Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Paul H. Tyson
It was interesting because I've had this discussion with college friends since then; I think one of the great values of it, actually, was much more for the white students. Insofar as it opened people's eyes to other parts of the world or other aspects of America. That's all been to the good. I have a thirteen year old and an eleven year old now; in February in Fairfax County is Black History Month, and I find out that actually my kids are probably better prepared than many. I think there was some legitimate criticism but it would be a shame to throw out everything that was developed with the bathwater. I don't think you can ignore a continent like Africa, nor do I think you can ignore the African-American role in American history
Q: Before we move to Sierra Leone, were you able to tap into sort of the international world; America's role in what was happening in the world beyond the United States? Was this of particular interest to you, or not?
TYSON: Oh sure, Vietnam was going on, which tended to dominate everything, but I was taking a lot of international relations courses. I was interested in things. At that time, one of Dartmouth's specialties, and it was the president then, John Sloan Dickey, who was very interested in U.S.-Canada and that was about as boring as vanilla ice cream. I think there was more of a push to understand that there was a big world out there. I'd grown up in Europe, was interested in it, so I certainly followed things. You know, the New York Times was up there and any number of other things. It was probably an island in New Hampshire, but nonetheless there were people interested in it.
Q: Sierra Leone - you were there, it must be, '72 or so?
TYSON: Yes, January to mid-March of 1972.
Q: What was Sierra Leone like when you went there?
TYSON: Sierra Leone, in some ways, was actually a sweet little country. It had its dictator there, but, you know, there wasn't really much going on. We showed up with our group which had been split along racial lines, just because the blacks were all hanging out with each other, and we got to Sierra Leone and discovered a group that was virtually all-white from Kalamazoo College in Michigan who'd been there for three months already. So they had figured out where the beaches were, what you did, and all this and that. At first we were up at the dorms at Fourah Bay College up on the mountain above Freetown, and it became rapidly obvious to our black colleagues that it was really useful to have a white with you in black Africa. People would stop when you were hitchhiking, you got moved to the heads of the line; there was just a whole lot of leftovers from colonialism still there.