How a scholarship program brought color to Holy Cross
April 4, 1968: the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a time of sorrow and shame for many Americans, black and white. But for one idealistic Roman Catholic priest – shocked and grieved though he was – it become a moment of opportunity.Skip to next paragraph
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For months the Rev. John E. Brooks, dean of students at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., had been lobbying his superiors at the Catholic men’s college to bring in more students of color. The one or two black students the school typically accepted each year were not enough, he said.
Administrators at Holy Cross didn’t necessarily disagree with Brooks. But at the time the school’s finances were weak and all were adamant that there was no money for minority scholarships – until the day of King’s assassination.
As the nation reeled and rioters looted, Brooks’s case instantly became more compelling. He was suddenly granted the right to recruit young black students and to offer them – on the spot, if he liked them enough – scholarships to attend Holy Cross.
Days later, Brooks was on the road, and he found 20 promising candidates, all of whom he managed to bring to Holy Cross to start school that fall. Among those men: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edward P. Jones; NFL running back and politically active lawyer Eddie Jenkins; eminent Washington, D.C., trial lawyer Theodore Wells; and former deputy mayor of New York and investment banking executive Stanley Grayson.
“Was there something in the water?” journalist Diane Brady says she joked when someone introduced her to Grayson and he first told her about the remarkable men with whom he had enrolled at Holy Cross in the fall of 1968.
“It was Father Brooks,” Grayson told her.
And so Brady began following the story that she tells – with the cooperation of Thomas, Jones, Jenkins, Grayson, Wells, and others – in her book Fraternity.