On Thursday, Sept. 1, Colgate faculty, staff and students came together to view Men of Mark, a documentary derived from the research of Colgate University trustee emerita, Diane Ciccone ‘74 P’10. The documentary was produced by filmmaker, Jacqueline King-Howell ‘97, and is based on Ciccone’s 2019 book, Into the Light: The Early African American Men of Colgate University Who Transformed a Nation, 1840–1930. The film recounts the stories of the first Black Colgate students and discusses their challenges, successes and enduring legacy.
Men of Mark recognizes every Black man that attended Colgate from 1840-1930 and tells the story of several individuals from each generation. The film begins with the story of Jonas Holland Townsend, the first Black man at Colgate. He was removed from the school in May of 1842 for unknown reasons. It is speculated that his outright opposition to slavery, especially as a Black man, was the driving force behind his removal. After Colgate, he traveled around the country as a writer, speaker and leader for abolitionist organizations. He was a scholar and a champion of emboldening Black excellence in a time when the United States was deeply divided between the North and South.
Once the film ended, a Q&A discussion with Ciccone was moderated by L. Hazel Jack, Vice President of University Communications and Events. While Ciccone dialed in over zoom, Jack passed around a microphone for comments and questions. First-year students Rylee Hatch, Nicole Dutton and Alysha Mendez shared their thoughts with the audience.
Hatch spoke about looking at Colgate’s past as a means to learn more about what we can do to ensure a better future.
“It’s important to learn about the past as we move towards the future,” Hatch said. “As the years go on, we should keep looking at the past to understand the present. We should hold the school accountable and bring attention to certain issues going on on campus. It is so important to recognize that we still have work to do as an institution.”
Dutton spoke of the resilience and excellence of the first Black men at Colgate, and how it shaped her view of the university’s complicated racial history and legacy.
“It was incredibly inspiring to learn of their strength against adversity and I believe it lit a larger desire for social equity in myself as well,” Dutton said. “The film made me reflect on my own privileged societal position and further enlightened a desire to use that position to support and promote progressive change.”
As the closing remarks of the Q&A concluded, Mendez reflected on her outlook on Colgate’s diversity and equity before and after viewing the film. She described her concern regarding Colgate’s lack of diversity before coming to campus, and her desire to share the film’s message with the rest of Colgate’s student body.
“I feel very grateful to have seen this film,” Mendez said. “Upon my arrival, I was a little intimidated, but the change that has occurred is admirable. I think the film should be something everyone else on campus gets to see as well.”
This event was co-sponsored by Ciccone Commons and Colgate University Office of Communications and Events. Information on upcoming events sponsored by Ciccone Commons can be found on the Colgate University activities calendar.