Activist, A&M prof championed diversity
Gordone legacy continues to inspire leaders of today
Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 01:08
50 years ago to date, over 300,000 participated in the March on Washington. One such participant was former Texas A&M professor Charles Gordone.
His wife Susan Gordone said the late Charles Gordone, who is most notably known for his activism and Pulitzer Prize-winning play No Place to be Somebody, made his mark on Texas A&M when he was invited to teach at A&M in 1987 by then-president Dr. Frank Vandiver to help increase diversity.
“The A&M kids really loved him,” Susan Gordone said. “They adored him. He loved them back, and he was quite a fixture on campus.”
Susan Gordone said that among other things, her husband co-founded the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers in his time, and consequently brought both his experience and his passion to the table at A&M.
“He broke down barriers in New York City and in Hollywood for African Americans and people of color,” Susan Gordone said. “He was very active in actor’s equity.”
Susan Gordone said her late husband tried to create a type of theater that embodied the way he wanted America to be.
“I think he was someone who devoted his like to a calling, to find a truly American theater, where people of all races and nationalities could come together,” Susan Gordone said. “He believed that America was one culture to which many ethnic groups contributed, and he devoted his life to realizing that as a writer, as a director, and as an actor.”
She said Charles Gordone’s activist sentiments live on at Texas A&M as well as in his play and poems.
Aja Holston, senior political science major and chair for the Woodson’s Black Awareness Committee, or WBAC, said she remembers the MSC honoring Charles Gordone in the MSC in 2011 through an art exhibit and said his impact on our world today can’t be measured by today’s society.
“Speaking as a black woman, the importance of individuals’ work combined, I don’t think we can ever know [how important that is,]” Holston said. “We wouldn’t be living in the world we’re living in without them. Just how grateful and honored I am to be following in the footsteps of my ancestors, that’s really powerful.”
Holston said Gordone had direct impact on the WBAC, the first African American organization on campus, because he provided a voice for the minority students of the time who had none.
“[WBAC is] very action based and about gaining equality on campus,” she said. “The work of the professors who could stand up for students is exactly what we needed. We try to continue to be voices. We try to continue the work in the ways we are able.”
But for all that Charles Gordone brought to the table, Susan Gordone said he was able to find the America he was always looking for when he came to Texas during a time where cultures were coming together.
“By coming to teach at Texas A&M and helping to integrate, we were led to Western revival music and poetry, where Charles truly did feel he finally found that America he was looking for.”
In the eight years that Charles Gordone worked at A&M before his death in 1995, Susan Gordone said Charles Gordon lived his life without bitterness
“He had a second act, which is very rare,” Susan Gordon said. “By coming out to A&M and bringing his understanding and his hope and his talents in the arts, he was able to really find something that he never dreamt that he would end up finding.”
While Charles Gordone was recently given a historic marker outside of the public library in his hometown Elkhart, Indiana, Susan Gordone says that she hopes to one day have him be memorialized at A&M.
“I believe it is a legacy that all Aggies will be enriched by,” Susan Gordon said.
Jared Walder, junior mechanical engineering major, said the diversity today on campuses improves the student’s experience.
“It’s better to have a more diverse campus,” Walder said. “It helps you grow as a student.”
Holston, who played an integral part in the planning of the WBAC’s week planned memorials of the March on Washingon, said that Charles Gordon’s legacy is something that today’s generation can learn from, but there is still work to be done.
“We’re still working through what it means to have equality,” she said. “The Civil Rights Movement is not over, it’s just changed its face. Remembering the giants and knowing where they went wrong and where they went right is important so we can learn from their mistakes and build on their accomplishments.”