As national media converged and cast the spotlight on Stephenville, black student leader Donald “D. Ray” Elder said he received hate e-mail and had “people calling my home phone number, cussing at my wife and saying all kinds of filth toward me and my family.”
Elder, president of Tarleton State University’s NAACP, has received heat from angry callers and e-mailers since he brought attention, in Wednesday’s Empire-Tribune, to a group of students who chose to “celebrate” Martin Luther King Day by throwing a “MLK Party.”
The party, complete with buckets of fried chicken and 40-oz bottles of malt liquor wrapped in brown paper sacks, featured TSU students donning afros, carrying fake guns and dressed in gangster attire. One student even came dressed as “Aunt Jemima.”
Elder said the threatening phone calls originated from Michigan and Rhode Island and that one harsh e-mail that “I received was all the way from Florida.”
“All these people are defending what happened and trying to turn the blame back on the black culture,” Elder said in a posting on Facebook, a networking Web site popular among college students.
“… I see that people have gotten back to their normal everyday lives and all is well in their individual worlds,” Elder continued. “Well, my world is all shook up and it’s not over. It has just begun and the fight still remains.
“All I have to say to those of you who have called my house and hid behind a telephone: You are a coward and a bigot!”
After a news conference in front of the Administration Building at TSU on Thursday, Elder said he believes he is doing the right thing but that, in light of the threatening calls and e-mail, he feels “emotionless now.”
“All I can feel is someone is out there threatening my family,” Elder said. “All day I’ve been numb.”
However, Elder said, he’s not going to let such acts get the better of him.
“I am not going to back down,” Elder said.
Elder said his goal was to “bring awareness to the Stephenville community” at a time when the fraternities wanted “it to go away.”
His intention, Elder said, was not for it to “go national.”
Yet the story did gain national attention Thursday through a variety of sources, starting with the Associated Press and spreading to popular Web sites as www.drudgereport.com and www.thesmokinggun.com. The latter site posted 18 photographs from the “MLK Party.”
Stories, along with some of the photos, were also featured on area TV stations as well as cable networks such as CNN and FoxNews.
Elder, a sophomore, told reporters that the party highlights the need for diversity education on campus.
“Laughing and joking openly or behind closed doors - especially pretending to honor a civil rights activist such as Dr. King - should not be tolerated anywhere,” Elder said. “There is no excuse for this type of ignorance. To have one black person participate in the ‘party’ does not justify or heal the wounds of those affected by this terrible event.”
Elder said President Ronald Reagan “showed progress” in 1986 when he declared the third Monday in January a federal legal holiday to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“Dr. King made great strides in bridging the racial and cultural gap in the United States,” Elder said. “Because of his efforts as well as those of countless others, blacks and whites can sit together and befriend one another.
“Even at Tarleton State, students of all races can attend class, walk the yard and participate in campus activities without feeling inferior to their counterparts. This is what Dr. King fought for - equality for everyone.”
DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229,