At 2 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 8, 1961, Frank Ransburg set foot on the Southern University campus for the first time. In a sense, he has never left.
From the moment he arrived, Ransburg has been a student, faculty member or administrator at Southern, a streak that continues. Though retired, Ransburg is still teaching a political science course this fall.
And, even when he is not physically at Southern, tangible memories of the school are piled into boxes in the garage of his Zachary home.
“That’s why my car is parked outside,” Ransburg said. “That garage is history.”
A half-century of it, anyway.
Ransburg, 68, grew up on a plantation in the DeSoto Parish town of Keatchie. His father completed third grade, and his mother completed seventh grade, but they had higher aspirations for their children.
“They did miracles with their kids,” Ransburg said. “Living in … in this segregated plantation system, my parents had five boys to come to Southern University. I’m the youngest.”
The oldest, Thomas, fell in love with Southern when he attended a high school program there in the late 1940s and heard its president, Felton G. Clark, speak. That started the trend that Frank Ransburg continued, although he applied to LSU knowing he would be turned down because LSU did not admit black undergraduates in 1961. So, his brother Herbert drove him to Scotlandville.
“The offices were closed, so I sat on my foot locker and nodded until the offices opened at 8 o’clock,” Ransburg said. “My brother dropped me off and gave me $5, shook my hand and wished me the best of luck and told me, ‘Well, you’re here now.’ He had to go to work at 8 o’clock that morning. He had to get back to Shreveport. You didn’t have I-49 then.”
As the first person in line, Ransburg got the first room in what was then called East Hall, now known as Bethune Hall. That name change reflects only one of the many changes that have occurred since then.
There was no vehicle overpass across the railroad tracks at the Harding Boulevard entrance to the school, nor the F.G. Clark Field House that is the first highly visible building that greets those who arrive. As a student, Ransburg only took two classes in air-conditioned rooms, and none of the dorms had that feature.
“I tell students now if we had had computers and email and the kinds of electronic equipment we have now, I think we would have done some real good things,” he said. “We did some good things as it was, but students now have access to so many things.”
Few students owned cars, and Ransburg made it a point to know each of them so he could get rides downtown. Dorms had curfews, and none of the students had television sets. Each dorm had a television set in its lobby, Ransburg said, but it would be turned off after the 6 p.m. news.
“I never shall forget my freshman year, Howard Smith, who was director of the dormitory … he’d cut the TV off,” Ransburg said. “He said, ‘Now, go to your rooms and study. When you graduate and get out of here, TV will be much bigger and much better.
“You talk about student attire: We couldn’t wear jeans. The only time I could wear jeans on the campus was Saturday afternoon, after 1 o’clock. I had to wear slacks to class. You had to wear a tie to Sunday lunch.
“Girls couldn’t wear pants. Can you imagine that? They had to wear dresses, and they couldn’t wear shoes with their heels out. There was a strict dress code.”
Vesper services on Sunday nights were mandatory. Students who lived on campus could not go home for the weekend without their parents’ written permission. Thanksgiving was not a school holiday.
A convocation was held on the Monday before homecoming at which students would be warned about their conduct.
“They said, ‘For some people, it’s going to be homecoming. For other people, it’s going to be home-going. If you get out of line, for you it’s not going to be homecoming, it’s going to be home-going,’” Ransburg said.
“Whenever a student was dismissed from school, they paid his way home. If they put you out of school — and they would put you out of school if you didn’t follow the rules — if you had to ride the bus to Shreveport, they would take you to the bus station and pay your fare and watch you get on the bus and make sure that you left.
“Don’t get me wrong. They weren’t mean. They weren’t rude. The university was about business, and you had to adhere to the business aspects of it.”
Ransburg graduated in 1965 with a degree in political science and turned down an offer from the Job Corps to work as a dorm counselor. He began teaching political science in 1968, and mixed teaching with administration until retiring from the latter duties in 1999. A partial list of his administrative work included serving as assistant dean of men, student activities director, director of the Student Affairs Planning Office and assistant to the chancellor. Ransburg also did graduate work at LSU and served as assistant director for high school relations there.
In teaching political science, Ransburg got to know numerous future political leaders, such as William Jefferson, Charles Jones, Diana Bajoie, Wilson Fields and Raymond Jetson. As director of student affairs, he met Cleo Fields, who became Student Government Association president and went on to Congress, and Ransburg managed Fields’ unsuccessful 1995 gubernatorial campaign.
Ransburg has worked for nine Southern University presidents and rates Clark and Deloris Spikes as the two best. Clark, the president from 1938-’68, never lost the inspirational quality that caused Thomas Ransburg to start the family tradition of attending Southern.
“When Dr. Clark got through speaking, I don’t care if you were down in the dumps or if you were mad at the world, you felt good about yourself after Felton Clark spoke,” he said. “He was a scholar, and that’s what made Felton Clark great. He made you feel your worth of being a college student. He just had a way of doing it.”
If there was only one Felton Clark, there were many who gave more of themselves than just their job duties. In 1964, Ransburg was the Southern University coordinator for Lyndon Johnson’s successful presidential campaign, which earned him an invitation to the inauguration. Since Ransburg couldn’t afford to go, professors and administrators raised money so he could attend. Ransburg knows of professors who use their own money to make additional instructional material available.
“These are the things that I saw about Southern University, that I like about Southern University, and that have stuck with me all of my life,” Ransburg said.