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Video: Holy Cross’ stellar students, 40 years after integration

  1. Closed captioning of: Holy Cross’ stellar students, 40 years after integration

    >>> back now at 8:37. our nation's colleges are filled with students of every race, creed and color. in the book "fraternity" author diane brady reminds us things were different. craig melvin, good morning.

    >> good morning to you, natalie. the book traces the story of a priest and his revolutionary recruitment of a stellar class of black men to a small new england college. a group that included several attorneys, a super bowl champ, pulitzer prize winner and supreme court justice . we sat down with father brooks for what turned out to be his last television interview. he died monday at the age of 88. in many ways this book turns out to be a testament to his life's work. father john brooks vividly remembered what many are saying about his idea to integrate the prestigious college of the holy cross .

    >> i thought it was absolutely ridiculous at first. why are you bringing them in? they are not offering you anything. they are not going to help the school at all. they were reflective of the racial attitudes that were fairly consistent in the united states .

    >> that we as a people will get to the promise land.

    >> in 1968 , just months after dr. martin luther king , jr., was killed and riots erupted around the country, the 44-year-old dean of students hopped in his white pontiac gto and headed to america 's inner cities with full scholarships in hand. he was intent on fulfilling his mission at the nearly all white catholic university in wooster, massachusetts.

    >> it was a moral obligation . a needy saw for african-american students who if they didn't get this opportunity could be badly deprived.

    >> in detroit he found a star basketball player. in washington, d.c., a self-described studious mama's boy named ted wells . in new york city eddie jenkins, football standout who saw the cross as an opportunity and obligation.

    >> there was a war going on and there was a war in the streets. we felt that it was time for us to stake our claim. we didn't just want to come in and get a degree and join middle class america , we wanted to basically build a new nation.

    >> reporter: at first some of the young men were skeptical about brooks idea.

    >> historically black colleges gave great education to our young people . great schools to go to. you don't have to go to this ivy league white school in boston.

    >> reporter: they knew full well what was ahead of them.

    >> there were a number that had no interest in getting to know us.

    >> reporter: nonetheless they accepted scholarships and started working on gaining acceptance.

    >> we did not want to be treated like minorities. we wanted to have an equal presence, a presence where we did not have to give up our identity.

    >> they started by forming one of the country's first black student unions .

    >> a group of brothers who wanted to be with each other, come together with a strategy of the bible.

    >> reporter: they lobbied for more black students and professors with diverse curriculum and for solidarity's sake.

    >> ted wells and myself, we were a few rooms past the bathroom.

    >> they pushed for all black hall in the white dorms. many saw it as self-segregation. it also surprised father brooks .

    >> i thought it was a stupid idea. the more i listened, it became clearer and clearer to me, they simply needed this kind of time together.

    >> reporter: the men would get together weekly at black student union meetings.

    >> holy cross has been good to me and for me.

    >> reporter: supreme court justice clarence thomas also attended holy cross during that time.

    >> it is i who owe the debt of eternal gratitude.

    >> reporter: during bse, they would argue passionately about everything from race to history's most brilliant black intellectuals, philosophical differences that exist today.

    >> the arguments we had at 18, we continue to have at 60. i see the world very differently than he sees the world. with that said, there's a bond between everybody who went to holy cross during that period and father brooks is a big part of that.

    >> for many of the 20 men he recruited and the greater holy cross community brooks , who was there for life's marquis moments, the vatican trained priest served as president emeritus where women are 53% of the former all male student body and minority students are a quarter of the freshman class. father brooks continued to push for change into his 80s.

    >> we should continually be searching for academically strong black students to come here and to engage in a strong curricul curriculum.

    >> like that trailblazing class of 1972 . eddie jenkins went on to play for the undefeated miami dolphins . stan grayson became a wall street executive, former deputy mayor of new york city . ted wells is one of america 's most prominent trial lawyers.

    >> we developed our sense of confidence and our sense of leadership. and the things we learned at holy cross really resulted in our being successful.

    >> father brooks was teaching a seminar at holy cross as recently as this past school year. he will be buried next monday, of course, on the campus of holy cross where he spent so many decades working on behalf of the students. the men he recruited said they were sattened by his death but grateful for the impact he had and in their lives. natalie.

    >> what a great honor for you to have the opportunity to probably get one of his last interviews.

    >> such a remarkable man. what's just as remarkable is the strength of the bond that he managed to maintain with all those students for all these years.

    >> such an impact on them. craig melvin, great story. thank

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