THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Tuesday, February 21, 1995 TAG: 9502210279 SECTION: LOCAL PAGE: B7 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: ASSOCIATED PRESS DATELINE: WILLIAMSBURG LENGTH: Medium: 96 lines
Fifty years ago, Marilyn Kaemmerle's editorial in the College of William and Mary's student newspaper touched off a scandal that's still listed under her name in the school archives.
Kaemmerle wrote the column in the Flat Hat in 1945 to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Under the headline ``Lincoln's Job Half-Done,'' the 22-year-old editor wrote that black people ``should be recognized as equals in our minds and hearts'' and should be admitted to William and Mary.
Kaemmerle - now Marilyn Kaemmerle Quinto, of Tucson, Ariz. - said she never intended to start a scandal.
``I have to confess, it never occurred to me that anyone off campus would even be interested in a student editorial,'' she said. ``I really didn't understand the power of an idea.''
As editor of the Flat Hat her senior year, Kaemmerle had written several editorials. She said she ``hadn't even heard a ripple from any of them.''
Her race-relations editorial appeared five days before Lincoln's birthday, and like previous columns, caused no student response. But off campus, copies of the paper reached members of the Board of Visitors, who were scheduled to meet a few days later.
Kaemmerle thinks that through a series of phone calls, board members decided they would formally respond to the editorial at their meeting.
The next morning, Kaemmerle met with college President John Pomfret, who told her the board wanted her expelled and backed down only after he threatened to resign. The board's compromise: that she be fired as editor of the Flat Hat.
``And then he asked that I sign a statement saying I thought a censored paper was in the best interest of all concerned,'' she said. ``And I said, `Well, I can't do that. I'm not the editor.' ''
Pomfret suspended publication of the newspaper and said the faculty would be ``setting up some editorial supervision.'' Kaemmerle's successors reached an agreement with the college that they would consult a faculty member on controversial issues, and they were left with nearly full control over the newspaper.
News that a student editorial had caused such a stir went nationwide, appearing in hundreds of papers. Stories referred to her as the ``girl editor.'' Yellowed clippings remain in the college's archives.
Columnists and editorial writers felt compelled to answer the controversial editorial. The Richmond Times-Dispatch called it a ``juvenile and ill-considered outburst,'' while The Ledger-Dispatch of Norfolk - the predecessor to The Ledger-Star - called Kaemmerle's views ``foolish and injudicious.'' The Daily Press of Newport News said she ``went off the deep end.''
Though she stood by her editorial, she says she'd rather forget the whole thing.
``I simply didn't want to have that kind of attention for either myself or for William and Mary,'' she said.
The editorial might seem cautious today. In one section she advocated full integration between blacks and whites, including marriage. In the next she cautioned that chaos would result if such steps were taken too quickly.
In 1991, Kaemmerle wrote that she considered herself an early, if somewhat crude, advocate for civil rights - but not necessarily a brave one, because she had no idea what a ruckus her editorial would cause.
``It was followed by civil rights leaders who were truly heroic, because they knew that, in many cases, they might be putting their lives on the line,'' she wrote.
After graduating in the spring of 1945 with degrees in English and home economics, Kaemmerle tried to live ``quietly and constructively.'' Her closest affiliation with the civil rights movement was a brief stint as an administrative secretary for a private council on civil rights.
William and Mary's first black undergraduate enrolled in 1963. This year, black students make up 6.6 percent of the freshman class.
Kaemmerle has returned twice to the Williamsburg campus. The first time, she said, she didn't feel comfortable. ``Knowing that the Board of Visitors of your own college even considered expelling you doesn't make you feel very welcome,'' she said.
The second visit came in 1986, when the Flat Hat's editors discovered her story and asked the Board of Visitors to rescind its actions against her. The board responded by sending Kaemmerle a letter reassuring her that she was welcome on campus.
The notoriety surrounding Kaemmerle caught the attention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who gave her gentle encouragement at a visit at the White House. She has only hazy recollections of the meeting, but what remains vivid to her is arriving at the train station in Washington on a rainy night and joining a large crowd trying to hail a cab.
``One cab just swung out of line and came right in front of me,'' she said. ``It was a black cab driver who had seen my picture in the paper and had recognized me, astonishingly. That was the only plus that I feel I personally gained from this incident.'' ILLUSTRATION: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Marilyn Kaemmerle in a 1945 yearbook photo. She started a scandal
with her editorial advocating the admission of blacks to William and
Mary. by CNB