Alumnus Philip Bass reflects on 50 years of Black History Month and activism

Kimmy Daniels Reporter

While many students know about the May 4th shootings, not everyone knows about the tension leading up to the event.


Something that does not get commonly brought up is the Black Student Walkout that happened a year and a half prior to May 4th, 1970.


In the fall of 1968, the Oakland Police Department came to Kent State looking to recruit officers in Kent — the same Oakland Police Department that arrested Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, the founders of the Black Panther Party.


Philip Bass was a freshman on campus at the time and had just joined Black United Students. The group did not want to let the Oakland Police Department recruit at Kent State, so a sit-in was organized in protest.


“Forty students locked arms, and we prevented the Oakland Police Department from recruiting,” Bass said.


For Bass, the sit-in acted as a pivotal moment in his activism. 


“I felt like I was gonna get my head cracked,” he said. “I made some decisions that reflect a lot of what I’ve been doing the last 50 years.”


The victory did not last long. The following day, eight black seniors had been expelled from the school because of their participation in the sit-in. Bass wondered why the seniors were expelled, and not him.


The students asked for amnesty from the school, meaning they admit fault but were not intentionally trying to break student code, but they were not granted amnesty.


“So, Black United Students decided that the black students would walk out,” Bass said. 


Each student was told to pack one bag before walking around campus and through the front gate. As they walked through campus, more students joined until nearly 200 black students left campus.


“We walked in silence, but it was dramatic,” said Bass. “It felt like something was going to happen.”


After some time, something did happen. After the walkout, students took busses to Akron, where they stayed in a church basement for about a week. 


Bass remembered feeling uneasy. He had just left home and was not sure if he even had enough money to finish the semester. But the older students arranged for them to have class since they were no longer at Kent State.


“I admired that,” Bass said. “That meant a lot to me, in terms of what folks can do for themselves.”


Within a week, the university decided to grant the eight students amnesty and asked the students who walked out to come back. 


Bass pledged to Omega Psi Phi in January of 1969, and the chapter was founded on campus that April. “We were declared the bloodline for the Psi Gamma chapter,” he said. 


The idea of Black History Month was first proposed by Black United Students at Kent State in February of 1969, and the first celebration took place at Kent State in January and February of 1970.


 The university will be celebrating the 50th year of Black History Month Saturday by honoring those who founded it, who are two of Bass’s fraternity brothers. 


Bass experienced a large part of history during his time at Kent State. After years of people telling him to write a book, he finally did. 


As he began to write about what he witnessed on May 4th, he realized he did not want to leave out any details. “I wrote about the black walk out, and then remembered that I was involved in things before then, in high school,” he said.


His book is called Pour Some Water on Me: Dayton, the Funk Capital of the World. Bass said there was a music explosion out of Dayton, and he got to be a part of it. 


“I was in a local band that participated in talent shows, and never lost,” Bass said. The group separated to join national acts. “So, I’m declaring that that group was one of the most prolific local groups in Dayton.”


At the event Saturday, Bass will be signing books and speaking about his experiences at Kent State. 


“I’ve always been proud to say that I’m a graduate of Kent State University,” said Bass. “I got a great education.”


Contact Kimmy Daniels at [email protected]