In Memory

James Hairston

James Hairston

James Monroe Hairston, a native of Virginia, attended Oberlin College with the Class of 1968 but received his Bachelor's degree from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked as a VISTA Volunteer. Later he taught in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, serving students with disciplinary challenges. An avid sports fan, Jim passed away on October 8, 2020.

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12/27/23 01:06 PM #1    

Andrew S Ward

James and I flunked out of Oberlin together in 1966, whereupon unbeknownst to me he joined Vista in Providence  and unbeknownst to Jim I entered the Rhode Island School of Design. I don’t know how things stand now, but back then. Providence bristled with racial tension. I took an apartment on Benefit Street and one afternoon there came a knocking on my door. I opened it to find three large young African-American men standing in my hallway, each in shades and berets, and it took me a couple of seconds to see that the man in the middle was my old dorm mate Jim Hairston. We greeted each other and sat around a while comparing memories of Oberlin. His roommate had been Mike Clements and the two of them had been a force to reckon with on campus, especially among us white kids who were so eager to hang with them. They liked to play on our ignorance of what it meant to be black in this country, and wove apocryphal tales of their boyhoods. But James was more reserved, because whereas Mike was from a prosperous family in Cleveland, James’s background was closer to the bone. I believe he had been admitted to Oberlin via a Rockefeller or Carnegie program, but despite James’ efforts Oberlin did not provide any pedagogic assistance to help him through what must have been an alien landscape, whereas I had been admitted as a legacy and spent my time at Oberlin sleeping through class and playing guitar. So for very different reasons, we were asked to leave Oberlin. After an hour or so, Jim and I exchanged phone numbers, and he invited me to come visit him in the inner city neighborhood where Vista had posted him. But not long afterward, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and we next encountered each other at the state Capitol building in Providence. Jim was seated with his two friends and when I approached to greet him, he put up his hand and with a grief stricken expression he withdrew his invitation, telling me that he could no longer guarantee my safety. That was the last time I saw him. Shortly thereafter I moved to India, but I often wondered about him and how he fared. From reading his obituary he fared extraordinarily well in a life of service, and I am doubly proud to have known him. 

12/27/23 03:14 PM #2    

Daniel Miller

I remember James from playing basketball at Warner just about every afternoon.  A person's character is on open display during team sports like basketball, and his character was absolutely top notch.  He was a really great person.  I can understand why he would have been successful dealing with kids with attitude problems.   It gives me a lot of pain to see that he is no longer with us.

12/28/23 12:23 PM #3    

Ted Morgan

Thank you Andrew for your story about you and Jim, much appreciated.  I was sorry to read of Jim's passing.  While I didn't have a strong personal relationship with him, I remember struggling to keep up with him on the basketball court; Jim was always gracious about my limitations and never failed to greet me with a smile.  I'm gratified to read about his so-valuable life's work.

12/29/23 07:32 AM #4    

Liz Ryan (Cole)

I was moved by Andrew, Daniel and Ted's comments. I note that James was survived by a wife and family and wonder if there is a way for them to be able to see these, and any other memories shared, going forward. 

12/30/23 02:31 PM #5    

Peter Griswold

I didn't know James personally, but the note of his passing reminded me of my sense that Oberlin's reputation for activism on racial issues was somewhat in contrast to the social environment.  in short, it seemed to me that white males largely hung out with other white males, and the small number of Black males on campus largely hung out together.  I confess: A) I didn't do much about the  situation; and B) I couod be wrong.  Just wondering what others saw.  

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