May 11, 1997 in City

Gu Grad Overcomes Harassment, Fear Law School Graduate Took Mother’s Advice To Stay Strong In Face Of Racist Letters, Phone Calls

Virginia De Leon Staff writer
 

Take a stand, she told her son. Be strong.

For three years, Mary-Etta Clinton worried about her son, Uri.

“I’ve always taught him to endure,” she said, standing among the hundreds of parents Sunday at Gonzaga University’s School of Law graduation. “This isn’t the worst thing that will happen to him.”

Uri Clinton, 24, was one of eight black law students who received racist letters and phone calls. For three years, he felt both scared and angry, he said.

When he took tests, he often was surrounded by security guards. When he walked around campus, he couldn’t help but look over his shoulder.

The harassment has caused three African-American students to transfer. Clinton, however, took his mom’s advice: He stayed.

On Sunday, he was one of 160 students to graduate from Gonzaga’s law school. He also was the only African American.

“I am extremely happy and proud,” said Clinton, who turned down an offer last year to finish his studies at Georgetown. “I have achieved something I’ve wanted to do since the fourth grade.”

Signed by “Law Students for a Pure America,” the harassing letters said none of the African American students would graduate. Clinton, who will return to his hometown of Las Vegas, made it his mission to stay.

Never before had he experienced such overt racism as he has here in Spokane, he said.

In 1995, he and other black law students received letters heavily punctuated with racial slurs.

Last year, they again received more letters and phone calls. One student even found racist graffiti scrawled all over the door and window of her apartment.

The latest incident happened last month when the students received more threatening phone calls and a racist letter was slipped into an unattended backpack in the library.

Authorities have not identified a suspect. Last month, John Clute, dean of the law school, told students he believes the culprit is one of their classmates.

The university is offering a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the apprehension of whoever is responsible.

For now, though, Clinton wants other students of color to hang in there, he said. To survive, it’s important to focus on one’s goal and stay the course, he said.

On Sunday, Clinton - the first of the group to graduate - stood proudly in his black and purple gown. Around his shoulders, he wore a strip of multi-colored kinte cloth from Ghana, a traditional ornament for those who have completed a rite of passage.

For Clinton, who will work in a district attorney’s office, it has indeed been a journey, he said. Despite the pain and fear he has encountered, he has no regrets. He received a good education at Gonzaga, he said.

After the ceremony, he was greeted by friends and relatives. Filled with pride, their faces also showed signs of relief.

“He stuck it out,” said his 78-year-old grandmother, Lovey Sayles. “He won the victory.”

, DataTimes


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