50 Years Later: Claflin University Celebrates Golden Class of ’64
May 13, 2014
Nearly two dozen members of the Golden Class of 1964 were in Orangeburg this weekend to celebrate their 50-year Claflin University reunion. Those special guests of the University were honored at the President’s Luncheon on Friday, May 9, in Ministers’ Hall.
“Take a trip down memory lane and think about where it all began,” Doris Bradley said in welcoming her classmates to the luncheon. “For me, and I’m sure for many of you, it feels like yesterday.
“This weekend is a time for us to celebrate and fellowship among classmates and friends. This is our time to catch up and reminisce about the good old days … and to see the progress of our alma mater.”
Sharing stories of professors, fellow class members, campus life and the social unrest that was ever-present during their time as Claflin students in the early 1960s were Mattie Murray Mallory, Rufus Knowlin and Modestine Martin Ivery.
Mallory, a retired educator, said she did some research prior to the reunion and found that of the approximately 115 students that entered Claflin in the spring of 1960, 100 of them graduated in a pair of ceremonies that took place in May and July 1964. She also provided copies of their class photograph from 1961 to those members in attendance.
One of her most vivid memories was the visit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made to the University in the early 1960s.
“During that time, we were involved in many demonstrations here in Orangeburg” fighting segregation, Mallory said. “Some of my classmates went to jail.”
One of those arrested was Ivery, who said while she was in jail, “I wrote everything we did from end to end on a roll of toilet tissue. And guess what? Somebody’s using my story – they stole it!”
Mallory said she knew she couldn’t get arrested because it might have put her mother’s teaching career at risk.
“But she did not deter me from participating in other things,” Mallory said, so every day, she would carry a picket sign on Russell Street to discourage people who lived in rural areas from shopping in the stores.
Mallory recalled a demonstration on campus that lasted a week, during which most of the students refused to go to classes or visit the dining hall.
“There might have been one student in a classroom, or two students in a classroom – and they were relatives of the president,” Mallory said. “We had certain demands. We wanted changes here at Claflin.”
Mallory talked about a bandstand area where the Grace Thomas Kennedy Building is today where students found out what was going on around campus.
“We didn’t Tweet. We didn’t have cell phones,” she said. “But word got around about what was going on.”
Ivery mentioned a clothesline some of the girls had up behind one of the buildings.
“Now they have everything – everything,” she said of the modern conveniences available to students today.
The retired educator said she genuinely enjoyed her time at Claflin, “and I really enjoyed coming to a small college,” she concluded.
Just as it was for Mallory and Ivery, coming to Claflin was a family tradition for many members of the Golden Class in attendance. Knowlin said his mother went to high school and college at Claflin, and his family belonged to The United Methodist Church.
“Therefore, my choice of colleges was limited,” he joked.
Knowlin said he was all smiles when asked to speak about his University memories.
“My days at Claflin were all positive,” he said, adding that he met his wife of 48 years while at the institution. He and Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale joined Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. at the same time.
“You really got to know your classmates personally, which led to lifelong friendships,” Knowlin said.
The biology major credited Claflin with giving him a firm foundation for his career as a laboratory technician. He retired in 2000 after 29 years of service as the Blood Bank and Transfusion Service supervisor at SUNY Health Science in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I have a great admiration for this University,” he said. “The University is like a magnet … and a true Claflinite will find their way back to this alma mater.”
Ivery told those gathered that she had once told Tisdale when they shared a math class at Claflin that he would one day become president of the University.
“He was so smart,” she exclaimed. “I was prophesying and I didn’t even know it!”
Tisdale urged his college peers – he graduated from Claflin a year later, in 1965 – to enjoy their return to campus.
Following a toast to the class and each member receiving a copy of the anthology “Leaves of Gold,” the Class of 1964 took a tour of the Claflin campus.
“Take your time and let it all soak in,” Tisdale said. “As you go around the campus, note how the campus has changed. But we have not given up the values of this institution – the values in terms of access and success, the values in terms of educating the whole student, both academically and spiritually.
“And we continue with our goal to be recognized as one of the premier undergraduate teaching and research universities in the world that prepares effective and visionary leaders with global perspectives.”
Mallory, a former Claflin Board of Trustees member, said she is thankful for Claflin.
“Claflin provided me, along with all of my classmates, an opportunity to go on and make strides in our society,” she said. “We’ve done well, coming out of the ’60s, and I’m proud to be a member of the alumni at Claflin University.”