“Two questions are involved in the creation of the Afro-American Cultural Center: One is the question of identity. How, on this campus, in this kind of culture, is it possible for members of the student body who belong to the black race to retain a sense of identity and integrity in a culture which in many of its facets is recognizably and obviously alien to them? …how, at this college, at our two colleges, do we respond educationally to the fact that there is a very sizeable and a very significant element in our society—the black race—who have a distinctive culture, a distinctive history?”
President John W. Chandler (1969-1973) made this statement on May 20, 1969 in the Hamilton College Chapel during the announcement to convert the nine room three-story house located at 204 College Hill Road into a Black Cultural Center at a cost of $7,000. The agreement was negotiated between President Chandler, Christine Johnson, Alex Haley, and Hamilton-Kirkland Black Union leaders, headed by Humphrey Polanin. At that time, Hamilton, an all male institution, reported a student body of 830 men, 15 of whom were African-American and two of whom were African. Hamilton’s sister institution, Kirkland, reported a student body of 150 women, four of whom were African-American (Geneva Times, May 21, 1969, ALCC Papers). Although Colgate, Cornell, and Williams colleges had been the sites of takeovers during that period (ALCC Papers), the discussions concerning the center at Hamilton were conducted in an atmosphere of “understanding,” and at no time were requests by the Black Union leaders characterized as “demands” (Rome Sentinel, May 20, 1969, ALCC Papers).
Under the agreement, Associate Dean Hadley S. Depuy (a resident of the house at the time) would be relocated, three students would serve as caretakers, the house would be used as a classroom and meeting place, and the center would operate under the guidance of the Hamilton-Kirkland Black Union but be open to all interested members of the two colleges, regardless of race (ALCC Papers). During the first decade, the center was called the Afro-American Cultural Center, but the name was later changed to the Afro-Latin Cultural Center to account for changes in the student body.
The Hamilton-Kirkland Black and Latin Student Union (BLSU), and the house was then “known” as a center for only African-American and Latino American students. However, one former BLSU member recalled that membership in 1976 comprised of other students of color, including Native Americans, with an extended invitation to non people of color as honorary members (Interview with Phyllis Breland, Class of 1980).
Additionally, members of BLSU sponsored tutorial sessions for Utica area youth and used a car that was donated to the members for transporting the students (Breland). Students in the house also organized Culture Week, which often included a speaker who resided as a guest in the house during the visit. Those who felt a personal connection to the house often created or brought back pictures or other works of art from their travels, many of which are presently maintained in glass cases or displayed in the gallery on the first floor of the ALCC.
During the late 1980’s BLSU and LaVanguardia (LV) members held cocktail parties, parent’s weekend dinners, receptions, and Halloween parties for Utica youth (BLSU Photo Album). The ALCC was also a central location for alumni of color gatherings during Fallcoming. In 1988, male and female members formed a flag football team, and during the early 1990’s, BLSU members held Christmas semi-formals and faculty mixers (BLSU Photo Album).
The library contained a number of books and publications purchased by BLSU and LV members, including the newspaper of the Black Panther Party (Interview with Torrence Moore, Class of 1982) and books that were contributed by those who frequented the house. Early accounts revealed that the basement was used as a laundry room (Interview with Christine Johnson, Former Director, Opportunity Programs, 1969-2003), and later accounts identified the space as a hub for BLSU parties. According to one source, while many students frequented the bars or held keg parties in the residence halls, many members “flocked to the house where kegs and beer were not mainstays of the party” (Moore).
Although several studies were conducted over the years to evaluate the academic, social, and residential climate of Hamilton College, the one that resulted in the Residential Life Decision in 1995 changed the course of the house. As a result of that decision, BLSU, as well as all private societies, was forced to become nonresidential. After academic offices were moved to the second floor of the house in 1998, BLSU and LV members were allowed to reestablish a presence in the ALCC.
In 1999, black and white photos of Nigeria were displayed during an exhibition to commemorate the center’s 30th Anniversary and redefine the ALCC as a cultural center for everyone. Between 2000 and 2003, a number of structural repairs were completed on the house, and four office spaces were added to the basement which housed the Black Student Union, LaVanguardia, the Asian Cultural Society and the West Indian African Association. Additionally, tutorials, meetings, and faculty mixers continued to take place in the house.
During the spring and summer of 2008 the center underwent additional renovations to convert the library into a public computer lab, remove office walls in the basement to create a meeting space for student organizations and construct faculty offices on the second floor which currently houses the Africana Studies Department.
April 2001--Report of the Diversity Task Force
November 2004--Diversity Strategic Plan
November 3, 2008--Student Assembly approves resolution for
November 4, 2008--Faculty approve resolution for Days-Massolo Center
May 2009--Days-Massolo Center Task Force Report
September 2009--Days-Massolo Center programming begins
June 2010--Trustees approve facility (Ferry Building)
January 2011--Days-Massolo Center opened
April 2011--Days-Massolo Center dedicated
This history was compiled by Madeleine Lopez, Consulting Director, Cultural Education Center (former name of the Days-Massolo Center).