Overcoming racial boundaries

In Africa, the barriers didn’t exist. The racial barriers, that is — the separation of black and white, the segregation of schools and neighborhoods. The division in the southern United States was so tense, Kofi Glover could feel the eyes peering at him.

Glover, who founded USF’s Africana Studies Department in 1972, first visited America’s South in 1962. Unaware of the racial conflict occurring in the region, the Ghanian was fortunate to survive an encounter with the Klu Klux Klan.

It was his first summer in the United States after moving from Ghana to Iowa. He and two boys, also from Ghana, drove to the South for a short vacation with a white minister and student. While making a stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Glover said he didn’t feel as comfortable as he did in the Midwest.

“We noticed people kept staring at us,” said Glover, a professor in USF’s Africana Studies department. “We had no understanding of the racial problems in this country.”

They stopped to use a restroom at a gas station, where they found the signs: Men, ladies and colored.

“One of us got smart and wanted to take a picture. (My friend) said ‘I’ve never seen the three human genders before,'” Glover said.

The manager ordered them to leave. The gas station was barely out of sight when police pulled them over on the road and took them into the station for questioning. The police didn’t keep them there long, but Glover and his friends knew the manager was upset with their behavior.

“They decided to let us go, so as we left they said they’d show us a shortcut back to the highway,” Glover said. “So we followed them, but then we (saw) all of these cars following us and none of them would pass; they just followed.”

As they neared the highway, police gave Glover and his friends the final directions. Except they never made it to the highway safely.

“Suddenly, one of the cars pulled in front of us and forced us to stop, and all the others jump out of their cars with their guns. (They) came and took us into the bus and beat us up,” he said.

It was the KKK, Glover said, and they beat one of his friends so severely that he was sent to the hospital with a fractured skull.

“My friends from Ghana, they did not have their passports,” Glover said. “They didn’t really touch me, and I attribute that (to the fact that) I had my passport.”

In addition to having his passport, Glover said he believes that it would have looked bad if the KKK beat a white minister traveling with an international student. When Glover learned of the killing of blacks committed by the KKK, he said he began to fear living in the United States.

“It wasn’t until a year later … that I really became scared of what could have happened to me,” he said.

Glover and his friends were three of six high school students who left Ghana for the United States seeking a better education. They came with their high school principal who became a guardian to the boys whose fathers had died or were terminally ill. Glover’s father died of tuberculosis. Glover was used to a school system that simply focused on schooling children, not educating. He said students were “brainwashed” into believing that everything African was wrong and everything European was good.

“I came to the white schools to learn the right way,” Glover said.

He earned his master’s in political science at the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. at Indiana University.

In 1972, he came to USF to help develop the first Africana Studies degree grant program in Florida. Glover and another professor spent their time developing all the courses for the program, only to find they wouldn’t get the resources they needed.

“The university ignored the program, and (some) faculty resigned. It was discouraging; it (was) almost an academic fraud in cheating the students,” Glover said. “So the black students demonstrated; they came to the administration building — almost took it over — and protested. They simply told the university to renew the program. Give it life, or kill it.”

Now the program has about six core faculty members, 10 adjunct professors and 10 associate professors.

Glover said he considers his core faculty to be at five and a half since, he is only working part time as a professor while he works in the administration building.

Glover, who has barely moved into his new office, is responsible for construction projects such as allocating space and renovations and is also responsible for overseeing USF’s class schedule. Glover said it is an interim position that was designated by interim provost Renu Khator.

Many of the courses Glover helped create in the Africana Studies department are still being offered. The department offers a master’s degree and now includes a West African Study Tour and an Africana Studies Club. Each year, Glover travels to Ghana with students in USF’s study abroad program. He said traveling to Ghana is as much of a learning experience as it is an emotional one.

“All my students say it’s a most life-changing experience,” Glover said. “It’s really the cultural experience that intrigues people. The visit to the slave castles is extremely emotional to many people; it really doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. It’s quite touching.”