We were saddened to learn of the passing of Dan Coleman (A73) and George Cox (A70), last week. Dan Coleman and George Cox were leaders of the Tufts Afro-American Society and Students Concerned Against Racism, and led protests against discriminatory hiring practices of a construction company working on the Tufts campus. We are grateful to Dan and George, as well as to Charles Yancey (A70) and Phil Primack (A70), for participating in oral history interviews last year prior to the 50th anniversary of their occupation of the construction site. Phil and Charles reflect on George and Dan below.
In the fall of 1969, Tufts students Dan Coleman (A73), Charles Yancey (A70), and George Cox (A70) helped lead efforts by the Tufts Afro-American Society to pressure Tufts administrators to in turn pressure the private contractor building what was to become Lewis Hall to employ minimum numbers of minority workers. After months of failed negotiations, Tufts and other Afro-American activists occupied the dormitory building site at dawn on November 6, 1969. For weeks that followed, the Medford campus was rocked by a student strike, frequent demonstrations (despite a restraining order obtained by the university against the three men and such gatherings), and a heavy police presence. Tufts, the contractor, and the Afro-American Society eventually reached a consent agreement that led to the hiring of minority construction workers.
Fifty years later, Tufts Digital Collections and Archives recorded Coleman, Cox, and Yancey discussing those demonstrations and other topics. The interviews – one with Charles and George together and the other with Dan -- were conducted by Phil Primack (A70), who covered those events as editor of the Tufts Observer during the fall of 1969. To Primack, the event’s significance was that it tied demands for economic opportunity to the movements for social justice.
Less than a year after these tapings, and within weeks of each other in May 2020, Dan Coleman and George Cox passed away, Dan in Tampa and George in Boston, their respective hometowns . Even as friends and colleagues mourned their passing, demonstrations were happening across the nation to protest the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police. And the same social and economic disparities that fueled civil rights actions at Tufts a half century ago continue to show up in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority and lower-income populations.
“Dan Coleman was a determined fighter for civil rights, justice, and fair play,” said Charles Yancey, who went on to serve as a long-time Boston City Councilor. “He brought joy to many people. While he was very serious in confronting racism, he never lost his sense of humor and humanity.”
George Cox, continued Yancey, “was a dedicated warrior for human rights, high-quality integrated education, diversity, and justice. He fought against racism, sexism, intolerance, and discrimination. He was strategic in his approach and he was a strong mentor to many young people in our country.”
In their interviews, Cox and Yancey and Coleman discuss with Primack these and other civil rights issues and activities during their time at Tufts and since. They also talk about the founding in 1969 of what is now called the Africana Center.