Classes will begin next week at Prairie View A&M University, the school Sandra Bland attended. She was a 2009 graduate of Prairie View’s College of Agriculture, and hoping to start a new career at the predominantly black campus this fall.
But she never made it to her first day of work. On July 10th, 28-year-old Bland was arrested and charged with assaulting a public servant. She was taken to the Waller County Jail; three days later, she was found in her cell dead from what officials ruled a suicide. The jail is about seven miles from the Prairie View A&M Campus.
It’s important to take a deep look at the university’s past, particularly in light of recent events. It’s a campus in a part of Texas that has a long, complicated history with race. Founded in 1876, during the Reconstruction of the South, it was the first state-supported college in Texas for African-Americans. Not to mention, it was built on a former cotton plantation. Its first president, a white man from Mississippi, was recommended to his position by the former president of the confederacy: Jefferson Davis.
At least 15 lynchings – the third-greatest amount in the state – occurred in Waller county between 1877 and 1950, according to a report by Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative. That type of violence is now in the past, but some say the struggle for civil rights has gone on in recent years, particularly off-campus. Waller County is one of a few dozen that the federal government still monitors under the Voting Rights Act. In the last decade or so, The New York Times reported on disputes that have erupted over student voting rights, the neglect of black cemeteries and the firing of a police chief officer after complaints about misconduct against black residents.
So how has the Prairie View community – particularly the campus community – responded in the weeks since Sandra Bland’s death?
Yolanda Bevill, Executive Director of University Communications and Marketing for Prairie View, spoke with the Standard on the situation.
For full interview, listen to the audio at the top of the page.