Three students who were expelled nearly 50 years ago were honored with honorary doctorate degrees during the fall 2018 commencement ceremony.
The students, Sentwali Aiyetoro (formerly David Walter Brown,) Kenneth Kamau King and Burnele Venable Powell, were expelled in spring 1969 after bringing members of the Black Panther Party to the Student Union.
Jeff Murphy, assistant director of Integrated Marketing and Communications, said former President Chuck Ambrose proposed awarding the honorary degrees to the three students. The Board of Governors approved the request to honor the three former students at the fall 2018 commencement.
“As members of the education community, they challenged the status quo by standing up for justice and racial equality, qualities they carried into their respective professional lives,” President Roger Best said during the commencement ceremony. “Their persistence in seeking justice for individuals and the pursuit of opportunities to improve other people’s lives eventually led them into careers in law and service activities that benefit people in the United States and across the globe.”
Nearly 50 years ago, Aiyetoro, King and Powell led different lives. Aiyetoro and King both co-founded the Association of Black Collegians and were members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Their lives would change Feb. 20, 1969, after a peaceful meeting went awry.
According to a chronological recount of the meeting found in the McClure Archives, the peaceful meeting with the Black Panther Party turned chaotic when Tom Edmunds, former dean of students, ordered the Student Union to be vacated within five minutes. While many students left, Aiyetoro, King and Powell remained after seeing students refusing to leave.
“I walked out and there was still bowling going on, still pool being played, cards being played,” King said in an archival video produced by KMOS-TV in conjunction with Integrated Marketing and Communications. “There were activities going on in the Union. So I go back in and say, ‘The Union is not closed. Everybody else is out there.’”
After finally being forced to leave, King recalled having to walk among a thick line of law enforcement officials, including his own deputized law enforcement classmates.
“To walk through that was like an eye-opener for me,” King said.
According to the chronological recount, tensions mounted by the end of the night with rocks being thrown at the glass doors of the Union. Windows in the Utt Building, Grinstead Building and Garrison Building were also broken during that evening, according to an official news release issued following the event. Roadblocks were also established at the fringes of Warrensburg.
Many Central Missouri State College students questioned the actions of administrators and held meetings throughout the following week to gather answers.
In the end, Aiyetoro, King and Powell were among a group of students expelled from the university. Additionally, a purge was conducted to remove faculty who participated in the incident. Ray Peterson, an English professor, was notified his contract would not be renewed for 1969-70 after being present at the Student Union incident and accompanying Aiyetoro to Edmund’s office.
“After they expelled us, there was a purge amongst the faculty also,” King said. “Those people who supported the Association of Black Collegians at the time, I think, they also came under fire.”
After the three students were expelled from CMSC in March 1969, they all pursued an education in the legal field.
According to the commencement program, Brown, who changed his name to Sentwali Aiyetoro in the mid-1970s, received a four-year degree from CMSC due to having enough credit hours to receive the degree. He continued his education, receiving a Juris Doctor degree in 1972 from the University of Kansas School of Law. While at the University of Kansas, Aiyetoro helped found the Black Law Students Association, a group supporting the needs of black law students.
After receiving his doctorate, Aiyetoro embarked on a career of serving others. He then moved to Texas, where he assisted people who did not have the financial means to pay for legal assistance. Aiyetoro continued to work for organizations such as the Legal Services of North Carolina and the Development Training Institute.
In 1994, Aiyetoro was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After leading a physically active lifestyle and devoting a career to serving the public, Aiyetoro died Feb. 22, 2017. His daughter, Tracy Ramos, received the posthumous honorary degree on his behalf.
King finished his degree at the University of Missouri in Kansas City in 1970 before pursuing a law degree at Howard University School of Law. He graduated from Howard University in 1973, where he later was named “Alumnus of the Year” in 2006. King served as a clerk for two legislative members before embarking on a lengthy career in law, where he worked for various companies, including United States Treasury Department and The Coca-Cola Company.
Powell also continued his education, earning a Master of Law from Harvard Law School in 1979. Powell became a member of the Wisconsin and Massachusett state bars, contributed to several prominent academic legal journals and dedicated 10 years to teaching at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
“They had wonderful careers,” Murphy said. “They’ve always stood up for what they believed in, and they devoted their lives seeking justice for others. And they certainly set a good example for our students to emulate.”