Washington, DC – January 27, 2021 – Wake Forest Magazine interviewed Mei & Mark’s co-founding partner Freeman Mark in its article “Lessons From a Time of Upheaval: Six alumni reflect on life in the 1960s and early ’70s and how 2020 echoes those times” by Kerry M. King.
Mr. Mark (’71) reflected his time at Wake Forest University where he was the founder of Afro-American Society and named as the Senior Orator and Old Gold & Black Student of the Year, 1971.
His advice for today is “. . . Don’t let the negative rule you. Let the obstacles that you face cause you to excel. These were all things that we were taught in the Black community. Never give up and don’t be discouraged by things against you. Let them propel you. And always go back and help those from where you came. You have to do something for someone other than yourself. . . . ”
This interview is reproduced below. Click here for the original article.
Freeman Mark (’71)
- THEN: Originally from Elon College, North Carolina
- Founder, Afro-American Society
- Senior orator and Old Gold & Black Student of the Year, 1971
- NOW: Attorney, Boca Raton, Florida
- Founding partner (retired) at Washington, D.C.-based Mei & Mark
How did you end up at Wake Forest?
I’m from a farm family. My parents had eight children, seven boys and a girl. We all went to a one-room Black school and (later) to all-Black schools. In 1966, my principal, for some strange reason, selected a friend and me to go to Boys State that summer. I didn’t know what Boys State was, but it happened to be held at Wake Forest. It was the first integrated setting I had ever experienced in my life. The next year, when I had to decide where to go to college, what stood out in my mind was Wake Forest. I had been preceded by other Black students on athletic scholarships, but in my class there were about five or six of us who were not athletes. I think some of us were very isolated because we were not involved in athletics.
Why did you form the Afro-American Society in 1969?
We were not integrated into the whole campus. That isolation led to the formation of an informal group of just the Black students. Naturally we had negative experiences at times with professors and with other students and especially the Kappa Alpha fraternity. That gave us incentive to band together because they were overt in their racism. The Confederate flag was always flying from the (KA) windows, and the song “Dixie” would be sung at every football and basketball game. It made us stick together and watch out for one another. A lot of people thought that we were not going to survive academically. We didn’t have a Black professor on campus, so we needed an adviser to start the group. Dr. (G. McLeod) Bryan (’41, MA ’44, P ’71, ’72, ’75, ’82) promised us that he would be our adviser on the condition that if a Black professor came and we wanted to switch to a Black professor, he would wholeheartedly agree with that.
Do you recall any specific events that were traumatic?
I was walking on the Quad, and a professor’s daughter ran up to me and said very negatively, she was glad that (Martin Luther) King had been shot and killed, because he was nothing but a damn communist. Those were her words. And I never saw that in her before because she, and some of her friends, had befriended all of the Black students. And she said that with such venom and animosity. So I had two thoughts at the same moment: King’s death and her rejoicing over it. I’ve often thought of that since then, what provokes such hatred? And it dawned on me, this is who she really is and who he (her father) really is.
I read in the Old Gold & Black that you and nine other Black students, along with 13 white students, burned the Confederate flag and a record of the song “Dixie” on the Quad in November 1968.
We had a discussion as to whether any of the (Black) athletes should be involved. Some of them wanted to be, and we said no, we don’t want you to jeopardize your scholarship and have trouble with the University. I can’t remember burning “Dixie.” The aim was the Confederate flag. This Confederate monument thing (today) is not new; that’s been protested since before I was born. A lot of people were happy that we were doing it, and others were disgusted. I never forgot that I got a letter from a lady in Winston who disparaged me for having the audacity to burn the Confederate flag. If it did anything, it brought it to the surface, but probably more flags went up as a result. Those were exciting times. There was a lot of disharmony; as far as I know, there were no physical fights, but there were a lot of verbal ones.
Did you consider yourself an activist when you were a student?
There were many protests against the Vietnam War and during the riots of ’68. I didn’t participate, because any extra time I had, I studied. We were activists in the sense of getting things done, but not going out and marching and so forth. That was not me. I do not think I was ever one (an activist), but only a “reactionist” to what we as Blacks encountered. One instance, when I met Dr. Bryan for the first time, and it was my first time doing anything openly in the way of protest. It was immediately after the Martin Luther King assassination, and many Caucasians were opining that the race riots and burnings in U.S. cities were uncalled for and unjustified, and articles were being carried in papers to that effect, and one had appeared in the Old Gold & Black. I responded with a letter basically saying although one may not agree with the protest methods, certainly I could empathize and understand why it was happening. An antagonistic professor responded critically in a subsequent letter, and I replied in disagreement to his. After the letters ended, Dr. Bryan looked me up and applauded my writing and my confrontation of the professor’s position.
Did you personally face racism?
Constantly. But the beautiful thing is, and I want to hasten to add this, at the same time you found a lot of love and respect and dignity from Caucasians. The professors were less racist than students, but there were racist professors. I had professors that were dear professors, just wonderful professors. At the same time, you had those that you knew something was going on. There were more instances of acceptance by professors and students than rejection. We didn’t go there to be accepted or rejected, but Wake served a good purpose in our lives.
Do you have any advice for today?
I think that it applies from perhaps the time of Adam and Eve until now. Don’t let the negative rule you. Let the obstacles that you face cause you to excel. These were all things that we were taught in the Black community. Never give up and don’t be discouraged by things against you. Let them propel you. And always go back and help those from where you came. You have to do something for someone other than yourself. Those were the examples that we got from the wonderful educators who helped multiple Black students survive our Wake Forest experience: Dr. Bryan, Dr. (Franklin) Shirley, Dr. (James Ralph) Scales, Dr. (Ed) Wilson (’43, P ’91, ’93), Dr. (Herb) Horowitz, Dr. (Merwyn) Hayes and Dr. (Julian) Burroughs (’51, P ’80, ’83).