Brave students, trailblazing priest in turbulent times


Catholic News Service

“Fraternity” by Diane Brady. Random House (New York, 2012). 228 pp., $25.

In 1968, 20 young black men were recruited to attend the very white and oftentimes hostile College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Many of the young men graduated to became successful men in their communities, among them Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, author Edward Jones, Wall Street CEO Stanley Grayson and trial lawyer Theodore Wells.

In her debut book, “Fraternity,” Bloomberg Businessweek writer Diane Brady describes in great detail the struggles and successes of these young men who survived collegiate life in part because of their persistent and trailblazing advocate, Jesuit Father John Brooks. In “Fraternity,” Brady not only has provided an account of a tumultuous time in American history, she has written an enjoyable story about brave young men who inspired permanent reform on their campus and in the nation.

Coming of age in 1968, the year of the Tet offensive and the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the first recruits were student leaders and athletes from mostly black communities in the eastern United States. Anything but enthused about attending a preppy school with bitter cold New England winters, the men were intrigued with offers of academic rigor, opportunity and scholarship money from a convincing and determined Father Brooks. And, seeing no better offer from other universities, the men obliged.

When they arrived, they were greeted with loneliness, jeers, isolation and challenging coursework. But they also found compassion and an open ear from Father Brooks, as well as a sympathetic college president, who worked on the behalf of these men to make the campus more welcoming and flexible to their needs.

Inspired by the civil rights movement and just plain sick of the status quo, the students created the first Black Student Union. Seeking more comfort in their own skin, the men fought for and were granted a corridor for black students. They also demanded and received better access to a social life appealing to black students. These mature young men were the first of many black recruits who would follow in their footprints and further change the culture on the campus.

Brady tells an interesting story about the young adulthood and past of Thomas and the others. But more importantly, her book is sure to spur discussion and reflection about civil rights, affirmative action, reverse segregation and the pragmatic role of Catholic social justice teaching.

Lordan is former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.