In 1968, one of the goals of Dr. Elmo Stevenson, president of Southern Oregon College, in Ashland, Oregon, was to bring cultural diversity to the school now known as Southern Oregon University.
Enrollment had hit an all-time high with over 3,700 students in 1967. But what bothered Dr. Stevenson was that only 16 (.4 percent) of them were African-American.
Delores Miller was one of those 16. Integration was still a contentious issue in some parts of the United States. Racial tension often erupting into violence. And Ashland was known to many as an "all-white" town.
Delores said that for the first time in her life, living in Ashland caused her to "think black." People were friendly, she said, but she felt she was always on display. When invited to speak to a group, she wondered, "Do they want to hear what I have to say, or are they just trying to prove they are liberal?"
Thirty-seven years have gone by and enrollment at Southern Oregon University has grown steadily. But, as the saying goes, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Of the more than 5,300 students enrolled for SOU's 2005 Winter term, only 71 (1.3 percent) were black. The guess is that Dr. Stevenson would not yet be satisfied.
(Editor's note: Since this article was originally prepared for airing on JPR radio, African American enrollment has increased to 112 in fall 2016 out of 6,088 total enrollment, or 1.8 percent.)
Source: "Aha, Delores, You Are A Negro," O'Harra, Marjorie, Medford Mail Tribune, July 17, 1968. Corcoran, Michael, SOU Registrar, phone conversation, March 29, 2005.
— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.