Bowling Green, KY – In 1967, Dr. Robert Haynes was asked to teach the first class about African American history at the recently-integrated University of Houston. Over the next three decades, he would help design the blueprint for African-American studies programs at universities across the country.
“The students had demanded it but there was some apprehension on the part of the administration. I knew the fact that I was from Mississippi would ring alarm bells and I was correct,” recalls Dr. Haynes. “These students were busy reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I was reading the standard textbook on black history by John Hope Franklin. We had a lot of discussions, but by the time the semester was over, they accepted me. One student even said, ‘For a white man, you taught a decent class.’”
Dr. Haynes taught during some of the most incendiary events of the last half-century. He recalls vividly the discussion in class the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Dr. Haynes retired from his work as professor emeritus with Western Kentucky University in 2010. Though a pioneer in the field of black studies, Dr. Haynes says he didn't think of myself as such. Still, he says the experience changed him profoundly.
“I grew up holding the prejudicial views of Mississippi, but it changed me, no question,” recalls Dr. Haynes. “I became an advocate for civil rights. You just have to live in the world as you see it. And all of a sudden I lived in a different world. I even agreed to offer a course at church on Wednesday nights because I believed this country had a terrible problem, and it still has a terrible problem. We've made some progress, but we've got a long way to go.”
When asked what changed his views on race, Dr. Haynes’ answer was simple: “Studying the history.”