Clarksville, TN – My grandfather was a pillar in his community – a grocery store owner who built his store with his own hands. Through many family stories, I began to understand that he was a hell-raiser for justice.
One of his arch nemeses was a known racist politician in his community – let’s just call him Albert Holmes.
When my grandfather fought for sidewalks in the Black community (because all the White children’s neighborhoods had sidewalks, but the Black children had to walk in the streets), Albert Holmes opposed it.
To shut my grandfather up, he put one single sidewalk on my grandfather’s street. But my grandfather continued to push for change for his community, working to improve the quality of schools, the structure of roads, and economic equity for Black entrepreneurs.
My grandfather was a staunch advocate for education. He saw it as a path to prosperity, particularly for Black people. He and his siblings were the first in their family to obtain college degrees. He wanted to become a lawyer, but life and family responsibilities got in the way.
When I told him I wanted to go to law school, he was so thrilled. Unfortunately, he passed away during my junior year in college. I applied to several law schools across the country and ultimately chose to attend the University of Arkansas School of Law because they gave me a full scholarship. My scholarship was an endowed scholarship – given by Albert Holmes.
I share that story because often I think about what courage it took for my grandfather to be that hell-raiser for justice. I’m sure he did so because he hoped that one day his children and grandchildren would reap the benefits of his fight. In many respects, we have.
His daughter (my mom) has a master’s degree and is a retired school administrator. Her husband (my dad) earned his doctorate degree and was a university professor and administrator. The two of them produced my brother – who is a university professor – and me, soon to be the first Black president of Austin Peay State University.
While I consider ours a success story, my personal story hasn’t been without racist encounters. Despite my grandfather’s best efforts, I am still in the fight for racial equality and justice he waged many years ago. I now have my own sense of purpose for the fight – for my son, for our students of color, for our campus community, for a better world. I am heartened by the many partners I see stepping forward to help us in this fight. It won’t be easy, but together, we will rise.
– Dannelle Whiteside, vice president for legal affairs and incoming interim president
If Austin Peay Could Talk
“If Austin Peay Could Talk” is a new, special series about listening. Paying tribute to James Baldwin’s novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the essays in this series are meant to magnify the experiences of the University’s black faculty and staff. Every Friday, a different University employee will share their own deeply personal story about racism – stories that have been overlooked for too long. Today, Austin Peay State University is talking, and we hope you will simply listen to these important words.