Ardis Smith and Dr. Rebecca de Schweinitz, History Department
Over the week of 11-15 February 1959, the front page of Brigham Young University’s the Daily Universe featured four articles on a campus anti-littering campaign. Organized by several freshmen, the campaign was for the winter and spring quarters, and it emphasized the significance of keeping the campus clean, because “Clealiness [sic] is next to Godliness at BYU, as well as anywhere else.” The catchphrase for the campaign was “Lynch the Litterbug,” and the chairman for the campaign stated that students who littered would be placed “on the ‘most wanted for lynching’ list.”
The fact that the use of the terms “lynch” and “lynching” was not seen as discriminatory and racially-sensitive during this time reflects the physical and philosophical separation that existed for many BYU students from the events of the civil rights movement. Because there was a small population of African Americans in the West during this time period, most students at BYU experienced a predominately homogenous racial experience. In addition, LDS church teachings that prevented African Americans from holding the priesthood often affected the perceptions that LDS church members held of racially related events. However, although these different characteristics were present, BYU students became increasingly aware of racial issues through reports of the civil rights movement in the Daily Universe. Through primary source research and analysis of the articles, editorials, and letters that appeared in the Daily Universe from 1954 to 1968, I found that as the civil rights movement increased in national prominence during the 1950s and the 1960s, students on BYU’s campus became more aware of domestic events and were largely able to develop informed opinions on national and civil rights occurrences.
On 25 May 1954, the Daily Universe published its first article about the passing of Brown v. Board of Education. Although the United States governmental radio station “The Voice of America” broadcast news of the ruling to Eastern Europe in less than an hour, the Daily Universe took about a week to report news of the Supreme Court decision. In an article entitled “Banners Hide Acceptance of New Edict,” reporter Arthur Hardy reported that while the media portrayed Southern refusal of the ruling, the majority of the men and women who lived in the South were actually for desegregation (in reality, few Southerners at this time supported total integration). Countless editorials, letters to the editor, and news articles over the next fourteen years proved that the exact opposite of Harding’s argument was true, but Hardy’s inaccurate response, as well as the slowness to report and the lack of student discussion of the ruling, reflects that as the civil rights movement began, students did not openly recognize or discuss the significance of such events.
However, beginning in the late 1950s, civil rights topics were more frequently reported on and debated in the Daily Universe. Even more, the civil rights movement served largely as the catalyst for increasing knowledge and discussion of national and international events for BYU students. By the 1960s, the Daily Universe provided news stories almost daily on civil rights events, and students of this time period began to analyze these occurrences in terms of their own personal constructs and ideologies. I did find that there was often still a disconnect present in terms of how the Daily Universe or students presented their discussions of the civil rights movement—for example, there were several instances where the paper would discuss racial injustice in the South on one page and would have an ad promoting a Southern-themed dance or a picture of a student proudly displaying a Confederate flag on the next. But it is obvious that the later generations of students in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, despite whether the beliefs that they were expressing were in line with modern views of race and equality, were thinking of themselves in terms of larger national and international constructs than the previous groups of students had.
I began my research in the Daily Universe as a student in Dr. de Schweinitz’s History 390 course on African-American History Since Emancipation. For our final project, we conducted research on African-American history in the Mountain West region. (In general, when Americans discuss the civil rights movement, they do so mainly in terms of the North and the South, which fails to recognize the civil rights occurrences and racial attitudes of the western part of the United States.) My initial research for that project led to my continued interest and research for this ORCA project. I did my research within the Daily Universe in the Family History Library, where BYU’s student newspaper is available on microfilm. I spent hours upon hours reading through the newspaper in order to isolate articles, editorials, and student letters that discussed the civil rights movement, as well as race and ethnicity. I saved images of all such documents, and later analyzed them and began to piece together what each individual piece said about student perceptions of the civil rights movement at BYU, while keeping in frequent contact with Dr. de Schweinitz about my research project.
In February, I did an oral presentation at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research, located at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. This presentation allowed me to further my ideas about what the many sources I had found within the Daily Universe said about the civil rights movement at BYU. I again presented my findings at the Mentored Learning Conference in April (where my research was awarded first place in History). Those two conference presentations, along with Dr. de Schweinitz’s feedback, allowed me to refine my ideas into a cohesive conference paper for the Mormon History Association Conference in Springfield, Illinois, where I presented my ORCA research on a panel discussing race in the LDS church. Through my ORCA research and my related presentations, I have learned about and shared how BYU students reacted to and discussed the civil rights events and ideas that were prevalent in the 1950s and the 1960s. I believe that my ORCA project on student perceptions of the civil rights movement at BYU reflects the interesting and dynamic intersections between race and religion; the significant amount of historical work that remains to be done on the topic of civil rights history; and the need for historians to study the civil rights movement in the West.
- Daily Universe, “Detectives Track Litterbug Trail,” February 1959.
- Daily Universe, “AMS Starts Campaign For ‘Litter Bug’ Lynch,” 11 February 1959.
- Armand L. Mauss, All Abram’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 220.
- Mark Newman, The Civil Rights Movement (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2004), 50.
- Arthur Hardy, “Banners Hide Acceptance of New Edict,” Daily Universe, 25 May 1954.