Kendrick House, known as “The House,” was a residence for Black students and was also Vassar’s Afro-American Cultural Center from 1969 to 1974. The House emerged following demands put forth during the 1969 Main Takeover and after a proposal by students, faculty and administration. The proposal read, in part, “Separate housing is an option which must be open to Black students coming to Vassar as a means whereby pluralism can strengthen common community.” The idea to establish the residence was later endorsed by trustees. As was the case at many colleges across the country during the protests of 1969 and 1970, Kendrick House was a recognition that colleges had to transform academic and campus life structures if Black students were to experience any sense of belonging.
As many as 32 Black students lived in Kendrick at one point. The residence was both a “home” and cultural center that anchored Black students’ academic and campus life experiences. The House was an incubator for Paul Robeson Study Group meetings, Students’ Afro-American Society dialogue and debates, organizing around volunteering in the Poughkeepsie community, musical performances, book exchanges, and many other activities spurred on by the political, social, and cultural movements of the era.
In August of 1974, the New York State Board of Regents ruled that Kendrick House was racially segregated and violated a rule forbidding the exclusion of others based on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Vassar maintained that Kendrick was not exclusively assigned to Black students and operated within the College’s “free-choice housing system.” After months of negotiations with the Board of Regents in December 1974, the Board of Trustees complied with the ruling and voted to close Kendrick House, citing the risk of academic penalty, the expense of litigation, and the probability of losing in a court case.
After the residence was disbanded in 1975, the idea of a cultural center lived on through the Urban Center for Black Studies and the Intercultural Center—which opened in Lathrop House in 1976—and, later, the ALANA Center.
Kendrick House was the administration’s response to the Students Afro-Amercan Society’s (SAS’s) demand for an African American Cultural Center.
Sophomores, juniors, and seniors moved in to very spacious Kendrick rooms. Doubles included living rooms, kitchenettes, and bathrooms. Singles were huge. Students occupied the 2nd and 3rd floors. Non-Black housemates included our friend, the late Mary Ann Page ’72; a visiting European student; and Jerry Parker, a Wesleyan graduate, who worked in the Vassar Admissions Office. Our first Director of Black Studies, and Kendrick House Fellow, Dr. Milfred C. Fierce, lived in a first-floor suite.
Dissatisfied with the administration’s temporary response and what we saw as a lack of a full commitment to fulfilling the spring of 1969 demands, students marched from Kendrick House to the Main Building and initiated the historic takeover.
Kendrick was open to freshman. First male residents were Ricky Roberts and Ken Witherspoon. Pat James ’72 was the freshman advisor to the Class of 1974 Kendrick residents.
Similar to the Ferry House design, students shopped, signed up for duties, and had meals together. A French “houseman,” George, maintained the building and the grounds. This cooperative design lasted one year, after which students returned to campus meals in Main Building.
Kendrick was never a quiet dorm. Individuals as well as group events always filled the “house” with music, drumming, etc. We were very welcoming—sometimes naively—to non-students from neighboring areas. Parties were frequent.
We lived together in a comfortable, bonding sister/brotherhood inclusive of all the emotional ups and downs typical of a family.
—Pat James Jordan ’72
We ate in Main in what’s now the Villard Room. And mostly I recall there were meetings of the Paul Robeson Study Group. Harold (Flea) Wheeler, Larry Welton, Ricky Roberts—and for the life of me, I can’t remember the sisters who were members but I was not one. They met routinely in the basement of Kendrick.
I remember the bid whist sessions that could continue through the night! Linda Kinsey, Sylvia Gray, Denise Love, and, I think, Ernestine Boone held those down!
I remember happily visiting Dr. Milfred Fierce, our House Fellow, and his late wife, Diane, and their baby son, Antar. Their apartment was on the first floor and was filled with African art and artifacts and carried me to a world where I could be authentically myself—even on a white campus. They affirmed so much for me that I thank them to this day.
—Paula Williams Madison ’74
The House was a very dynamic environment. It buzzed with the energy of the residents, faculty and alumna-in-residence, and student visitors; the latter infused us with constant stimulation and variety. The House was a classroom, boardroom, social club, campus respite, hotel, and residence. Angela Davis made her first appearance on campus at The House with us. Kool and The Gang stayed overnight after their concert. I remember we bought beef bacon to prepare for them in the morning. When ACDC opened in January 1974, several of us formed a Food Co-op and made dinner each evening in our well-appointed kitchen.
We gathered informally every afternoon and evening. Socialization occurred in our large and sumptuous living room whose floors were covered by a thick, rust-colored, shag carpet. There was usually a bid whist competition in progress—unless we were conducting a meeting, of which there were many. My Vassar years were defined by campus activism. We were 150 bright, engaged, empowered Black students infused with the hope inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, emboldened by Black militancy and almost four centuries of inhuman persecution, and we exercised our voices regularly. Consequently, meetings were regularly held with their occurrence being spread by the very effective grapevine we maintained. We consistently advocated for the Black Studies Program to be elevated from a “field of concentration” to a department; for tenured Black professors—not part-time instructors; for more Black students; for closing the glaring gender disparity. We counteracted the sometimes subtle and often overt racism, the regular parade of plots emanating out of President Alan Simpson’s office, and devised strategies to become part of the greater campus community.
However, the sisters coordinated the Green Haven literacy group in The House’s living room. The Paul Robeson Study Group also convened at The House. With a Black student body made up of young people, many of whom came from segregated school systems, The House was a welcome relief from the rigors of integrating a college racially, as well as gender-wise.
—Eric Wilson ’76