Rutgers–Newark has a long history of supporting public debate on controversial topics, including the recent debate between Gary Francione, Rutgers–Newark professor of law, and Dr. Dario Ringach, UCLA, on the use of non-human animals in biomedical research. In1961, Rutgers–Newark hosted a debate between Malcolm X, a powerful force within the Nation of Islam, and Dr. William Neal Brown, a distinguished professor of Social Work at Rutgers–Newark, on the topic of racial segregation vs. integration.
Malcolm X vs. William Neal Brown
In 1961, Malcolm X made plans to build a mosque in Newark. To help rally support for this project, Malcolm contacted Rutgers–Newark School of Law professor Clyde Ferguson and the two made plans to debate integration vs. segregation. Shortly after Ferguson accepted, however, a White House official called Ferguson and warned him that participating in the debate would jeopardize his career.
Ferguson reached out to Dr. William Neal Brown to take his place in the debate. Brown accepted the challenge with only days to prepare an argument in support of integration. On November 3, 1961, Brown and Malcolm met at the gymnasium of the Rutgers–Newark School of Pharmacy and created history.
Photo courtesy Rayon Richards
The gymnasium was packed with supporters for both sides and the debate lasted for over two hours. After closing remarks were made, it was believed that Malcolm had won the debate and Newark’s first mosque was established shortly thereafter. However, Malcolm’s thoughts on integration would shift closer toward Brown’s in the years following the debate.
Brown taught at Rutgers–Newark from 1956 until his retirement in 1989. He passed away at the age of 90 on April 17, 2009, but his spirit and dedication to education lives on in the memories of those fortunate enough to have known him. Learn more about Brown’s life history, including his service as a Tuskegee Airman.Read more about the debate and an excerpt of the opening remarks
Those Were the Days
Prior to becoming the large and diverse campus that exists today, Rutgers–Newark was known as the University of Newark. Students attended classes in the old Ballantine Brewery at 40 Rector Street.
In a 1961 issue of the Observer, two Rutgers–Newark alumni shared their college experience:
Joseph Mellillo, NCAS ‘39 and NLAW ‘41, recalled:
“There was a great deal of interest in student activities…when I was running for Student Council, we had very hotly contested elections. At times, the candidates even presented slates. We had the Mummers, then, too, a pretty-good basketball team (the bombers), and, of course, the Glee Club. Our debating team was known as the cavaliers and in 1938, under the direction of Professor Stevens, we won a Silver Cup in an inter-mural contest. The Chronicle was the name of our newspaper at first. Later it was changed to the Observer. There were always columns concerning current events and opinions of the day. We often had interesting and diverse points of view on the same subject.”
Orville E. Beal, NCAS ’37 and RBSG ’54,
shared a slightly different perspective: “[My] happy memories center principally around people – especially faculty members. There is one in particular whose friendship I valued very highly and whose memory I shall always cherish. This is Dean Madison C. Bates… As an English major, I came to know Dean Bates intimately, and gained tremendous respect for him as a gentleman, a scholar and a teacher. His love for English literature, his thorough, patient method of teaching, and his unceasing enthusiasm for 19th century poetry, opened the doors of understanding and appreciation of his field for countless students, including myself. I feel that my life was enriched by the privilege of knowing and studying under this devoted and dedicated teacher. My recollections of the inconveniences and discomforts of attending classes in the old brewery building on Rector Street have dimmed year by year, but my memory of good teachers, such as Dean Bates, has remained sharp and clear.”
In 1961, a record 3,466 students graduated from Rutgers–Newark. As enrollment continued to increase rapidly, university officials initiated plans for a massive campus expansion. By 1973, the campus built several new buildings, including Boyden Hall, Conklin Hall, Ackerson Hall, and Dana Library. The goal was to build a campus in which the buildings were easily accessible and connected by a central plaza.
Pictured above: The Rutgers–Newark Campus in 1965, a work in progress
Pictured above: A new and improved campus in 1973