Establishing a Black Cultural Center at ISU

Following the tumultuous summer of 1968 (see the previous blog post on the formation of the Black Student Organization), a number of black students left Iowa State, including several leaders of the Black Student Organization (BSO). Due to this fact, the BSO essentially ceased to exist as a student organization during the fall of 1968. This hiatus was short-lived. In December 1968 members of the black student population reformed the Black Student Organization under the leadership of Larry Salter, an Aerospace Engineering student from Freeport, Illinois.

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Larry Salter, president of the BSO in 1969, was also a member of the Cardinal Key Honor Society as featured in the 1970 Bomb.

One of the goals of the reconstituted BSO was to advocate for a facility where black students could gather together and socialize. The plan for the center was soon expanded to also provide resources and organize events that promoted a better understanding of black culture. During the spring of 1969, BSO members and Assistant Dean of Students Tom Goodale identified several off-campus properties as possible homes for such a center, but there was still one major obstacle to overcome.

The group had to raise money. In August 1968, the non-profit organization Black Cultural Center, Inc. (BCC), was formed under the leadership of board members William Bell and Neil Harl of the ISU faculty and Judge Luther Glanton, Jr., of Des Moines. This organization was established as a vehicle to raise funds for and manage the operations of a black cultural center in Ames. In September 1969, members of BCC, Inc., and the BSO were likely disappointed, but probably not surprised, when President Parks declined to offer University funding for the purchase of a center. However, Parks strongly encouraged members of the community to help the students acquire the necessary resources to acquire a facility. Community members stepped up as did the student body: the VEISHEA Central Committee provided a $2,000 grant and the Government of the Student Body followed with a $2,400 appropriation.

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Article from the Iowa State Daily announcing the acquisition of the Black Cultural Center. (RS 7/5/4, Black Cultural Center records)

Just a few weeks later, on October 8, 1969, the board of directors of BCC, Inc., announced that a property in Ames had been obtained for $30,000. The house, located at 517 Welch Avenue, was purchased with the support of donations from University organizations, private subscriptions, and a loan from the Alumni Achievement Fund (now part of the ISU Foundation). The organization took ownership of the property on January 1, 1970. For the next nine months, students, faculty, and members of the Ames community worked together to prepare the Black Cultural Center for its grand opening.

The Black Cultural Center was officially dedicated on Sunday, September 27, 1970, in conjunction with the dedication of Carver Hall. Since then, the BCC has offered space for all students to socialize and learn about black culture though the publication of newsletters and sponsored events and programming. In January 2017, the BCC was named after George Jackson, a longtime ISU administrator and champion for students of color. Today, the center is operated under the umbrella of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and is a recognized organization affiliated with the University.

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An identified student speaks with President Parks and BCC Inc. Board Member William Bell at the dedication of the Black Cultural Center, September 27, 1970. (University Photograph Collection, RS 7/5/G, Box 496)

There are a number of resources available to researchers interested in learning more about the history of the BCC. News clippings related to the Black Student Organization’s efforts to establish the center can be found in RS 22/3/0/1, Multicultural Student Organizations. Files related to the Black Cultural Center can be found in RS 7/5/4, Black Cultural Center records. And of course, there are always yearbooks and other student publications to peruse. If you are interested in learning more, please stop by Special Collections and University Archives. We would love to see you!

 

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