Conversations With Our Past
Vickie Donaldson writes a letter to Marilyn J. Morheuser

You knew your stuff, Marilyn. It wasn’t a popular thing to represent poor and urban people. You knew more about what you were talking about than anybody in the room. I can appreciate what you had to do.

You were passionate—which made what you had to say more believable.

The period of my history that had the biggest impact on me was being one of those civil rights kids in the South. When I got to Rutgers, it was the year of rebellion in Newark. I had come from a background with a little bit more black nationalist thinking. I had done the years, singing for Dr. King in Tallahassee, and the teach-ins of Malcolm X had come to the fore.

People think we just took over a building, Conklin Hall. But actually there were three separate series of demands that we had submitted before the occupation. And with the last one in January 1969, when they said, “No, no, no,” we determined that we needed to do something more.

We timed our entry into Conklin Hall. We had a maximum of four minutes to get into the building and lock it down. And we held that building for three days.

If I could compare your work to what we did, you didn’t have bounds when it came to what was right or not. There was no equitable public funding for education back then. You had to go before the state education committee, the unions, the community. You had to do these things to let people understand that this was unequal, this was unfair. 

We didn’t mean equality; we meant equity. We meant, according to our capacity. If I had the capacity, the fact that I’m black shouldn’t keep me out. If I live in a town where my capacity to be educated thoroughly is somehow less than yours because I happen to be poor and urban, then I want equity.

As long as you have one little beacon that says, This is wrong,” somebody will see that and they’ll be moved to shine, too.

Vickie Donaldson
NCAS’72, NLAW’82

Baptism by Fire
At age 14 growing up in the rural South, Donaldson was threatened with a shotgun while registering black neighbors to vote.

Natural Leader
As a member of the Black Organization of Students, she helped engineer the February 1969 nonviolent takeover of Conklin Hall, when students demanded more representation of African-American students and faculty members at Rutgers–Newark. As a result, the university is far more diverse today.

Life of Advocacy
From 2006 to 2012, Donaldson was the director of homeless and housing services for the Watts Labor Community Action Committee in Los Angeles and then the program director for three years at Gaudenzia, a residential homeless facility in Philadelphia.

Home Again
In 2016 she came out of retirement to direct homeless services for the Division of Social Services, which is part of the City of Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness.

Marilyn J.  Morheuser

Battle Ready
As executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, Morheuser waged a successful 13-year court case ensuring that New Jersey funded all of the state’s school districts equitably.

Education for All
She earned her J.D. at nearly 50, and later worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Urban League, and the NAACP before serving as lead counsel in the case Abbott v. Burke. The lawsuit resulted in the New Jersey Supreme Court decision that changed the state’s educational funding policies through the Quality Education Act.

Morheuser was named Woman of the Year in Education by the New Jersey League of Women Voters in 1995 and given the Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the National Education Association in 1994. She died of cancer at the age of 71 in 1995.

Distinguished Company
Morheuser was inducted posthumously into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1997.