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Thu Jul 25, 2013, 12:33 PM

Northwestern U. Student Jeopardizes Degree by Refusing to Perform Whitman

By Stacey Patton

Walt Whitman, the acclaimed "poet of democracy," made several racist statements toward the end of his life. He called black people "baboons" and "wild brutes," said America is "for the whites," and predicted that in the competition for racial survival, "The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated."

It was statements like those that led a black graduate student at Northwestern University to protest a requirement of his chorale course that he perform Whitman's poem "Song for Democracy" in a university concert. As a result, Timothy L. McNair, a 25-year-old aspiring opera singer, failed the course. His stand, taken at the end of the spring quarter, has put at risk his ability to finish his master's degree at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music.

The university has backed the professor who failed Mr. McNair and says that it expects students to complete the work assigned to them. Students have had mixed reactions, with some demonstrating support for Mr. McNair and others defending the professor, Donald Nally.

Scholars at Northwestern and elsewhere suggest that Mr. Nally could have offered his student another assignment instead of failing him.

full: http://chronicle.com/article/Northwestern-U-Graduate/140531/

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Reply Northwestern U. Student Jeopardizes Degree by Refusing to Perform Whitman (Original post)
alp227 Jul 2013 OP
msongs Jul 2013 #1
Capt. Obvious Jul 2013 #4
freshwest Jul 2013 #2
GeorgeGist Jul 2013 #3
bbernardini Aug 2013 #5

Response to alp227 (Original post)

Thu Jul 25, 2013, 01:01 PM

1. did the student refuse to perform bible-based chorales as well? nt

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Response to msongs (Reply #1)

Thu Jul 25, 2013, 01:24 PM

4. Don't you have some e-cig threads to stalk?

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Response to alp227 (Original post)

Thu Jul 25, 2013, 01:11 PM

2. I didn't know this about Walt Whitman. He was required reading in school, but I never saw that. UGH!

Mr. Nally, in this story at least, demanded not academic excellence, but conformity. There is more to this story here:

Is Northwestern University Racist? Rally Held to Support Student Dismissed for Refusing to Sing Song by Racist Composer

The protest titled, “Lift Every Voice” presented handbills in a peaceful manner to attendees as they walked into Pick Staiger. The title of the Handbill was “A Song for ‘Democracy’ while Practicing Exclusion?”

It also said the following:

According to Walt Whitman: “N*ggers are the happiest people on earth because they’re so damned vacant” —David S. Reynolds, former Northwestern University Faculty and Ambassador Book Award Recipient/Literary Critic A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman’

Tonight, you will hear a ‘Song for Democracy’ with poetry by Walt Whitman and music by Howard Hanson. This ‘Song for Democracy’ is performed under the same suppression that its poet, Walt Whitman, stood for. The idea that a white professor, Donald Nally, would even begin to entertain the notion of barring a 3.7 plus GPA, full scholarship student of color from class in 2013 is not something that we are accepting.


Click 'View Full Article' to download the pdf of the NYT story on from 1918. It doesn't resonate well with me:


I'm a bit confused, as it appears the musical work is not by Whitman, but Percy Grainger of Australia who was influenced by Whitman. The first link cites Hanson as the composer.

The poetry reading could have been left out while the music could have been played. What's the point of dragging Whitman into what appears to be a complex orchestral piece?

Marching Song of Democracy

Here are the goals of learning the piece of music. I wonder if all musical degrees require this level of detail and attention.


Aren't some of the country's well-known conservative icons graduates of NWU?

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Response to GeorgeGist (Reply #3)

Wed Aug 14, 2013, 12:49 PM

5. I studied under Donald Nally. Nice guy, not a racist.

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