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Chester County Press

Dr. Richard Winchester remembers forging a union at Lincoln University 50 years ago

11/07/2022 01:36PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Former Lincoln University professor Dr. Richard Winchester recently reflected on Oct. 19, 1972, when Lincoln University faculty and librarians overwhelmingly voted to form a union. 

In a historic election supervised by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the tally was 78 votes in favor of the Lincoln University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (L.U.C./A.A.U.P.) 6 votes for no agent, and 11 not voting. 

According to Winchester, “that huge margin of victory for L.U.C./A.A.U.P could only be interpreted as a repudiation of the Branson administration, or in the context of later history, the first vote of no confidence in Branson’s stewardship.

Winchester has a long and colorful history both locally and statewide as an advocate for equality. He recently served on the Oxford Borough Council, where he continued to champion for the disenfranchised population.

When Oxford held a unity walk for George Floyd in June of 2020, it was no surprise to see Winchester and his wife, Connie holding signs and looking nostalgically at the Oxford Hotel. Winchester left his mark there as well.

Neither are strangers to protests or walks. Both have spent their lifetime championing for the under-served. Connie Winchester is most-remembered for being the director of Neighborhood Services Center for many years. 

Winchester and his wife sat across the street from the Oxford Hotel where he and Lincoln University students had protested for a week because black people were refused lodging in the hotel. That was 1961. When asked how long black people have endured racism and injustice, Winchester replied, “Since 1619 when the first slaves were brought to Jamestown and it has continued until now.”

Sitting across from the hotel reminded him of going with Lincoln University students to the March on Washington, D.C. to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. He remembered the little children in the ghetto waving their American flags as their bus drove through. He remembered two weeks later when a bomb was thrown into a Birmingham church killing four little girls. 

“They were all dressed up for church. They were all killed. That was a dramatic punctuation on the March on Washington,” he said. “So many things have happened and no one was filming them. And it continues to this day.”

And to this day, Winchester continues to remember every detail of how coming to Lincoln University changed the life of both he and his wife Connie, who still brings a sparkle to his eye.

He had graduated from Ursinus College and admitted, “The history I learned there was not about black people, women or indigenous people.”

His first experience with Lincoln University was when he went to the university to hear author Richard C. Wade speak about his book “Slavery in the Cities: The South 1820-1860.” 

“I travelled to Lincoln University to hear him talk in the chapel,” Winchester explained. “As I listened to the Lincoln students, I was so impressed with them. They went toe to toe with Wade, asking challenging questions. From that day on, I was so impressed with the university. I was also very impressed with Richard Wade and his recent book. That evening really influenced my life. The book was a breaking story in that period of time, the late 50s. Wade later introduced me to Marvin Wachman, president of Lincoln University. When I met Wachman, I wasn’t even thinking about working there. I didn’t even have a resume put together. I didn’t go prepared to stay for 39 years, but I did.”

Although Winchester doesn’t want this story to be about him, understanding the man, is relevant to the formation of the union at Lincoln University. At the time, he didn’t know, what he didn’t know. And Lincoln University opened up his world. He is quick to point out that there were many co-workers along the way that were so important to the formation of the union at this historically black college. It was also a teachable moment to the students there.

Winchester remembered, “It was1970 and Milton Shapp was the Governor of Pennsylvania. He pushed legislature enabling educators to form unions. An off-shoot of this was that public schools began to unionize in 1971.”

Winchester continued, “I was involved in researching how to form a union. I went to workshops and learned how to organize a campaign. I remember the meeting our faculty had at the Red Fox Inn. I remember the passionate speakers. By the end of the evening, we had enough votes to move forward with becoming unionized.”

Lincoln faculty members were busy that fall sending out newsletters to colleagues and keeping them posted. Winchester explained that he was amazed at exactly how and why President Branson had alienated so many of Lincoln’s professionals in so short a period of time.

“The staff Branson inherited was mostly conservative,” Winchester explained. “Only a minority had participated in the protests of the 1960s. Those staff still around in 1972 who had been outspoken for civil rights in the previous two decades were professors Cornwell, Gardner, Rivero, Jones, Rudd, Stevens, Farrell, Murray, Pierce, Bellone, Wimbish, Putnam, Smith, Frankowsky, Gunn, Russo and W.T.M Johnson, he said.  

Winchester had protested with all of them and continued to be amazed at how many and how quickly they had all become so disenchanted with Branson’s stewardship. It was the same group, not quite one-fifth of Lincoln’s total faculty, that formed the nucleus of the local A.A.U.P. chapter.

In 1971, Lincoln was not yet a state-related university and, as only a state-aided institution, stood last in line for any state dollars.

So it was not much of a surprise, with rising faculty concern, L.UC./A.A.U.P. adopted two resolutions at its meeting on May 12, and Paul Russo transmitted them to the faculty and to the President on May 14, 1971.

Resolution 1 was:

The A.A.U.P. chapter of Lincoln University expresses its concern that Article III, Section 2 of the faculty by-laws, stipulating that written notification of reappointment (stating rank) be made by May 1, has not been observed in 1971.

The A.A.U.P. requests the President to share with the faculty at its next meeting (May19) the financial concerns that prompted this departure from the by-laws.

Resolution 2 was:

Whereas the fifty-seventh Annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors has on April 17,1971 passed a resolution entitled “Faculty Participation and Financial Exigency” which calls upon universities to insure adequate faculty participation in the decision making that results from the necessity of major budgetary reductions:

And whereas the faculty by-laws of Lincoln University stipulate that the faculty be informed of important developments affecting the educational work of the university, including annual budgets;

The A.A.U.P. of Lincoln University therefore asks the President, in the case that a situation of financial exigency develops, to establish procedures of consultation with the faculty to insure the faculty a meaningful voice in decisions regarding the need, the areas and methods of emergency retrenchment.”

Failure of the administration to act on the by-law amendments deepened the faculty’s apprehension. But that was nothing compared to what was coming: no salary increases. And Paul Russo was given notice on non-reappointment.

Obviously, the union didn’t happen overnight. And it wasn’t just Lincoln University that was looking for change. There were numerous colleges and universities across the nation seeking more.

Student and faculty reaction to the deaths at Kent and Jackson State Universities shut down many colleges and universities in the spring of 1970, including Lincoln, Winchester said. When the fall semester began, the call for law and order grew louder and many administrators were determined to tighten their grip. Activists around the country in the professoriate responded by expressing a growing interest in collective bargaining.

It was a long battle. Administration and trustees tried to stop the movement and when that didn’t work, they repeatedly tried to slow them down. Laws changed and collective bargaining could not be held back forever.

Paul Russo,  the assistant professor of history, was the A.A.U.P president for the year 1970 to 1971 and he continued even as his job was threatened. Collective bargaining was not going away. Meetings were held and time and time again the A.A.U.P. was met with delays. In October of 1971, Russo was replaced as president of the A.A.U. P. by Don Pierce and the battle continued.

In the end L.U.C./A.A.U.P geared up for a campaign. On Oct. 19, in spite of battle after battle, delay after delay the campaign was successful. When final votes were counted, it was a resounding victory. The win received national attention. After the 14 state-owned institutions, Lincoln had the second unionized faculty in the Commonwealth, and the first A.A.U.P. union in Pennsylvania. Today it remains one of only two stand-alone Historically Black College or University in the county to embrace collective bargaining. 

Once there was a union, then it was on to negotiating a contract.

Winchester summed up the outcome of organizing a union by saying, “it is not for the faint hearted. The costs, physical, emotional and economic, are large, indeed. Whenever possible, unions in higher education are to be avoided; they are to be used only as a last-ditch defense against arrogant administrations and clueless trustees.”

He continued, “the university’s leadership invited a union, and there was enough stamina on the campus to take up the challenge. At significantly personal sacrifice, the faculty said no to abusive power.”

Dr. Winchester continues to write about Lincoln University as he prepares a memoir on his time at Lincoln. Stay tuned for the publication of that book.

Meanwhile, Winchester and his wife Connie have left an indelible mark upon this community. Both continue their fight for equality and hope to see it in their lifetime.