Abridged Malcolm X quote sparked a 1992 building takeover by Black student leaders, who said it misrepresented the fuller meaning of the civil rights leader’s message; URI President Marc Parlange acknowledged those now-alumni for their “courage to stand up and speak out”
KINGSTON, R.I.— March 10, 2023 –Work began this week to remove a truncated quote from the granite façade of the University of Rhode Island’s Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons. The quote, intended to be a tribute to Malcom X when it was installed in 1992, angered many students, including leaders of the Black Student Leadership Group, who said the shortened version misrepresented the fuller meaning of the civil rights leader’s message.
The inscription reads, “My alma mater was books, a good library … I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” That version, however, omits parts of the broader statement as it appears in The Autobiography of Malcolm X: “I told the Englishman that my alma mater was books, a good library. Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read—and that’s a lot of books these days. If I weren’t out here every day battling the white man, I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity—because you can hardly mention anything I’m not curious about.”
The library engraving sparked student activism, including a takeover of the University’s Taft Hall in November of 1992 led by members of the Black Student Leadership Group. That takeover was the subject of a 30-year reunion in November on the Kingston Campus and a recently released documentary.
“The removal of this inscription started 30 years ago, when a group of URI students had the courage to stand up and speak out against injustices happening at that time,” said URI President Marc Parlange, who arrived at URI in 2021 and pledged during the November reunion to have the quote removed. “Our University is grateful to those students for their courage, and I am grateful to today’s generation of student leaders who, advocating in that same spirit, continue to inspire our ongoing work to foster a truly inclusive and equitable community.”
Temporary fencing was installed Monday around the southeast corner of the library in preparation for the façade work, which also began this week. The project involves removing 18 granite veneer panels, along with stone anchors, and replacing them with matching blank granite panels. The current phase of work is expected to be completed within four to six weeks.
The removal of the quote is one of several outcomes of the 1992 student protest, along with the formation of an Africana Studies major and the creation of the Multicultural Student Services Center located in the heart of campus, among others.
“I know that the removal of this quote will mean so much to other members of the Black Student Leadership Group,” said Michelle Fontes, who was a member of BSLG in 1992 and now serves as interim assistant vice president for community, equity, and diversity at the University. “I am happy to have been part of the activism that took place in 1992 and this quote finally being removed is proof that our new administration is listening and striving to do better.”
Fontes said the group expects to plan an event that helps educate the community about the significance of the quote and its removal.
The abridged quote was part of the public art installation “Nine Inscriptions,” commissioned in 1992. The University worked cooperatively with the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts to deaccession a portion of the installation to allow for its removal.