Although the peaceful protest echoed the sentiments of many students and faculty members, it had little effect as President Stephen Briggs announced just two months later that Berry would join members of the Southern Athletic Association of NCAA Division III, adding football as a varsity sport in 2013.
Back in September, Briggs told student reporters of the Campus Carrier that neither he nor the Board of Trustees had come to a decision regarding the possibility of football. But following Briggs’ November announcement, Tray Patterson, a student majoring in history, said he felt as though wool had been pulled down over the eyes of the students and a rug had been snatched out from underneath their feet.
In an effort to make his voice heard, Patterson said he made attempts to publish a letter to the editor in the Campus Carrier, and even joined the forces with the student government.
“When I was chosen to be a representative for student government, I thought we were going to vote on stuff, but all we did was allocate funds for clubs to have money. There wasn’t that much government going on,” he said.
Patterson discussed his concerns about Berry with Christy Snider, associate professor of history, for whom he served as research assistant in Berry’s student work program. Together they hatched an idea for a research project Patterson would conduct called “The Dark Side of Berry,” an informational bulletin board on display in Evans Hall.
Using books focused on the college’s history as well as historical documents in the school’s archives, Patterson highlighted nine “scandals” in the school’s past. One recounted the maiming of Wilma Butler, a 16-year-old student who lost her arm in a student work-related accident in 1916. Another told of Martha Berry, the school’s founder, requesting that no “cripples” be granted admission, a declaration sparked from polio victim and student, Eugene Gunby.
For lower tuition, higher wages
Patterson also researched a more commonly known scandal that sent waves of shock across the campus in 1933. According to page 66 in “Berry College: A History” by Ouida Dickey and Doyle Mathis, Don West, one of nine children born to poor farmers, was expelled from the Berry High School for Boys in the spring of 1926 for objecting to the showing of the 1915 film “Birth of a Nation,” which he maintained glorified the Ku Klux Klan. West was also in strong opposition, however, of the amount of labor the students were providing to the school in order to pay for their tuitions.
“Student Workers Strike to protest ‘Sweatshop’ Conditions on Campus (1933): Don West, a former Berry High School student, who had been expelled in 1926 for objecting to the showing of the 1915 film ‘Birth of a Nation,’ visited campus in 1932 and dined with Martha Berry. The next year, he wrote a letter to ‘The New Republic’ claiming that Berry operated a sweatshop because its student work program had lowered wages from 18 cents to 10 cents an hour.
“On Aug. 28, 1933, West’s cousin and Berry student, Willis Sutton, organized a strike among the students at the boy’s high school to protest the unfair treatment by the administration and to demand lower tuition and higher wages, the recognition of an organization to represent student views, more co-ed social events, and more trips to Rome. Sutton was expelled from Berry and the strike collapsed.
“Berry students then sought assistance in their struggle for better working conditions from the Communist-led National Student League. Sutton and NSL leader, Clyde Johnson, traveled to Berry to discuss the situation with the students, but were instead met at the main gate by administrators who had them arrested.”
According to Dickey and Mathis, “The details of the strike remain murky. According to ‘Berry Students Demand Justice,’ all students working at the boys’ high school went on strike, while an investigator for the ‘New Republic’ indicated that ninety-six of the school’s one hundred students supported the strike and that they pushed the other four into participating.”
West’s published letter unleashed a fury, the book stated, but many students considered the Berry work program “one of their fondest memories of Berry, rather than as unjust labor.”
Tim Brown, director and curator of Oak Hill and the Martha Berry Museum, said the strike that did not accurately reflect the sentiments of the entire student body.
“They were so appreciative of their opportunity, because back then, there weren’t student loans, and if you weren’t from an affluent family who could pay your tuition, you didn’t get to have an education,” Brown said. “The rest of the students were very upset about (the strike). They didn’t feel the high school students were representing them. Most of the students resented those who protested because they felt like they were unappreciative of the opportunity that was given to them. I personally think, just seeing that it was high school students, younger kids are going to … you know.”
Patterson found evidence of a 1934 incident, briefly mentioned in “Berry College: A History,” on page 73. After searching for and gaining access to locked-away documentation, Patterson wrote:
“Former Berry Professor Hires Airplane to drop Protest Leaflets on Campus (1934): Dr. John H. Winter, a professor of sociology and the Dean of Men, became dissatisfied with the administration and the actions of Martha Berry in 1934 … He described his views to at least one professor who was seeking employment at Berry. Winter was fired for making false and derogatory statements against Martha Berry. In response, he hired an airplane to fly over Berry and drop leaflets describing his position…”
Patterson described this particular incident as the most shocking.
“It was a very dramatic story and there was actually a lot of paperwork once we were able to find information on it,” Patterson said, adding that Dickey did not provide a lot of information about the subject in the book, and he also couldn’t find anything in the archives.
“I went to Dr. Dickey and she said she had found that (information) in Herman Hall,” he explained. “Supposedly, there’s a secret safe in Herman Hall where they keep some of this stuff, some of the stuff they don’t want people to see. Me and Dr. Snider got them to let us into there, but we never could find it again after that. It was mainly tax forms and people who mentioned Berry in their will.”
Patterson said he was able to get his hands on the actual leaflets that rained down on campus all those years ago.
“I took a camera in there with me, and when they weren’t looking, I took some pictures of some stuff,” he said. “After going back and looking through my pictures, there was one box that said “Martha Berry’s Letters” or something of that nature, but we were never able to go back to (the safe). I found the letters (Winter) wrote saying how it probably wasn’t a good idea to work (at Berry). I actually found the leaflets he dropped. I was supposedly one of the first people to find this since it was put into the envelopes in 1934.”
Patterson said he heard tell of other “secrets” the school has locked away.
“I heard there was a safe in either Green or Cook and one in the top of Thomas Berry and there might be some papers in the top of Morten Lemley,” he said. “I also heard there was a safe in Hoge but it had been moved.”
After gaining insight on Berry’s past, Patterson said he still considered Berry College a wonderful school and his research only strengthened his perspective.
“I don’t think you can get a better college experience than Berry,” he said. “I feel like I can do anything now after going to Berry. There’s nothing that can match it.”
Looking back on his research project and all that he learned about his Alma Mater, Patterson said he assembled “The Dark Side of Berry” to make a point to the students.
“Really, my main intention was to show this stuff, like with the football, has been going on since the start of Berry and it’s going to continue from now on,” he said. “The administration really runs the show, and not really the students. The administration will do things in the interest of the college that the students or faculty do not want, but that will continue to happen.”