Ben Hazard, the first Black professor at the University of Nevada, Reno “I want to make sure that by being the first Black professor I also will not be the last.”
Ben Hazard, the first Black professor at the University of Nevada, Reno
Ben Hazard had a number of defining moments in his life.
But perhaps the one that said the most about him and what he believed – particularly during the year-long period when he became the first African-American professor in the history of the University of Nevada, Reno – occurred on May 5, 1970.
Before we get to that date, and why it was so important in knowing who Ben Hazard was, we need to list some of his accomplishments in his 79 years of living.
Many of his professional achievements were groundbreaking. Nearly every one of them were in the service of spurring change. And all of them point to a life that was constantly on the go, perpetually moving forward, or, as Hazard’s son, Mark, says “always all or nothing.”
When considering the influence that Ben Hazard had on so many throughout his life, we should note the following:
He was the first African-American professor in University history, which led to important conversations, some obvious and some more subtle, in how the University viewed itself and in how it was meeting the needs of its students and faculty.
“When you look at all the things my dad did throughout his life, it kind of blows you away. He was always creating."
He was the first Black person to be Curator, Special Exhibits and Education, for the Oakland Museum in Oakland, California from 1970-81. During this time Hazard received national recognition for involving diverse communities into the museum as active partners, producing more than 300 programs and exhibitions that increased visitor attendance to more than 100,000 annually.
He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the Institute of Museum Service Board in Washington, D.C., and sat on panels for the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
He was considered one of the prime forces involved with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which emerged in the United States as Black artists and Black intellectuals came together to put a renewed emphasis on Black artistic expression, themes and thought. It was called “the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept” in a seminal essay by cultural critic and playwright Larry Neal. Hazard’s “Medal of Honor” is still considered a compelling artistic effort and is often featured in Black Arts Movement exhibitions throughout the country.
He was commissioned as an artist and completed during his tenure on the faculty at the University of New Mexico monuments to the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Talkers and the Buffalo Soldiers located at the New Mexico Veteran’s Memorial in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He was commissioned to create a portrait of President Barack Obama and his family, which, when it was completed, was displayed during President Obama’s time as president in the family quarters of the White House.
“When you look at all the things my dad did throughout his life, it kind of blows you away,” Mark Hazard says. “He was always creating, always doing stuff. And it wasn’t just art. He’d say, ‘We’re going to paint the house … we’re going do this in the yard.’ It was always something. He had a tremendous amount of energy. He just never slowed down.”
Hazard was a person defined by being the first, or one of the first, in a number of different contexts and arenas. He often didn’t have time for obstacles, such as the beginning of his time as a professor at the University when white Reno landlords refused to rent to him. He was always intent on not just starting, but always finishing the job. And when it came time to take a stand, which happened all too frequently throughout his life, Ben Hazard never backed down.
Perhaps that’s why Ben Hazard’s brief tenure at the University needs to be remembered. A defining moment on our campus and its aftermath speaks to how well Ben Hazard understood what he was doing, while the University simply had no understanding at all of what it was about to lose.
Ben Hazard’s beginnings
Ben Hazard was born May 30, 1940, in Newport, Rhode Island. He left a turbulent home situation at age 15 after the passing of his mother. He lived with his aunt in Harlem, near 120th Street and Lennox Avenue, where for a time he shined shoes, worked part-time in a grocery store and thought often about his future. At 17, after graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force.
“Dad became a sign painter in the Air Force,” Mark Hazard, 54, the eldest of Hazard’s three children, says. Hazard’s other children include daughter Anamaria Hazard, 33, an attorney in Atlanta, and son Avant, 18, a boxer in Massachusetts. “He liked painting, and they said he was very creative. He ended up at Travis Air Force Base (in Fairfield, California).”
When his time in the Air Force ended in 1962, Hazard immediately pursued studies in art, first attending Vallejo Junior College. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts) and his Master of Fine Arts degree in Art Practice from the University of California-Berkeley.
Hazard was now in the middle of a creative and progressive period of Black art and expression – the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s.
The movement’s name was coined perhaps most memorably by the playwright Larry Neal, whose 1968 essay described what the Black Arts Movement was all about.
“(The movement) envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America,” Neal wrote in Drama Review, Summer 1968. “In order to perform this task, the Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic. It proposes a separate symbolism, mythology, critique and iconology.
“The Black Arts and the Black Power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire for self-determination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic. One is concerned with the relationship between art and politics; the other with the art of politics.”
At its core, among many offshoots, the Black Arts Movement stressed collaborative effort and community empowerment. Artists like Hazard were developing new and exciting ways to tell the story of African-American representation. As Black artists created in all forms and mediums new ways to view Black pride and Black culture, they were rejecting the stereotypical and the hateful for something much more meaningful and prideful.
Oakland history librarian Dorothy Lazard wrote of the time, which was being felt acutely in the Bay Area, particularly in Oakland, in the late 1960s: “At the urging of African American students, Black Studies courses were being offered on and off campuses. … By the early 1970s Laney College students could enroll in Swahili and African American history courses. While activists were pushing boundaries politically with boycotts, marches and speeches, African American artists, through visual and performative means, were also vital players in political activism … This groundswell of cultural expression made the Bay Area a mecca of artistic expression.”
It was in this creative hub of ideas that Hazard produced his 1967 work, “Medal of Honor.”
Even today, “Medal of Honor” makes an unmistakable point about being Black in America. The acrylic on canvas references the highest U.S. military decoration. The Hazard work commemorates the valor of Black civilian activists of the 1960s. In the painting Hazard replaces the image of the Statue of Liberty in the Medal of Honor with that of a young Black man holding a Molotov cocktail, the flame acting as either a beacon or a weapon, depending on one’s interpretation.
Longtime Bay Area arts critic Wanda Sabir wrote about “Medal of Honor” that it has a compelling juxtaposition of “Blackness as a concept” as well as a sense of “heroism” and the unblinking and solitary reality that Black people often feel “fighting for a country that does not value one’s humanity.”
Hazard’s profile and notoriety as an artist were on the rise when he joined the University as the institution’s first full-time Black faculty member in summer 1969. He was 29 years old.
“I expected some trouble because I’ve been black for 29 years,” Hazard told the Reno Evening Gazette in a Sept. 11, 1969 interview. “But I didn’t expect it to this degree.”
“I expected some trouble because I’ve been black for 29 years. But I didn’t expect it to this degree.”
In “Drawings and Paintings by an African-American Artist” in the journal Leonardo, African-American scholar and artist Raymond Lark writes that Hazard was considered part of the “so-called Revolutionary Black Artists of California. These artists were revitalizing the study of Black history and were trying to express pride in the dignity of Black people at the same time. The so-called Black Revolutionary Artists of California won their uncomplimentary name from the White US American establishment which was appalled by the primarily Black subject matter of these artists that had entered an art world not yet conditioned to accept it.”
Reality also imitated art, unfortunately, in what Hazard experienced when he first arrived in Reno. Hazard’s introduction to Reno was marked by several ugly incidents where Reno-Sparks landlords, upon learning Hazard was Black, came up with a series of flimsy excuses not to rent to him.
Hazard had started his search for a place to live earlier that summer. For three months the excuses from landlords who did not want to rent to a Black person piled up. They included two properties that accepted Hazard’s rent check but then, upon learning Hazard was Black, told him their properties had been sold. Another landlord said he changed his mind and that he rented the space to a friend instead of Hazard. Another accepted Hazard’s check, but then, after Hazard had gone to his home in Oakland to get two-year-old Mark and his furniture, left a note on the door of the property for Hazard, saying it was no longer available.
“I remember Dad telling me that there was another landlord, whoever he was renting his apartment from, and they changed the locks on Dad once they figured out Dad was Black,” Mark Hazard says.
Ben Hazard said at the time that he wasn’t going to let any of the housing obstacles deter him.
“I want to make sure that by being the first black professor that I also will not be the last,” he said. “It makes my reason for being here all the more important. … It is an honor to be at the University. I want to do what I have been hired to do and at the same time I want be aware of who I am and what I can do to help my people.
“A long time ago I decided I would never leave a place because I couldn’t take the pressure. I will leave only when I have accomplished what I came to do. I can’t leave now and let someone else carry the ball.”
In the days after the newspaper account of Hazard’s search for housing, Faculty Senate Chair Gary Peltier announced that the Faculty Senate had passed a resolution asking that the University implement an “active, aggressive housing program” for new faculty members, particularly those who might face discrimination.
On Sept. 19, it was reported that a white landlord had “reconsidered” and rented a house to Hazard.
In the wake of Hazard’s story, the State Equal Rights Commission urged Black people throughout Nevada to file complaints of housing discrimination so that federal investigators could be called into the area. At the time, the State of Nevada did not have an Open Housing Law. Due in part to examples such as the one faced by Hazard during the summer of 1969, the Nevada State Legislature approved the state’s first Open Housing Law in spring 1971.
“I want to make sure that by being the first black professor that I also will not be the last.”
On campus, Hazard quickly turned to his teaching and his duties as a faculty member. His course load for the fall semester included teaching a class in plastics and two in drawing. In addition, Hazard was constantly on the move on campus and in the community with presentations, panels, exhibits and outreach. His “Darkness, Light, Life” exhibit appeared in the Church Fine Arts gallery in late September. He judged entries in the annual Nevada Day Art Show in October. He gave a slide lecture on “The Black American Artist in American Society” at the Nevada Art Gallery. He was part of a panel that spoke about black literature and art held in the Thompson Education Building’s auditorium. He trained docents at the Nevada Art Gallery for a special exhibit on African-American art that was sponsored by the NAACP.
Hazard was very aware that the entire community was watching his every move closely.
In a University Oral History, “Governor’s Day 1970,” Hazard spoke in detail about how he was often viewed with suspicion. He was not only a Black person in a predominantly white community, he dressed differently, too. This was a little by design and a little due to the fact that Hazard simply possessed an artistic personality. He wore what was described in local news accounts as a “black hat” along with sunglasses, dark shirt and pants, with black boots. Ironically, most of the items were purchases from a store that Hazard visited not long after arriving in Reno.
“When I did arrive here at first, because I wore a black hat and a beard, it was an excuse they used – but they’re talking about my black skin,” Hazard said in the Oral History. “I wore the shirt that I bought downtown, the cowboy hat I bought downtown. … See, you know, that black hat that I wear? I bought it down at Parker’s (Western Wear, a longtime clothing store situated in downtown Reno). It’s a plain cowboy hat, but I just don’t block it in the same way a cowboy blocks his.”
Hazard said he found it interesting how clothing purchased from a downtown Reno clothing mainstay for its white community could be considered so threatening, depending on the person who was wearing it. It was, he said, yet another example of how many people in Reno saw his life in the community as something out of the ordinary.
“But in other words, it’s like I have got to prove every step of my way before I can be accepted in this area,” he said in the Oral History. “This is what it amounts to.”
By early 1970, however, it was becoming obvious that Hazard’s tireless nature, his strong work ethic and non-stop flurry of teaching, creating and reaching out to the community was making a mark in Reno.
“The word busy,” Reno Evening Gazette reporter Mimi Laplante wrote on Jan. 5, 1970, “is becoming synonymous with Ben Hazard, University of Nevada art professor.”
"I have got to prove every step of my way before I can be accepted in this area. This is what it amounts to.”
In February 1970, Hazard hosted Dr. St. Clair Drake, head of the social science department at Stanford University. Drake, a Black civil rights activist, was in Reno for meetings with the University’s Black Student Union. By early March, Hazard joined four other University professors who were part of a pilot program to identify problem areas in minority hiring and employment by local governmental agencies.
But even with all that he was doing, Hazard increasingly found himself in the middle of a campus debate regarding a number of important issues. There was what was described in news accounts as an “emotion-filled” three-hour meeting on April 7, where many of the campus’ Black students came forward to express their frustration with the University administration’s failure to address “conditions they say exist on the Reno campus.”
When debate about whether or not Hazard would be reappointed for a second year on the faculty broke out, College of Arts and Science Dean Glen Peterson left the meeting in the Jot Travis Student Union after exchanging words with Art Department Chair Charles Ross, who was always supportive of Hazard and his work.
Ross contended that the University hadn’t provided his department with the funding needed to reappoint Hazard. A faculty member had chosen to resign his position, Ross said, so that Hazard’s contract could be renewed.
“The university has a stake in Ben as well as they do in the art department,” Ross said.
University President N. Edd Miller, who was also at the meeting, said that Hazard’s job was not in jeopardy: “Ben Hazard will be reappointed.”
In addition to Hazard’s job status, which the Black students in attendance wholly supported, there was also talk of the current campus climate.
Otis Burrell, a Black Wolf Pack track and field athlete who won the 1966 NCAA Championship in the high jump and was one of the top-ranked track and field competitors in the world, shared how he had experienced difficulties getting into the graduate program at the University, as well as finding a job on campus, due to the color of his skin.
Members of the University’s Black Student Union asked that the University provide more meaningful tutoring for minorities on campus; that more Black faculty and more Black counselors be hired; that more Black studies be offered; that the Black student population should grow from the current 1.3 percent to 15 percent, which would raise the number of Black students to about 900. In 1970, there were less than 100 Black students on campus.
Over the next several days, Hazard joined prominent University figures such as the Rev. John Dodson and John Marschall of the Center of Religion and Life (now the Newman Center), and student body president James Hardesty (who would go on to become Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court), in organizing a series of on-campus meetings to discuss many of the issues that were not only on the minds of Black students, but white students, faculty and staff, as well. President Miller participated in many of the meetings. He noted, “We can agree that there are problems and express a willingness to do something about them.”
It seemed as if constructive dialogue and perhaps some steps in a positive direction, had begun.
Then, a little more than two weeks later, everything changed.
Governor’s Day, May 5, 1970
The events of Governor’s Day, May 5, 1970, speak to the tenor of what was being felt on many college campuses in America during in the spring of 1970. In late April 1970, President Richard Nixon revealed to the nation that he was sending U.S. troops into Cambodia. Many saw the invasion of Cambodia as an escalation, rather than a de-escalation, of a war in Vietnam that seemingly had no end in sight. In reaction, protests were held on college campuses throughout the country. On May 4, 1970, four unarmed students were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University.
Governor’s Day, an annual event honoring the Nevada governor on the University campus, was scheduled for May 5. In addition to a reception for Gov. Paul Laxalt in the Jot Travis Student Union Lounge scheduled for that morning, the annual Military Department awards ceremony and review of the ROTC brigade would follow at Mackay Stadium.
What transpired that day remains one of the most controversial and polarizing events to ever occur at the University.
James Hulse, an emeritus professor of history who was a faculty member at the time, detailed the events of Governor’s Day in his comprehensive look at the University’s first 100 years: “The University of Nevada: A Centennial History.” Along with English Professor Robert Harvey, Hazard and a few other faculty members, Hulse had played a role in trying to stem passions and frustrations of student protestors who felt their perspective on the escalation in Cambodia plus the senseless killing of four students at Kent State at the hands of fellow Americans, hadn’t been acknowledged.
Hulse wrote, “Several students who opposed the war and the military policies of the federal government announced a ‘peace rally’ for the same day (as Governor’s Day) on the south lawn (Manzanita Bowl) of the campus. Without sufficient prior planning, the rally became a march toward the stadium, and part of the governor’s motorcade – with automobiles carrying military officers and University personnel – was temporarily interrupted by a few marchers. Two or three hundred students poured into the stadium, walked around the field where military exercises were to be held, and later filled the stands, shouting anti-war slogans. They delayed the ceremony for several minutes, and some of the demonstrators went onto the field and threatened to disrupt the ROTC cadet drill.”
Hazard, who had driven back from the Bay Area to Reno with young son Mark the day before, said in his Oral History some students had reached out to him in advance of the counter-protest. He hadn’t had time to speak directly to them. But, sensing something bigger was on tap, Hazard felt it was important to be on hand that morning.
"We were trying to make ourselves very visible to students and constantly talking with different students and saying, ‘Let’s keep it cool. Let’s keep it cool.’”
Robert Harvey, in his University Oral History on Governor’s Day, described a similar sense of concern for the students’ well-being. Harvey was eight years into a distinguished 32-year University career that saw him teach writing and literature and serve as chair of the English Department twice.
“Several of the faculty were now acting, although without any official capacity, as monitors,” Harvey said. “Mr. (Carl) Backman (a sociologist in the Department of Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology), Mr. Hulse, Mr. (Jim) Richardson, Sociology Department, and Ben Hazard, Art Department, a very visible man. We were trying to make ourselves very visible to students and constantly talking with different students and saying, ‘Let’s keep it cool. Let’s keep it cool.’”
“When I saw the crowd jump up and get ready to move out (inside the stadium, where the ROTC cadet program was about to commence), then I knew I had to do something, and I better do it fast,” Hazard said in his University Oral History on Governor’s Day. “So I took on a leadership role, knowing (the protesting students) would be looking, knowing that they would misinterpreting and misunderstanding. But my decision was I had to do something to prevent those kids from going through the same hell that I’ve seen take place in Berkeley and Oakland and across the country. So I got out there, took a leadership position, and helped direct the crowd in the most contained manner as possible – the most un-mob-like.”
Hazard said he could understand the protesting students’ roiling frustration. Yet he also realized his role at that moment was to make sure no one got hurt.
“It’s almost as if you’re standing next to a friend and being held underwater, and you see how long you could hold your breath,” Hazard said. “… But no. These kids got so hot and frustrated, they’re starving for air. They’re drowning. No one is giving them consideration. … Not President Miller, nor anyone else, got up and said, ‘I think it’s a tragedy about what happened at Kent State. Let’s take a moment of silent prayer’ and then proceed on with the ceremonies.
“No, they act as if Kent State, which was less than twenty-four hours old, had never existed. They act as if there was nothing happening across the country. Business as usual.”
Harvey echoed Hazard’s disappointment: “The only interruption by the people in charge of the ceremony was one by the president of the university, who finally decided to get up and say, ‘I ask you now to behave yourselves and to allow the ceremony to proceed. I think you are being very ill-mannered’ – and that sort of thing. But there was no attempt on anyone’s part managing the ceremony to give any genuine acknowledgment to the feelings of the demonstrators.”
"If you want to be so violent, if you feel so dedicated, do it where it counts."
Hazard said as he was encouraging the students to behave peacefully and orderly, without violence, there was a moment that he would always remember.
“There was one student out in the field,” Hazard said. “He couldn’t stand just standing back there chanting. He wanted to go up there and grab an ROTC guy and grab his gun from him, and I had to stop him. I said, ‘What do you want to do that for?’
“… I said, ‘All right, if you want to be so violent, if you feel so dedicated, do it where it counts.’ We’re talking about choice now. I said, ‘Do it where it counts. These kids out there in the field, with their little green uniforms and their guns, they know no more about war than you do. They have seen no more of the war than you have. They sit with you in your same classroom. Why are you going to get him?’”
Hazard, drawing on his earlier experience of serving in the military, pointed out to the student that often it isn’t the young who determine who will fight the wars – it was often elected officials, the heads of the branches of the military, or even the parents of the young.
“Go whip one of them,” Hazard challenged the student. “Otherwise get the hell back (in the stands) and act like you’ve got some sense.”
Hazard said demanding that the student ask more of himself in that moment was what he had always done as a teacher, particularly during his time at the University.
“My demand to my students,” he said, “I say this. ‘Listen, I will teach you the best I know how, but if you accept everything I give you, you’re a fool, a damn fool. You better demand more. Even though you know I’m giving everything, demand more. Because when you leave this classroom, that’s where it’s going to count.’”
"‘Listen, I will teach you the best I know how, but if you accept everything I give you, you’re a fool, a damn fool. You better demand more. Even though you know I’m giving everything, demand more. Because when you leave this classroom, that’s where it’s going to count.’”
Hulse wrote in the “University of Nevada: A Centennial History” of the key role that Hazard and others played that day: “… some faculty members and moderate students joined the ranks of the protestors for the purpose of urging restraint. Knowledgeable about violent confrontations that had occurred elsewhere, several faculty members and students decided the best way to deal with a potentially dangerous crowd was to join it with voices of moderation and responsibility, in the hope of reducing the influence of the hate-mongers and rabble-rousers. By this process, the most emotional members of the crowd were prevented from turning the situation into a riot.”
Although the demonstration ended without violence, due in no small part to the calming influence of faculty members like Hazard, the next few days did see an acknowledgment by the University regarding the Kent State tragedy, as well as two violent acts that rocked the campus.
At 5 p.m. on the next day, Wednesday, May 6, President Miller announced that classes on Friday – the day that national memorials for the Kent State students who had been killed would be held throughout the country – would not be mandatory and that no action would be taken against faculty or students who failed to attend class that day.
In the early morning hours of Thursday, May 7, while the building was unoccupied, Hartman Hall, the University’s ROTC building, was firebombed. A second firebombing occurred on the morning of Monday, May 12, against the Hobbit Hole, the house located at 1035 North Virginia Street that was used as a meeting area by protestors prior to the Governor’s Day demonstration the week before. The Hobbit Hole had been a coffee shop until the previous semester. Two students who were inside the home at the time of the firebombing escaped injury.
Governor’s Day was a flashpoint that would have repercussions in the short-term for the University, as well as years into the future, for many who were involved.
President Miller, in his University Oral History which was recorded in 1972-73 by the University’s Oral History Program, said “the scars are still there” from what had happened during the Governor’s Day demonstration.
“I can’t reconstruct it maybe even any other way, because I fully sympathize with the desire to protest on that day,” Miller, who left the University in 1973 to become president of the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham, said. “That’s fine. It should have happened; if I’d been a student I would have wanted to express myself, too. And I also understand the temptation brought about by the ROTC review that day. So I’m not sure what should have happened, but it was an enormously disappointing kind of way for the thing to turn out.”
Steps toward change for representation of underrepresented groups, both in student and faculty composition as well as programs, slowly began on campus following the events of 1970.
"I’m not sure what should have happened, but it was an enormously disappointing kind of way for the thing to turn out.”
In October 1971, 16 people, including 13 students, several of whom belonged to the campus’ Black Student Union organization, were arrested following their occupation of the activities office of ASUN in the Jot Travis Student Union. The protestors staged their sit-in to bring about attention to their request for equal campus space for their organization.
In 1972, it was announced that Michael Coray had been hired by the University to teach African and Afro-American history, as well as to coordinate a new ethnic studies program that would include not only the Black experience, but what newspaper accounts referred to as academic offerings for members from the “Indian, Asian American and Mexican American” groups.
Coray, who was the University’s first Black history professor, had received his doctorate from the University of California Santa Barbara and had taught previously at Syracuse University. Coray would go on to a distinguished career that spanned parts of five different decades at the University, including his role from 1994-2008 as the University’s Special Assistant to the President for Diversity.
Ben Hazard announced that he was leaving the University of Nevada on July 18, 1970. He was joining the Oakland Museum as curator of education and special exhibits for a salary of $1,400 per month.
In an interview with the Reno Evening Gazette, Hazard cited his frustration with the Nevada Board of Regents because the board was “cheating the state and the community” because it wasn’t seriously addressing many of the issues, particularly for minority students, that were occurring at the University.
“They aren’t working with the university, but playing a political game and appeasing the community rather than presenting the facts,” he said.
There was no denying that the events after the Governor’s Day demonstration had been deflating for many students as well as certain faculty members.
"I didn’t say, ‘Peace now, peace now.’ I said it too many times already. I know what it means. I don’t have to tell them. I didn’t have to wear an armband; the color of my skin is the armband I can never get rid of."
In the wake of the demonstration, on May 9, the regents began an investigation against a faculty member from the English Department, Paul Adamian, and one teaching assistant, Fred Maher, for their roles during the Governor’s Day event. Adamian had spoken to the crowd of protestors in the Manzanita Bowl before the walk to the stadium began, was seen yelling during the interruption of the governor’s motorcade and had shouted protests in Mackay Stadium.
Years later, in 1998 and 2000, Adamian, in the University Oral History, “Governor’s Day 1970: A Retrospective View,” said that, “I’ve heard (the demonstration) be described as rude, and that depends on your point of view very much. As I said, antiwar slogans were being chanted. What are considered swear words were probably being shouted. … So it was noisy. There was chanting. There was noise. And I would have to say that for anybody who was part of the dignitaries and trying to carry on some sort of program, it was disruptive and disconcerting in that way … And frankly … I thought it was good. I mean that was sort of our intention – to be disruptive – so that we would try to impress the extent of our concern about (Cambodia and Kent State). … And I haven’t changed my feelings about it since that time.”
Adamian, charged with misconduct by the regents, was eventually suspended from teaching and, months later, was fired. Although appeals reached as far as the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on at least two occasions, Adamian never taught at the University again.
The “Adamian Affair,” as it became known in news accounts and as it played out during the late spring and summer of 1970 was clearly on the minds of many faculty.
“Paul Adamian?” Hazard said in his Governor’s Day Oral History. “He was doing exactly the same thing I was doing, but one difference. There’s one thing I wasn’t doing that Paul Adamian was doing, and that was making my political statement. I didn’t say, ‘Peace now, peace now.’ I said it too many times already. I know what it means. I don’t have to tell them. I didn’t have to wear an armband; the color of my skin is the armband I can never get rid of.”
Hazard added, “And Bob Harvey had to pull Paul Adamian out of the way because the kids are pushing so hard he was pushed into a (ROTC) bayonet, but (Adamian) still stood there and held those kids back. At the time (Adamian) was also saying, ‘Peace now.’ He had to, and if he didn’t, they wouldn’t have listened to him.”
For all the positives of teaching art to students and taking his art out in the community, Hazard also had experiences that still stung.
“I had the worst times in my life being in Reno,” he said. “Like I had cops over at my house, and they almost kicked me out for no reason. My rent was supposed to be due, my term was supposed to be due in July. (The landlord) had cops in June there because I wasn’t out by June first. I had had a house rented, so I was being with my kid. And (the landlord) put a note on the door that said, ‘You can’t get in.’
“… there’s a lot of hell I’ve gone through. If I really want to put the place down, I can do it. But you know, I wasn’t doing that. … But you know, talk about misinterpretations. When you say one thing, it means one thing to you; it’ll mean something different to someone else.”
“I had the worst times in my life being in Reno. ... There’s a lot of hell I’ve gone through."
In the July 18, 1970 newspaper story relating Hazard’s announcement that he would be leaving the University, Hazard said, “The community is becoming more interested in humanly related things, its interest is moving away from just gambling. I hope the people in the community will continue and resolve the problems that are facing them – not just acting like they don’t exist.”
In an editorial two days later, the Reno Evening Gazette wrote of Hazard’s departure: “It is too bad that Ben Hazard, the University of Nevada’s first full-time black professor in Reno, quit. Hazard, who was very popular with students and was recognized by fellow artists as a talent, was in a position to greatly contribute to Nevada campus life. He did so in some ways as a person functioning between whites and blacks on the Reno campus.”
Says Mark Hazard: “Dad referred to his time in Reno a lot. He said that Reno experience really got his momentum going.”
A high-pressure job
Hazard’s time with the Oakland Museum was one of achievement and acknowledgment of what a great community asset the museum was. Hazard was hired in 1970 because the museum was in the midst of a six-month-long boycott by the Black community due to lack of Black participation in its offerings and its operations. Hazard’s work as curator for the special exhibits and education department clearly had an impact. He and his colleagues were hailed as being responsible for “the museum’s well-deserved reputation that welcomes racial minority involvement and participation,” as was written in an October 1981 editorial in the Oakland Tribune not long after Hazard’s 11 years at the museum had ended.
Hazard told the Oakland Tribune in 1976 that his position was “definitely a high-pressure job. But I find I operate better on that level, anyway, so I don’t really complain. I’ll scream and I’ll holler. Otherwise, I’ll have an ulcer.” Hazard’s role at the Oakland Museum was designed to bridge the gap between the institution and its surrounding community, which he was able to do through numerous programs and partnerships with local schools and community groups that made the museum more accessible and honored nationally for its outreach efforts.
“Ethnic people look at museums as a bad example of what history is supposed to be about or a bad example of what art’s about.”
Hazard’s goal, he said, was to ensure that members of underrepresented and underserved communities could see themselves in the museum – in its programming, in its exhibits and displays, in the artists that were featured and in the diversity of visitors who were sharing the experience.
“Ethnic people look at museums as a bad example of what history is supposed to be about or a bad example of what art’s about,” he said. “My concern is for people being aware and having a choice in something as basic and human as creative energies. I think museums have major roles that they should be playing and they have not been playing. It is not just showing the best of the arts, but being willing to teach and expose people to the arts, period. … I like to make things happen.”
Hazard then embarked in a period of his life that was a mixture of public service, being an administrator and teaching on college campuses.
“Dad always fell back on teaching – I think that was what he really loved doing,” Mark says. “When he wasn’t an administrator of some sort he always went back to teaching. He loved his students so much. But there were a lot of times in his life when being an administrator was pretty important, too.”
Hazard was a member of the Alameda County Arts Commission and designed a flag for Alameda County that is still in use to this day.
He taught art at major institutions such as Stanford and the University of Texas.
He was the City of Oakland’s Director of the Crafts and Cultural Arts Department from 2000-2003, working closely with Mayor Jerry Brown, whose administration was in the midst of a city-wide arts and cultural revitalization effort that included Hazard’s department administering more than $3.5 million annually to local artists and organizations.
He established the Crafts and Cultural Arts Gallery in the high-rise Elihu M. Harris State Building in Oakland and co-produced the annual Art and Soul Festival.
Upon leaving the City of Oakland, he served as Dean of Fine Arts at Laney College.
In 2010, Hazard was appointed to the faculty of the University of New Mexico as an Africana Studies Professor of Art.
And, throughout it all, Hazard was constantly creating.
In 2008, Hazard was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Obama family. He presented it to the family during a reception in Palo Alto, California, during the presidential campaign and then it was shipped to the Obama campaign’s transition headquarters shortly after Barack Obama had been elected the nation’s first Black president.
“It was genuine love, genuine affection, genuine feeling,” Hazard told Bay Area news channel ABC7 in January 2009. “(Obama) was so moved. … He said that this was, ‘The first drawing, or painting, done of my whole family. I have some of me, but not the whole family.’”
The portrait was eventually hung in the Obama’s family residence in the White House. The honor made Hazard at that time one of just a handful of Black artists to ever have their work displayed either in the public or private areas of one of the world’s most recognizable buildings.
In October 2011, Hazard completed a bronze statue of a Buffalo Soldier at the New Mexico Veteran’s Memorial. The statue honored the Black soldiers who served in Army cavalry and infantry units in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Two years later, in late summer 2013, Hazard completed his statue honoring the Tuskegee Airmen at the New Mexico Veteran’s Memorial. During his time in New Mexico, Hazard had a chance to meet several of the former Tuskegee Airmen, men who had been part of about 1,000 or so Black individuals who had trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II between 1942-46.
The Tuskegee Airmen became pilots, navigators, bombardiers and instructors who helped de-segregate the armed forces. The members of the local chapter of the General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen in the Albuquerque, N.M. area were now men in their mid- to late 80s. Hazard met and became friends with many of them. They were in Hazard’s eyes part of a living history that needed to be told.
“Dad made a lot of friends while he was living and working in New Mexico,” Mark Hazard says. “I think that was something that really inspired him to do his part in telling the stories of the Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Code Talkers.
“There was a Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club in Albuquerque that really was involved with the Buffalo Soldier monument. Dad got to know and become friends with all of them. He was too old to learn how to ride a motorcycle. But they wanted him to be a part of it and they always welcomed him. He really enjoyed being friends with all of them.”
In October 2016, Hazard unveiled the statue honoring the Navajo Code Talkers at the New Mexico Veteran’s Memorial. The Navajo Code Talkers were an elite group of Native American Marines whose native language could not be broken by Japanese forces during World War II. Surviving Navajo Code Talkers Thomas H. Begay, David Patterson and Joe Vandever Sr. were in attendance, along with Hazard, Marine color guard and numerous other local, state and tribal dignitaries, for the Oct. 29, 2016 ceremony.
Mark Hazard, who is an airline captain and for many years was a commercial pilot before joining a jet charter company in the Central Valley of California, says the Hazard family stretches across the country and is “blended” in practically every sense of the word. Hazard’s brother Art still lives in Albuquerque and a sister, Paula, lives in Texas. Between Mark and his wife Demetria, there are six children that Mark calls his own. There is a 21-year age difference between Mark and his younger half-sister Anamaria Hazard, who followed in her dad’s footsteps and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010 and now practices law in Atlanta. There is a 36-year age difference between Mark and his younger half-brother Avant Hazard, who is training to be a professional boxer in Massachusetts, which, Mark says with a gentle laugh, just speaks to the fact that “Dad every 20 years or so decided to have another kid. We’re a loving family. We always try to be there for each another. Dad was very creative and he worked really hard. Sometimes he was so busy with all the things he was doing. But he was always a very loving Dad.”
Ben moved back to California from New Mexico in late 2016.
“Retirement” wasn’t part of Hazard’s vocabulary.
“He had more energy in his late 70s than I have now,” Mark says. “Dad was always creating, all the way to the end. He always had something he was working on, always hustling.”
In Mark’s Chowchilla, California, neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac near a golf course, Hazard became friends with all of the neighbors.
“Dad was not an introvert,” Mark says. “That was Ben Hazard: open, outgoing, always on the move. If he wasn’t engaged in something, that would bring him down.”
Hazard never turned down an opportunity to encourage anyone about the possibilities of art. He reconnected with former students, many of whom dated back two or three decades.
If there was an offer made to serve as a judge for an art contest or a school spelling bee or any other kind of activity that encouraged young people to express themselves creatively, Hazard never said no. Indeed, even a cursory internet search turns up dozens of short newspaper items throughout the years, mentioning Ben Hazard’s participation in school and community art events for young people.
“He was always judging art, all the way to the end,” Mark says. “Dad loved that chance to see what the young kids were doing, to try to help them on that path.”
It was in May 2019 when Ben Hazard, the man who seemingly could never slow down, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He was a smoker earlier in life, but had quit in 1973. He had gone back to Atlanta to visit his daughter and her fiancée but wasn’t feeling well when Mark picked him up at the airport in San Francisco.
It was an interesting time for Mark’s “blended” family. Ben’s first wife and Mark’s mother, Sarah, was also living with the large family at the time as Ben underwent cancer treatments.
“He wasn’t admitting any defeat, that’s for sure,” Mark says “Here he was, living in a house with five of the kids in our blended family and his wife from 50 years ago, all of us under one roof, and he’s got stage four cancer. It was rough on him. It was rough on him that his health wasn’t what it once was.
“But I still remember these moments where I’d just sort of shake my head about Dad and what he was still capable of doing. I remember calling Dad up in the middle of his treatment and I was in Houston at the time. I remember hearing noise in the background. I said, ‘Dad, where are you?’ And without hesitating he said, ‘I’m in my car. I’m driving to the Bay Area to see one of my old friends.’ I wondered if this old friend, if she even knew that Dad was on his way to see her. I told him, ‘You should probably call her and let her know you’re coming … and by the way, you know you shouldn’t be driving, right?’
“But that was Dad. Even with stage four cancer, he was going to keep living his life the way he always had. He only knew one way – all or nothing.”
On Nov. 23, 2019, Mark Hazard was working, out on another flight trip. He called his Dad to check in. Ben, characteristically, had a positive response to his son’s check-in. He said he was doing fine.
An hour later, Ben Hazard suffered a stroke due to cancer complications. Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 5, 2019, Ben passed away.
“Dad was like a lot of artists – he didn’t die a millionaire,” Mark says. “He had humble means to start and humble means at the end. But the things he did … the art he did and the projects he completed … sometimes money doesn’t mean nearly as much when you look at how Dad lived his life and what he felt was important.”
“You know, whenever I think about my Dad,” Mark continues, “I think about how I didn’t realize the struggles my Dad had to go through to do all the things that he did. That’s why those last few years with him living with us were so important. I was able to help my Dad near the end. That meant a lot to me.”
Today, the Hazard family feels they are in possession of something that transcends all of the art, all of the accomplishments, all of the groundbreaking moments, that made up Ben Hazard’s life.
Whenever the Hazard children think about their father, they feel an immediate and overwhelming sense of pride. A sense that in a life of marked by so many firsts, it feels so appropriate that there was only one Ben Hazard. This was an artist and a teacher of exceptional talent. A person who lived a life that never slowed. A man who never allowed himself to be slowed down – by anything.
“That old man never stopped,” Mark says. “Oh man, did he do a lot of stuff.”
Ben Hazard career accomplishments: “Ben Hazard – Alameda County” proclamation, February 4, 2020.
“Black Arts Movement” context and essay by Larry Neal: “The Black Arts Movement,” by Larry Neal, Drama Review, Summer 1968,
“When you look at all the things my Dad did …” and all other quotes from Mark Hazard, from Mark Hazard phone interview, Jan. 27, 2022.
“At the urging of African American students, Black Studies courses were being offered on and off campuses …”: “The Black Arts Movement in Oakland and Berkeley,” by Dorothy Lazard, City of Oakland, Feb. 27, 2019.
“Medal of Honor”: Photo of Ben Hazard’s “Medal of Honor” supplied to author for reference by Mark Hazard, including background on “Medal of Honor” from the Oakland Museum.
“Medal of Honor” and “Blackness as a concept”: “DeYoung Museum: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963-83” by Wanda Sabir, San Francisco Bay View Black National Newspaper, March 13, 2020. Medal of honor
Hazard as part of the “Revolutionary Black artists of California”: Drawings and Paintings by an African American Artist” by Raymond Lark, Leonardo, Vol. 15, No. 1, Winter 1982,
“I expected some trouble because I’ve been black for 29 years”: “Some Trouble,” Hazard interview in the Reno Evening Gazette, Sept. 11, 1969.
“I want to make sure that by being the first black professor that I also will not be the last”: “Some Trouble,” Hazard interview in the Reno Evening Gazette, Sept. 11, 1969.
Faculty Senate resolution about minority faculty housing: “Discrimination in housing discussed,” Reno Evening Gazette, Sept. 26, 1969.
“White landlord had ‘reconsidered’ and rented a house to Hazard”: “Negro professor finds a house,” Reno Evening Gazette, Sept. 19, 1969.
“State Equal Rights Commission urges Black people” to report discrimination in wake of Hazard story: “File federal complaints on discrimination, advice,” Reno Evening Gazette, Sept. 17, 1969.
The state’s first Open Housing Law: “Senate approves state’s first open housing law,” Reno Evening Gazette, April 13, 1971.
“Hazard was constantly on the move on campus and in the community with presentations, panels, exhibits and outreach”: There are numerous short newspaper articles written about Hazard’s activities in the community from this time period. “Art exhibit is study in light and dark,” Reno Evening Gazette, Sept. 23, 1969, is typical.
“When I did arrive here at first, because I wore a black hat and a beard, it was an excuse they used – but they’re talking about my black skin”: Benjamin Hazard, “Governor’s Day 1970,” University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Collection.
“In February Hazard hosted Dr. St. Clair Drake, head of the social science department at Stanford University”: “Items about people you know,” Reno Evening Gazette, Feb. 2, 1970.
“By early March, Hazard joined four other University professors who were part of a pilot program to identify problem areas in minority hiring and employment by local governmental agencies”: “Minority job program under way,” Reno Evening Gazette, March 4, 1970.
Emotional April meeting on campus: “Black students list grievances at U. of N.,” Reno Evening Gazette, April 8, 1970.
“Hazard joined prominent University figures … in organizing a series of on-campus meetings to discuss many of the issues”: “Students, Miller weigh demands for changes on Reno campus,” Reno Evening Gazette, April 15, 1970.
“Several students who opposed the war and the military policies of the federal government announced a ‘peace rally’ for the same day (as Governor’s Day) on the south lawn (Manzanita Bowl) of the campus”: “The University of Nevada: A Centennial History” by James Hulse, University of Nevada Press, 1974.
“Robert Harvey, in his University Oral History on Governor’s Day, described a similar sense of concern for the students’ well-being”: Robert Harvey, “Governor’s Day 1970,” University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Collection.
“At 5 p.m. on the next day, Wednesday, May 6, President Miller announced that classes on Friday …. would not be mandatory and that no action would be taken against faculty or students who failed to attend class that day”: “Nevada students planning memorial, boycott Friday,” Reno Evening Gazette, May 6, 1970.
Firebombing of Hartman Hall and the Hobbit Hole: “Reno campus ROTC building is firebombed,” Reno Evening Gazette, May 7, 1970 and “Firebomb burns building used by Nevada protestors,” Reno Evening Gazette, May 12, 1970.
“I can’t reconstruct it maybe even any other way, because I fully sympathize with the desire to protest on that day”: N. Edd Miller, “N. Edd Miller: Presidential Memoir, University of Nevada, Reno, 1965-73,” University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Collection.
“In October 1971, 16 people, including 13 students, several of whom belonged to the campus’ Black Student Union organization”: “Hearing set on suspension of students,” Reno Evening Gazette, Oct. 30, 1971.
“In 1972, it was announced that Michael Coray had been hired by the University to teach African and Afro-American history, as well as to coordinate a new ethnic studies program”: “U of N hires first black history teacher,” Reno Evening Gazette, May 18, 1972; “Money trouble may scuttle ethnic studies program at UNR,” Reno Evening Gazette, Oct. 9, 1973; “The fire still burns for UNR professor, administrator,” Reno Gazette-Journal, May 19, 1995.
“Ben Hazard announced that he was leaving the university of Nevada on July 18, 1970”: “Black prof quits, raps regents,” Reno Evening Gazette, July 18, 1970.
Adamian investigation: “Regents order two professors, students probed,” Reno Evening Gazette, May 9, 1970.
“I’ve heard (the demonstration) be described as a rude, and that depends on your point of view very much”: Paul Adamian, “Governor’s Day 1970: A Retrospective View,” University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Collection.
“It is too bad that Ben Hazard, the University of Nevada’s first full-time black professor in Reno, quit”: “On Hazard,” Reno Evening Gazette, July 20, 1970.
“One major reason involves the museum’s well-deserved reputation that welcomes racial minority involvement and participation”: “The museum’s future,” Oakland Tribune, Oct. 11, 1981.
“… definitely a high-pressure job”: “The salvation of Ben Hazard,” Oakland Tribune, Dec. 14, 1976.
“Hazard then embarked in a period of his life that was a mixture of public service, being an administrator and teaching on college campuses”: Ben Hazard career accomplishments: “Ben Hazard – Alameda County” proclamation, Feb. 4, 2020.
“It was genuine love, genuine affection, genuine feeling”: “Local artist creates Obama family portrait,” ABC7 News, Jan. 13, 2009.
Hazard’s creation of Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen and Navajo Code Talker monuments at New Mexico Veteran’s Memorial: “Buffalo Soldier Monument,” Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 5, 2011; “Hazard completes Tuskegee Airmen Monument,” University of New Mexico, Aug. 22, 2013; “Code Talker dedication today,” Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 29, 2016.