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Article on 1981 “Vigil Against Bigotry.” Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

Article on 1981 “Vigil Against Bigotry.” Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives.

Gareth Fenley: There were two names I wanted to make sure we mentioned and one was Jim Thomas, ‘79. I arrived on campus right after he left, but I hope that the people from the ‘70s classes are going to talk about him. Apparently he was this incredible organizer who got onto the Student Finance Committee. He was an important person in getting the Gay Union organized and financed.

The other was in my time, Chuck Hanson ‘83, who died from AIDS. I just wanted to say something personal about Chuck. He was the co-chair of the Gay Union at least one of the years I was here; he was just a wonderfully warm person. I understand that he would get into the camp scene, but he would also get into the political scene. I always felt really comfortable with Chuck, and I remember I never went to the disco because it was a gay male nightclub. Chuck invited me to the disco. In the afternoon you could get a beer and popcorn. Chuck said, ‘Well, let’s go down to the ‘sco,’ where Chuck and I would talk about our visions of gay politics and stuff. He was just a really wonderfully warm guy and I miss him a lot.

Anne Harrington: I remember a vigil with banners saying `Kill All Fags’ and a hung effigy; Chuck Hanson found the effigy.

Nancy Cooper: Jim Powell was the acting president because I helped him write a long statement in response to the effigy hanging. I think he was on leave, but he was still living in town, and Jim and I worked on this statement to put out to the entire community about being tolerant and accepting everybody. I remember there was controversy on some part of it because he compared this kind of happening to the Holocaust, and people thought that he had overstated things. I remember there were several meetings in what we now call the YW lounge. It must have had eighty people in it, and there were several faculty members who came. I know John Thompson was there, and I was there. And one of the things I remember that was so interesting to me was that there were a lot of students there that were very nervous that I was there. My ex-husband was a professor in the Conservatory. I remember talking to several of the students afterwards saying, ‘Now, I want you to not worry that I’m going to go back and tell Walter Aschaffenburg that all of his students were here,’ because they were some of his students, and that really roused the campus.

Gareth Fenley: When was it exactly?

Ellen Orleans: I thought it was in the spring of 1983.

Nancy Cooper: Yes, it had to be the spring of 1983 because Jim was still the acting president.

Anne Harrington: I was here for that; I graduated in 1983. I remember the meeting in here. There was just such incredible support on the campus. Everyone was walking around with little pink-paper-triangle sorts of things. I thought it brought the campus more together, really brought things out and got a lot more people admitting they were gay, talking about it, and being supportive and anything else they could have done.

Gareth Fenley: I didn’t see the effigy, but I did see the banner, because it was still up in the morning. Apparently there was an effigy of a person hanging from a noose, and there was a banner across the front of the entrance to King that most students go through. The entrance to King faces Dascomb and it said `Kill All fags.’ It was spray-painted on a sheet and hung up over the doorway. It was never discovered who put the banner up; they never found the person.

Anne Harrington: There was tremendous controversy over who did it. Some said it was the town; some said it was the college, but I don’t know. I know it was there, that I did see it, and I remember that I became a different person. That whole subsequent twenty-four or forty-eight hours, I became completely energized into this creation of a protest vigil. Another thing that happened just before that banner and effigy was that a cross was burned on the lawn of a Black college employee. I think it was a cook; an unknown person burned a cross in her yard. Then within the next couple of weeks there was the banner and effigy that said `Kill All Fags.’ And the Gay Union was organizing this vigil against bigotry, and it was supposed to be against homophobia and racism and all violence that is based on bigotry. It was held in front of Wilder Hall on the main steps. It was drizzling rain that night; I believe about 300 people came. It was to me tremendously moving.

Gareth Fenley: It was really very warming to look around and see faculty and people that you worked with and were teaching you and staff people. It was a great feeling. The vigil was organized to be held only within one day; it was either the same night or the next night after the posting of the banner. I remember how impressive it was that everyone seemed to be involved in making it happen. I went around with a piece of chalk and wrote on the chalkboards on every classroom in Peters Hall and every one I could get in King, `Vigil Against Bigotry’ with the time and place so that when classes would be held that afternoon the students and teachers would see.

We had a microphone up there and people spoke and I think there was some singing. It was tremendously moving, and I remember the letter from acting president Powell coming out very soon after that. How tremendously important it was to me that the message had gotten to the level of the president and that he responded immediately with an all-campus community mailing of this letter giving a statement that this was absolutely not to be tolerated.