Mike Wenger, Stan Shaw, and Mark Levy Oral History
Scope and Contents
In this interview, alumni Mike Wenger, Stan Shaw, and Mark Levy discuss their impressions of life at Queens College in the early 1960s. The three discuss the culture of campus, the impact of the Virginia Student Help Project in 1963, and subsequent student activist movements on campus and in society at large. Wenger, Shaw, and Levy recall student-driven civil rights activities such as the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, Freedom Week, and Freedom Fast initiatives. Also in the conversation, Wenger, Shaw, and Levy reflect on the media’s role in televising social unrest during the 1960s which motivated student engagement, and the connection between past and present publicization of contemporary racial issues in American society.
- Wenger, Michael (Interviewee, Person)
This oral history is open for research. Media files and transcript can be viewed and/or requested through the Queens Memory Project on Aviary: https://queenslibrary.aviaryplatform.com/r/3775t3gf58. For help using the site, contact QC.Archives@qc.cuny.edu.
Conditions Governing Use
Interview shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Users are free to share or adapt the material for non-commercial purposes, as long as they meet the terms of the license.
See license details at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.
Michael Wenger was born to Emanuel and Rose Wenger on March 4, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied at Queens College, City University of New York and received his B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Education in 1965. At Queens College, Wenger served as the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) campus chapter president circa 1963-1964 and as chairman of the Student Help Project during the 1964 calendar year. Wenger tutored under-served school children in South Jamaica, Queens from 1962-1963. In 1963, he and a group of 16 Queens College students traveled to Prince Edward County, Virginia to tutor black students who had been denied a public education since 1959 when the county closed its public schools rather than comply with court-mandated integration.
When Wenger returned from Prince Edward County, Virginia, he was awarded, along with Stan Shaw (a fellow student participant in the Virginia Student Help Project), the B’nai B’rith Human Relations Award on April 23, 1964. Wenger was involved in several other activist activities, including the organization of Freedom Week, an event sponsored by C.O.R.E. in 1964.
After his graduation from Queens College in 1965, Wenger taught special education in New York from 1965-1967. In 1967, he moved to Berkeley, West Virginia where he became the director of the Community Education Project, an anti-poverty program. Over the next several years, Wenger worked for the state of West Virginia in various community action positions; including Director of Federal/State programs for Charleston, West Virginia, Chief of the Division of Community Development for the Office of the Governor of West Virginia, and Deputy Commissioner for Operations for the West Virginia Department of Welfare.
In 1981, Wenger moved to Maryland where he became the state’s Washington Representative for the Appalachian Regional Commission. At the same time, he wrote a biweekly column on race relations for the Prince George’s Journal. In September 1997, Wenger became Deputy Director of Outreach and Program Development for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race. In 1998, he began his affiliation with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. Wenger is currently a Senior Fellow with the Center and serves as the Editorial Consultant to FOCUS magazine, the Center’s bi-monthly magazine. He is also an Adjunct Faculty Member of the Department of Sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., teaching courses on institutional racism.
Over the course of his career Wenger has written several publications, and frequently gives presentations that discuss the issue of race and race relations in the United States.
Stan Shaw was born on August 18, 1943 to Sue and Leonard Shaw in Utica, NY. He grew up in Cambria Heights, Queens, and studied at Queens College, City University of New York, where he received his B.A. in Sociology and Education in 1965. During the 1962-1963 school year, Shaw served as Chairman of the Queens College Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) ; he went on to serve as Chairman of the Queens College Student Help Project from January 1963 through January 1964.
The Student Help Project was established by Queens College CORE, the Queens College Chapter of the National Student Association (NSA), and Queens College education majors and professors. The Project comprised two initiatives: the provision of free tutoring services to schoolchildren in South Jamaica, Queens and in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Shaw was a founder of the Jamaica program and one of several coordinators of the Virginia project.
Prince Edward County, Virginia was a focal point in the fight for racial equality in education. In 1951, Barbara Johns, a black student in Prince Edward County, led her classmates in a strike for a better school. With the help of the NAACP, Johns and her classmates filed a desegregation lawsuit that became one of four cases that made up the historic Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education (1954). In 1959, Prince Edward County de-funded and closed their public schools rather than comply with court mandated integration. This development was part of Virginia’s policy of “Massive Resistance” to desegregation. The Prince Edward County public school system would not re-open until 1964.
During the spring of 1963, Shaw tutored students in South Jamaica, Queens; by the fall of 1963, over 220 Queens College students had volunteered in the program. During the summer of 1963, the Virginia Student Help Project, under the direction of faculty members Dr. Rachel Weddington and Dr. Sidney Simon, sent sixteen student tutors, including Shaw, to Farmville, the Prince Edward County seat. Stan Shaw and Michael Wenger were awarded the B’nai B’rith Human Relations Award in May 1964 for their work with the Student Help Project.
Shaw enjoyed a distinguished career in special education, serving as a researcher, professor, and policy advocate. He received an M.A. in Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado (1968) and an Ed.D. in Special Education and Disadvantaged Youth from the University of Oregon (1971). He is a Professor Emeritus of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut and a Senior Research Scholar and Associate Director at the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability.
(1) Shaw began as Chairman of the Queens College Chapter of the NAACP, but decided to change the group’s affiliation to CORE part way through the year.
Mark Levy was born on May 30, 1939 in New York City to Harold and Leona Levy. He studied at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio from 1957 to 1959 and then transferred to Queens College, where he received a B.A. in Sociology in 1964 and an M.S. in Social Studies Education in 1973. While at Queens College, he served as Student Association President from 1962 to 1963.
In 1964, he and his wife, Betty Bollinger Levy, also a graduate of Queens College (B.S. Psychology in 1963), volunteered for the Mississippi Summer Project. The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project was organized by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of civil rights organizations comprised of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Mark and Betty served as co-coordinators and teachers at the Meridian Freedom School in Lauderdale County, a district overseen by CORE.
After that summer, Levy returned to New York City to teach social studies at a junior high school in Harlem, where he continued to work until 1968. In the summer of 1965, he traveled back to Mississippi to participate in a school desegregation project in Jackson. From 1968 to 1973, he was on the faculty at Queens College in the SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) Program, a state-funded program facilitating the enrollment of economically disadvantaged students. He also taught high school students in the Upward Bound Program and led seminars and supervised field internships in the Action Program.
In 1973, he embarked on a second career as a union organizer and representative at United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE). He then went on to work for Local 1199/NY (United Drug, Hospital and Healthcare Workers Union), and the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR/SEIU) from which he retired as Executive Director in 2008.
1 Digital Files ; 01:59:41
Language of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated to Queens College and Queens Public Library by Mike Wenger, Stan Shaw, Mark Levy, Annie Tummino, and Victoria Fernandez in October, 2020.
Single MP4 file totalling 821.6 MB and 2 hours in duration.
Oral history conducted as part of the Queens Memory Project (http://queensmemory.org), a collaborative program of the Queens Public Library and Queens College to collect stories, images, and other evidence of life in the borough of Queens.
This interview was specifically collected for the Student Help: Lived Experience Project.
- Mike Wenger, Stan Shaw, and Mark Levy Oral History
- In Progress
- Victoria Fernandez
- April 2021
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