Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Black Domers: Seventy Years at Notre Dame, published by Corby Books. It is available for purchase on Amazon.
It was a beautiful sunny morning in September 1966 when my cab turned onto Notre Dame Avenue and I first saw the glittering Golden Dome. I had just traveled for nearly twenty-four hours alone by train from Charleston, South Carolina. This was my first trip so far away from the city where I had spent the previous three years as an activist in the civil rights movement. In 1963, I was arrested with other students in sit-in demonstrations and attended the March on Washington.
In 1964, I joined eight other African-Americans in desegregating the previously all-white Bishop England High School. In 1965, I was the only black player in the all-white high school basketball league in South Carolina. By 1966, I was looking for an integrated college environment outside South Carolina.
I received an invitation to apply for admission to Notre Dame. While I was Catholic, Notre Dame had not been on my radar before that letter. I was so impressed that I applied. When I received my acceptance letter, I was overjoyed. Although my guidance counselor was not encouraging, my parents, Thomasina and Joe McFarland, celebrated. My mother told me that if I did not succeed at Notre Dame, I had a home to return to. She helped pack my trunk with everything I needed to survive a world with which she had no familiarity. She rested on her faith that she and my father had prepared me for any uncertainty I would face. Her prayers would be answered four years later as she, my father, other family, and friends witnessed my graduation at the Athletic and Convocation Center. This would be their only visit to the campus.
I was assigned Room 133 in Cavanaugh Hall. My roommate was Tom Davis, a white student. There were two other black students in Cavanaugh—Francis Taylor (Class of 1970) and Leon Jackson. We were among eleven blacks in the freshman class and 28 blacks in the undergraduate student body. The freshman orientation program was designed to introduce us to the concept of the “Notre Dame man,” interpreted by me as “a conservative Catholic white male.” According to “The Satisfactions of Negro Students at the University of Notre Dame,” a 1968 study by Freddy Williams, a black freshman, and sociology Professor Donald A. Barrett, 64 percent of Notre Dame blacks were Catholic compared to 97 percent of the student body generally. This cultural gap resulted in the development of a strong bond between the black freshmen and black upperclassmen.
My first year was like that of other freshmen who were experiencing independence for the first time. I adapted to the rigors of academia, which I initially found challenging. I engaged in intramural sports, including basketball behind the bookstore or at “The Rock.” I joined in the excitement of the 1966 national championship football season. I relished the idea that I no longer had to wash or iron my clothes as I had been raised to do. What a privileged life! I rebelled against the requirement of a necktie at dinner. I found the meals “soulless” and drank too much milk. Fall merged into a seemingly unending winter of some of the worst weather South Bend had seen in nearly two decades.
As a child of the civil rights movement, I recognized that racial stereotyping was a problem at Notre Dame. An incident in Cavanaugh Hall confirmed my view. One night, Francis, Leon and I engaged dozens of our Cavanaugh classmates in an impromptu discussion of civil rights and race. Our dormmates questioned the worthiness of “Negroes” to enjoy the same opportunities as whites. Their opinions were based on the negative stereotypes of blacks portrayed on television and in the media. Of course, the three of us were “the exception.” Our efforts to dispel their racist notions seemed hopeless. I thought there was a clear disconnect between Father Hesburgh’s work on the US Civil Rights Commission and racial sensitivity on the Notre Dame campus.
In 1967, I moved into Alumni Hall with Bill Hurd (Class of 1969). Bill was an outstanding student in engineering, a track star and an accomplished jazz saxophonist. He introduced me to jazz greats including Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders. This led me to host a jazz show on WSND radio in the summer of 1969. I also bonded with another dormmate, Walter Williams (Class of 1971). Bill, Walter, and several other Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College students began discussions about organizing a black student union. By the spring of 1968, the Notre Dame Afro-American Society was formed. I was elected president and Walter vice-president. This was the beginning of the movement for inclusion of African Americans in the total life of the University.
The first activity of the society was a “Big Brother” program for the thirty black freshmen entering Notre Dame in the fall of 1968. Walter assigned an upperclassman to each entering freshman and conducted a separate orientation program during the first week of school. I was assigned to Mike Sales of Columbus, Georgia. This was a successful undertaking.
Nineteen sixty-eight was a transformational year for students and faculty at Notre Dame. Demands for change in university governance and student life, as well as the introduction of liberal ideas and ideology, took root. The rise in black consciousness on campus was fueled by off-campus events in the larger black community, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In September 1968, the society pro- tested a speech by US Senator Strom Thurmond, an avowed segregationist from my home state of South Carolina. We demonstrated outside Washington Hall carrying protest signs calling for the end of racism. This was followed by demonstrations at football games where we raised issues addressing the quality of life for black students.
In October 1968 we delivered a list of demands developed by the AAS to Father Hesburgh. These included: establishing a black student scholarship fund; hiring full-time black recruiters; increasing black student enrollment to ten percent; hiring black counselors; hiring blacks in supervisory positions; increasing black faculty; establishing a Black Studies Program, and providing remedial and tutorial programs. On the eve of a planned demonstration at the nationally televised UCLA-Notre Dame basketball game, Father Hesburgh agreed to establish a faculty-student University Committee for Afro-American Students to address our demands. The demonstration was cancelled. As AAS president, I appointed six black students to the committee, including David Krashna (Class of 1971), who later became the first black student-body president at Notre Dame.
To its credit, the University kept its commitment to address our demands. In 1969, in order to fund the black studies and black scholarship programs, the University dropped its 75-year ban on playing in post- season bowl games. Other steps included hiring a black counselor and funding a Black Arts Festival, hosted by the Afro-American Society, in 1970. In less than two years, the society had improved the environment for blacks at Notre Dame. By removing barriers to racial diversity, the door was opened for the admission of women to the undergraduate college.
The accomplishments of the Afro-American Society would not have been possible without the unity of purpose and determination of black students to create a better experience for ourselves and future black Domers. However, the ability to achieve some of the society’s goals was enhanced by a change in the campus social environment for black students. The black women of St. Mary’s College, along with several black families of South Bend and Niles, Michigan, including the Taylor, Scott, and Marsh families, provided a social lifeline for black Domers. In addition, many of us established strong relationships with black students from several Catholic women’s colleges, including Marygrove College in Detroit, Mundelein College in Chicago and Barat College in Lake Forest, Illinois. The alternating weekend campus visits, telephone calls, as well as cards and letters through the week made cam- pus life at Notre Dame more palatable.
My campus activities at Notre Dame were extensive and rewarding. In addition to my two-year tenure as Afro-American Society president, I was a student representative on the Notre Dame Board of Trustees Student Affairs Committee; represented the University at the National Student Association Convention in 1969; worked as a counselor in the Notre Dame summer Upward Bound Program and travelled on high school recruitment trips for the Office of Admissions. I gained extensive public relations experience through regular interviews with the campus print media as well as radio and television appearances. Sometime during my time at Notre Dame, I was given the moniker “Chief.” This was prescient because, during the ensuing decades, I have held positions where my official title included the word “chief.”
Upon graduation in June 1970, I experienced mixed emotions about leaving Notre Dame. On the one hand, I would be freed from the cold, seemingly endless grey winter skies, or turning onto Notre Dame Avenue after an out-of-town weekend and experiencing a sinking feeling. On the other hand, I had come to Notre Dame as a boy and was departing as a mature adult, hopefully having made Notre Dame a better place. My collective experiences at the University prepared me for a rewarding life, including: some lifelong friendships; attaining a law degree from the University of Virginia; a fellowship at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York; a law practice in Charleston; appointment as chief judge of the Charleston Municipal Court for 34 years; election as Supreme Knight and chief executive officer of the Knights of Peter Claver, the largest black Catholic lay organization in America; marriage to a beautiful woman (Elise) who conducted my orientation session upon entering UVA; raising two wonderful children (Kira and William); being a founding member of the Black Alumni of Notre Dame (BA of ND); my role as the chartering member of the Notre Dame Club of Charleston, which involved countless hours of strategizing and negotiating sessions. After four years at Notre Dame, I earned a degree in government. But more importantly, I learned how to serve others. For both, I thank the University.
Arthur McFarland came to Notre Dame in autumn 1966 from Charleston, South Carolina. He majored in government, was the first president of the Afro-American Society and a student representative on the University’s board of trustees. After graduation he earned a law degree at the University of Virginia. He made his career practicing law and, for nearly 34 years, as a judge in Charleston. He and his wife, Elise Davis-McFarland, have two children.