GSE Publications

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Journal Article

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In many cases, student activism on college campuses stems from alienation – alienation of one generation from another, alienation of students from administration. The atmosphere in Nashville, Tennessee, at Fisk University during the early 1950s included neither of these ingredients. Most students admired their professors and respected the University president. In the case of Fisk, activism grew out of a shared sense of values and demonstrated leadership – as well as a response to outside oppression. This leadership and these values were passed on to students by Fisk's charismatic president, Charles S. Johnson. The purpose of this historical research is to explore the approach to activism that Charles S. Johnson advocated and instilled in the students at Fisk University. How did Johnson develop his values and convictions? On which principles were they based? How did he pass them on to others? And, how can Johnson's example help today's college presidents contribute to a renewed sense of activism among their students? Through the use of archival materials, interviews, and secondary sources, I will highlight Johnson's "sidelines" approach and discuss his student's reactions to it. Further, I will explore their own approaches to activism – that in their words "were heavily influenced by their Fisk experiences."


Gasman, M. (2001). The President as Ethical Role Model: Instilling an Ethic of Leadership at Fisk University during the 1950s. Journal of College and Character, 2(2), 1-12.



Date Posted: 18 October 2012

This document has been peer reviewed.