UNM People Changing Worlds: Josephus Long
Posted December 13, 2013
The year was 1967, and, the American Civil Rights movement was stirring the winds of both unrest and hope across the nation. The first African-American justice on the Supreme Court had been appointed, and the first black mayors of major American cities had been elected. Riots broke out in July, with 66 people killed in Newark and Detroit. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking out strongly against American involvement in the war in Viet Nam, had become a powerful voice for peace, well beyond issues of race.
As was true on college campuses all over the U.S., that same unrest and desire for change were in the air at the University of New Mexico, especially among UNM’s minority student populations. On an otherwise typical day late in the year, a small group of black students bravely came together, found their leader, and took the first steps toward influencing the course of UNM’s history.
This is where Joe Long’s story begins.
Josephus “Joe” Long, a fine arts graduate student, was one of the organizers of the initial meeting. Barbara Simmons, then a young student herself, remembers that day.
“There were about 40 of us present, about half of the black students on campus at the time,” recounts Simmons. “We walked into that meeting room, a bunch of individuals with many of the same concerns, but without a shared direction. By the end of the meeting we were united and the Black Student Union had been formed, all because of Joe. He was our leader, and everyone knew it.”
Over the next couple of years, Joe’s remarkable ability to never waiver from the core messages of equity, inclusion, and scholarship produced astounding results. Included in BSU’s list of demands presented to then-president Ferrel Heady in April 1969 was the creation of a “Black Studies Department.” Heady countered with the challenge to develop a full proposal for the program. Joe and his colleagues did just that, and the initiative that has today become UNM’s Africana Studies Program was formally launched. Through Joe’s efforts, a permanent structure for the inclusion and education of African American students at UNM was created, touching the lives of thousands over more than four decades.
Joe graduated from UNM in 1970 with his M.A. in Arts Education, married Lynn Hoffman, and continued his artistic career. Sadly, Joe’s life was cut short in his early 40s after a battle with cancer.
Today, as part of its mission, UNM’s Black Alumni Chapter (BAC) strives to keep Joe’s legacy alive, and The Josephus (Joe) Long Scholarship has been created to honor Joe’s remarkable life and contributions. Naming the scholarship for Joe reinforces that his messages of inclusion, scholarship, and forming alliances with people from all walks of life are as important for students today as they were in 1967.
“Joe was always telling us to ‘go for it, to become part of everything,’” reflects Simmons, who now serves as the BAC’s President. “He was so respected by everyone, and that is why the scholarship fund was created in his name. There is simply no other person more deserving. He was our Martin Luther King.”
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