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!

 


Formation of the Black Student Organization at ISU

For this look back at the 1960s I’ve decided to explore the origins of the Black Student Organization at ISU (now the Black Student Alliance). Not only is it a story that is not well-known to me, but I suspect it is not familiar to most people now at Iowa State. It seems almost all Iowa Staters are familiar with the story of George Washington Carver, Iowa State’s first African American student and faculty member, and the tragedy of Iowa State’s first black athlete, Jack Trice. After doing some research into our student organizations files here in the archives, I found that the story of the formation of the Black Student Organization at ISU is just as interesting and incredibly relevant to students on campus today.

The 1960s at Iowa State started off much as the 1950s left off. Strict rules were still in place regulating conduct and social interaction of women students. Students were separated into different dormitories with men on one side of campus and the women on the other. However, as the 1960s wore on, student perceptions began to change. Like in much of the country, students began to question the war in Vietnam, female students began to push back against gender barriers, and students of color began to speak out against racism and prejudice.

In the summer of 1967, the faculty and staff newspaper, News of Iowa State, ran an article reporting on a study completed by two ISU journalism students regarding the racial climate at Iowa State. The findings, authored by Pat Alford, identified as a “Negro coed from Charlotte, N.C.,” and Maurine Foster, simply identified as a Weldon, Iowa native, were both journalism students at Iowa State. The results of their study found that the racial climate at Iowa State at that time was “relatively favorable.” During those years, the University attempted to eliminate overt discrimination. Students interviewed in the study didn’t believe they would be denied membership to student groups, but with an enrollment of around 125, black students largely felt they were being left out of the mainstream of college life. (This may help explain why it is so difficult to find a photograph in our collections of an African-American student at Iowa State prior to 1970 unless he was involved in athletics.)

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Article from the Iowa State Daily, April 6, 1968, reporting on the demonstration by a group of students at the Memorial Union the previous day.

This favorable view of campus race relations abruptly changed following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968. The following day, black students on campus held a demonstration in the Commons of the Memorial Union. According to a report by the Iowa State Daily (April 6, 1968), a group of approximately 40 students filed into the Union, toasted to “black unity on campus” and then dropped and shattered their drinking glasses on the floor, overturned their tables and chairs, and quietly left. Following the demonstration, a statement was issued and signed by the “Afro-American Students of Iowa State University,” a group that formed the night before under the leadership of student Bruce Ellis. The students adopted a constitution on April 23, 1968 and officially became the Black Student Organization.

In early May, students and administrators were interviewed by the Iowa State Daily (May 3, 1968) for an article on campus race relations. One of those students was Pat Alford, the student from Charlotte. The article identifies some of the common forms of discrimination blacks faced at Iowa State. These included overt forms such as insensitive signs and symbols used by student groups and the denial of access to certain student groups based on skin color. It is interesting that these statements seem to conflict with what was reported a year earlier. The article noted the psychological burdens of being a person of color in a community where the vast majority of students and faculty are white. Black students also felt they were missing out on social interactions at Iowa State. According to one estimate, black male students outnumbered black female students at Iowa State 15 to 1, resulting in many black male students traveling to Des Moines to find a date.

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1967 Iowa State football team (Bomb, 1968, page 119)

Within weeks, the Black Student Organization would take their concerns to University administration. On May 20, 1968, the black athletes of Iowa State, with the full support of the Black Student Organization, issued eight grievances to the Athletic Council. The students asked for racial representation in the coaching staff and administration of the athletics department, reprimands or removal of three coaches and trainers they accused of discriminatory treatment of black athletes, more leniency for all athletes in terms of academics and living requirements, an allowance for black athletes to seek employment while on full scholarship, and a request that the ISU community use the words Black Students or Afro-Americans in place of the term Negro.

The initial response from the Athletic Council, signed by council chairman John Mahlstede, did not exactly impress the students. Dated two weeks later on June 5, the response was carefully worded, but it was clear that the Council did not find any evidence of discriminatory actions by the coaches or in its hiring practices. Not surprisingly, this announcement did not end the controversy.

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The first page from a letter, dated May 20, 1968, submitted to the Athletic Council on behalf of the black student athletess. (See file labeled Black Student Organization – Athletic Council Issue in RS 22/3/0/1, Multicultural Student Affairs)

By the end of June, President W. Robert Parks asked that the University Human Relations Committee conduct a separate investigation into the grievances. This report, presented just two weeks later, recognized that discrimination almost assuredly existed on campus and that “the need for change in behavior on the part of individual members of the University community is crucial.” The report did not charge any individuals with discriminatory actions. It did, however, strongly encourage the hiring of a black football coach, a recommendation that coach Johnny Majors fulfilled when he hired coach Ray Green in the spring of 1969.

These actions did not satisfy everyone. At least seven students carried through on their promise to leave Iowa State if and when the Athletic Council did not comply with the eight grievances. Bruce Ellis, president of the Black Student Organization, was one of these students along with two football players. Though these students did not immediately effect the change they hoped to, their actions did initiate a conversation about race and inclusivity that in many ways continues today. They also helped foster a growing awareness among members of the ISU community that racism and discrimination were present on the Iowa State campus and that the entire community was responsible for addressing the concerns raised by black students of Iowa State.

More information on the early years of the Black Student Organization (now known as the Black Student Alliance) is available in Special Collections and University Archives in collection RS 22/3/0/1, Multicultural Student Organizations. Unfortunately, the black student experience at Iowa State is largely underrepresented in the archives. Most of the materials that are available to historians and researchers consist of newspaper clippings or files from campus administration. These records are often incomplete and leave gaps in the historical record. We welcome collection materials (i.e. photographs, letters, flyers, etc.) from alumni that might help document the experience of black students at Iowa State.


Looking Back on the 1960s

This is the first in a series of posts about Iowa State University during the 1960s.

Exploring The Chart: Rules and Regulations for Women

This past semester I had the pleasure of assisting a history class interested in studying student life during the 1960s here at Iowa State. For this type of research there are many great places to start in the archives. The Bomb, Iowa State’s yearbook, and other student publications like the Iowa State Daily and the Iowa Homemaker offer lots of opportunities to explore college life throughout the years. For some reason, maybe due to the relative lack of formal rules imposed upon my youth, I find myself fascinated by the regulations that governed student conduct on campus. The best place to find these rules for Iowa State students of the 1960s is in the student handbook, which at this time was called The Chart.

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This is an undated image of Linden Hall, originally built as a women’s dormitory. Photograph from box 487, Linden Hall, RS 7/4/I, University Photograph Collection.

The 1959/1961 issue of The Chart provides a clear picture of what was expected from students at Iowa State, especially women, during the start of the 1960s. At this time men and women were housed in separate dormitories on opposite sides of campus. There were also far more restrictions on women than men. In 1960, all undergraduate women had to live in residence halls or sorority houses except under special circumstances approved by administration. The Chart details very specifically the times when women must be in their residence halls. Freshman women had to be home by 9:00 pm most weeknights whereas sophomores and up were able to stay out until the wee hour of 10:00 pm. Friday and Saturday nights the women were granted leave until midnight and 12:30 am respectively. For special events women were allowed extended hours, but this was only for a handful of events such as Homecoming, VEISHEA, and annual dances.

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No car rides without a letter from your parents! This undated photograph shows several cars parked outside Linden Hall. Photograph from box 487, Linden Hall, RS 7/4/I, University Photograph Collection.

Another example of some of the strict rules for women involved visitations and travels. Any woman student intending to be away from the residence hall later than 6:00 pm had to “sign out” and any time a woman planned to leave town for any reason, she had to secure permission from the residence director. A letter of approval for out-of-town travel and for all car trips required a written letter of approval from the student’s parents! The handbook quite emphatically denied any women from entering the residence of a male student unless she was an immediate family member such as a mother or sister–and even then this was allowed only during certain times.

 

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This image shows members of Lowe House in Westgate Hall during the 1969 winter quarter. These women would be among the first at Iowa State to reside in a dormitory previously housing only men. Image taken from a Lowe House scrapbook located in Box 8 of the Union Drive Houses records, RS 7/4/4.

By the end of the decade, some of these strict rules started to soften just a bit. For one thing, in 1968 women and men started living in the same buildings, though still on separate houses/floors. Also, women were allowed as guests into men’s rooms, though hours restricted these visits to Saturdays and Sundays only. In a surprising twist they were allowed to meet with the door closed! An interesting rule that appears in the Guide to Resident Hall Living for 1969 that didn’t appear in the earlier Chart were regulations regarding the proper location for sun bathing.

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The student handbook, The Chart, for 1969-1971. Archives books call number LD2535.8 I58x

It’s important to note that these types of rules were not unique to Iowa State. In many ways these regulations were not much changed from those established at the school a century earlier. It wasn’t until the students themselves started agitating for greater equality and freedom that things started to change. The archives has many official and published records documenting student life in the 1960s at Iowa State, but relatively little from the individual students themselves. We are always interested in speaking with former students and alumni willing to donate materials documenting their personal adventure at Iowa State, so feel free to give us a call!


Television is for Kids! @IowaPublicTV

This month is a great time to celebrate children’s television programming in the State of Iowa. After all, Iowa Public Television is debuting their new IPTV Kids Clubhouse with host, and personal friend of yours truly, Dan Wardell. If you have kids (or you are a kid at heart) I would recommend checking it out.

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This undated image shows longtime host of The Magic Window, Betty Lou Varnum, on the set of the show. Photograph from box 4, folder 6 of the Betty Lou Varnum Papers, RS 5/6/53.

Of course, any discussion of children’s programming in Iowa eventually leads to talk of WOI-TV and America’s longest-running children’s program (who am I to argue with Wikipedia?)–The House with the Magic Window. Originally called The Magic Window, this program aired in central Iowa on WOI-TV from 1951 until 1994 and for nearly 40 years was hosted by Betty Lou (McVay) Varnum. Betty Lou became a fixture in most central Iowa households and almost anyone growing up here during this time could tell you who Betty Lou was and name each of her puppet friends that regularly appeared on the show.

However, Betty Lou was not the first host of The Magic Window. Other hosts included Virginia “Ginny” Adams, Joy (Ringham) Munn, and Arjes “Sunny” Sundquist. Each of these women hosted the show for a year or so until Betty Lou took over permanently. Special Collections and University Archives has kinescope (16mm film) recordings of some of the earliest episodes of The Magic Window in our collections, but sadly we only have one recording, dating from 1955, of Betty Lou as host of The Magic Window!

Something most people may not be aware of is that WOI-TV produced a second children’s program in 1954 called Window Watchers (I see a theme here). This program was sponsored by the National Educational Television and Radio Center, later known as the Public Broadcasting Service. Window Watchers was hosted by Arjes Sundquist and featured a  format very similar to that of The Magic Window.

To view some of these early children’s programs, visit our YouTube Channel!

For more information on WOI-TV during the time it was owned and operated by Iowa State University, read through some of the finding aids listed on the Special Collections and University Archives website on this page.


WOI-TV Celebrates 65 Years of Programming

On February 21, 1950, WOI-TV broadcast its first programming from the campus of Iowa State College. Originally licensed to operate as Channel 4, WOI was the nation’s first educational television station and, until 1954, central Iowa’s only television station. In the spirit of the Extension tradition, Iowa State intended to use the station to explore how television could revolutionize adult education and bring new learning opportunities to high school students across the state. The station programmers knew that they faced several challenges by focusing on educational programming. A report published two months after the station was on the air identified that one of the greatest challenges the station faced was “to prove that farming and homemaking telecasts can be interesting and entertaining and at the same time be educational.”

Portrait of Ed Wegner, host of the WOI-TV program "Televisits" (RS 5/6/6)

Ed Wegner, host of the WOI-TV program “Televisits” (RS 5/6/6, box 1, folder 12)

One of the early successes of the station occurred in 1951 with the acquisition of a $260,000 grant from the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Adult Education. This money allowed WOI to produce a series of public affairs programs titled “The Whole Town’s Talking.” These programs looked at issues affecting central Iowans and illustrated how the community members debated matters such as school consolidation, community infrastructure projects, and juvenile delinquency. This award-winning series was directed and produced by Charles Guggenheim, who later in his career would direct a number of Academy Award-winning documentaries and become a media advisor for several presidential campaigns including Robert Kennedy’s.

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Scene from the set of an episode of “The Whole Town’s Talking,” circa 1952 (RS 5/6/6, box 1, folder 13)

When the University sold WOI-TV to Capital Communications Company in 1994, the University Archives acquired the paper records of the television station along with thousands of 16mm films and videotapes. These films offer a glimpse of what local television programming was like in the 1950s and some of these films have been digitized and are available on our YouTube channel. You can judge for yourself how successful the station was at providing educational programming that was both interesting and entertaining!

The Whole Town’s Talking – Cambridge

More resources are available in Special Collections (of course!)

  • A complete list of WOI-TV programs available for viewing in Special Collections can be seen here. WOI-TV 16mm film listing
  • Finding aids for our archival collections related to WOI Radio and Television can be found on our website. Finding Aids

If you see anything of interest, contact us, or better yet stop in and see us!


What’s that? You don’t like 4-H? Are you crazy or something?

This month your usual reporter, Laura, is getting a break. Instead you get to read about the exciting world of the University Archives from me, Brad Kuennen, Library Assistant. Please note: Laura had nothing to do with this blog post other than asking me to do it. She may yet regret that decision.

This week Iowa State welcomes over 1000 teenagers to our campus for the 2012 Iowa 4-H Youth Conference. In honor of their visit I will be sharing my 4-H story, though it is pretty much limited to working with the historic 4-H records that we have here in the archives.

I’ll admit it, I was never in 4-H. I never wanted to be in 4-H. I never much cared for livestock or animals. When I was younger the barns were the one place I used to stay far away from when our family went to the county fair. Maybe it was just the smell, but I always preferred the tractor sheds to the animal barns.

So you can imagine my less than enthusiastic response when I learned that I was being assigned to organize our Iowa 4-H records. That was over two years ago and now that the work is finished I have to admit that I have gained newfound respect for 4-H.

Jessie Field Shambaugh

Jessie Field Shambaugh. In 1904 she brought the idea of boys and girls clubs to her school in Page County, Iowa.

As every good 4-Her knows, 4-H was started in Iowa. Well, not really. Apparently someone in Ohio beat us to the punch, but Iowans played a crucial role in the development of the 4-H movement. Iowans like Cap E. Miller, Jessie Field Shambaugh, and O. H. Benson helped guide the movement of “club work” for rural youth from a local level to one of statewide and national recognition. Even today, Iowa maintains one of the strongest 4-H programs in the country which is definitely something we can be proud of.

In the early years of 4-H in Iowa, the clubs were strictly separated between boys and girls. Boys studied agriculture and girls studied home economics. Boys competed in livestock shows and corn growing while girls competed in baking contests and dressmaking. There may have been some girls who showed livestock, but that was very unusual at that time.

One of the best parts about going through our earliest records is looking at all of the photographs. Each annual report, and there was one report made for boys clubs and one for girls clubs every year, is full of photographs, reports, and programs. Our collection of Iowa 4-H records also includes scrapbooks created by the State 4-H Club Historians. Sorry guys, but the girls tended to do a much better job of scrapbooking than you did. One notable exception is a photo scrapbook created by Paul Sauerbry which provides a wonderful account of 4-H in the 1920s. Sauerbry was a member of the 1928 Iowa delegation to the National 4-H Camp and must have created this scrapbook several years later.

1929 National 4-H Camp Delegation from Iowa

1929 Iowa Delegation to the National 4-H Camp. Paul Sauerbry, who makes a mean scrapbook, stands second from the right.

As I was working with these materials I caught myself thinking about what life must have been like on a farm in rural Iowa. For most kids life was the farm. Sure, there was school to go to, but after school was finished there were a lot of chores to finish on the farm. Socializing with the kids down the road was probably not an option most afternoons. When boys and girls clubs were introduced, it had to be very exciting for the kids. Yes, they were going to learn some useful skills, but the club meetings also provided an opportunity to socialize. At a time when many farms were still without telephones and electricity, the chance to talk with other kids must have been quite a treat! And the trips some kids got to take! A lot of kids at that time hardly ever left their own county, but during the summertime hundreds of kids would gather at Iowa State for the annual convention. And each year several lucky kids would get a chance to attend the National 4-H Congress in Chicago or attend the National 4-H Camp in Washington D.C. In the 1920s and 1930s, that had to be an amazing experience!

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Photograph of Iowa girls 4-H members who attended the 1929 annual convention. This formation was created on the lawn in front of the home economics building at Iowa State.

Going through the boxes I came across some other books. These had me a little confused. They looked like scrapbooks, but they were full of project records and some had photos and writings. I was told by our resident 4-H expert (so titled because she was in 4-H as a youngster) that these were record books. As it turns out we have record books of several former members. The James Kearns Papers contain his 1934 award-winning record book along with many of his medals and ribbons.

James Kearns Record Book and Artifacts

A page from the 4-H record book of James Kearns along with his beanie hat from the 1934 National 4-H Congress and other medals and ribbons.

Speaking of medals and ribbons and stuff, the University Artifact Collection also contains dozens of other 4-H items. For example, we have samples of each of the incarnations of the girls’ 4-H uniform through the years. The early dresses were all homemade. Other artifacts in our collections include pins, buttons, belt buckles, mugs… the list goes on and on.

4-H Poultry Club, circa 1920s

4-H Poultry Club, circa 1920s. This image is from the Paul Sauerbry 4-H Scrapbook.

If I have learned one thing about 4-H after spending many hours waist-deep in these records it’s that my perception of 4-H was completely wrong. I always assumed it was just for people who liked to take a nap with farm animals at the county fair. Don’t get me wrong, it is for those people, but for so many others as well. What struck me most was that aspect that has been a part of 4-H since the earliest days–teaching children and young adults about leadership, responsibility, and taking pride in one’s work. That pride is evident on the faces of kids from the 1920s and, I can only imagine, will be displayed just as cheerfully on the faces of kids in the 2020s.

If you have Iowa 4-H records or artifacts you would like to donate to the University Archives, please contact us. We would love to give those materials a permanent home here so that future researchers can look back in time and see what role 4-H played in the lives of Iowa’s youth.