black Art Forms May Soon Be Dominant in American Culture." Young details the then executive director of the Harlem Cultural Council of New York, Edward K. Taylor's lecture to Wilson College's Fine Arts department. Taylor's main thesis, Young argued, was how black art forms which were once suppressed would take over the world. Young detailed how Taylor's talk had "different effects on each of the audience members" and claimed that it was "fuel to the fire for black students." Young expounded that white students were made uncomfortable by the lecture, and she welcomed "questions and refutations." She ended the article by stating:
"I am proud to say that Mr. Taylor is my black brother and I am his black sister."
Later that fall, then-Texas state senator Barbara Jordan, later a member of the US House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979, spoke to a large audience in Laird Hall on the subject of “change."
In November of 1968, the society organized and inaugurated an “Afro-American Gospel Choir.” The intent of the choir was to celebrate religious music that is “quite different” from what the Wilson community had become accustomed to hearing at chapels and church-on-campus. Member Emma Pipkin declared that the only requirement to join the choir was, “you’ve got to be black” (The Billboard, November 1968).
In that same month, Julian Bond, one of eight African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 and a man whose name the Billboard claimed "kindles immediate racial and political controversy" spoke in Laird Auditorium. The College Government Association and the Afro-American Society hosted him.
Dr. Bennetta Bullock Washington, founder of the Women’s Job Corps in Washington D. C. and advocate for education to the poor, visited campus in February, 1969 and a few months later received an honorary degree at Commencement.
In 1969, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) appeared at Wilson on March 7th in Laird Hall. Baraka gave a lecture that was followed by a performance by his repertoire group, the Spirit House Movers. Young wrote in the Billboard that, “it is enlightened Brother Jones that will present a picture of the black man’s position in relation to his white oppressors.” An Afro-American Club sponsored event, the event was segregated, with seats reserved for black students at the front. This segregation was “standard policy” for any event sponsored by the club. Baraka spoke of the importance of black identity and consciousness. He then read four of his poems. Baraka’s repertoire group performed a one act play that the Billboard described as “a bitter comedy concerning the master-servant relationship of a white, wealthy businessman and his Negro chauffeur.”
“The sisters of Wilson’s Afro-American Society feel that Brother Jones’ eloquent lecture far surpasses any comment we could make. His play, as did his poems, express what every black man feels. To Brother Jones and the Spirit House Movers, As Salaam Alaikum.” - An official statement from the WAAS printed in The Billboard
The Billboard declared this club sponsored event to be “one of the most valuable and interesting events on the Wilson Calendar.”
On March 21st, two members of the WAAS complied a Billboard Supplement on "The Black Arts," which was published along with the newspaper. The goal of this supplement was to highlight the merits and importance of black/African-American literature. This curated collection of works included poems, drawings, and photos of sculptures created and written by black/African-American artists. Many were selections of prominent works by Langston Hughes and LeRoi Jones. Of these was a selection from Gil Scott-Heron's "Comment No. 1," a work that has echoed since its initial release in 1970. Gil Scott-Heron's "Comment No. 1" is a blunt, surrealist piece delivered by Scott-Heron in spoken word about the African-American experience and the faded idealism of the American dream. Many will recognize its famous line, "Who Will Survive in America?" from a Kanye West song of the same name.
With three talks from prominent black thinkers in less than a year, the Afro-American Society of Wilson College was galvanized. The WAAS worked as a united force to get significant speakers to campus and worked to have people in attendance. The extraordinary lectures delivered would not have come to be on Wilson's campus without the WAAS and their hard work. By forming a space that celebrated themselves while simultaneously discussing hard-hitting issues, the WAAS created agency and a forum for students of color.