How has Black History Month been celebrated at Iowa State in the past?
Taking a look in the 1984 issue of Iowa State’s yearbook Bomb, we can see how ISU students 39 years ago (1983) celebrated this month.
“Black Americans are major contributors to historic and contemporary life. From politics to art, from psychiatry to archaeology, from history and literature to modern theater, this composite of experiences which defines us as black people also defines us as a nation. Because we wish to deepen our own appreciation of ourselves, and because we need to share our rich culture and heritage with the world.”
Debra Gibson, coordinator for ISU’s 1983 Black History Month
Debra Gibson cited this for choosing the theme “Our Attitude, Our Future”. This motto stood as a banner for a host of lectures, art, and contests to celebrate Black History Month, featuring over 1,000 participating students. Previously a single week of activities, ISU’s 1983 celebration expanded to a month of events, featuring even a lecturer from Harvard Medical School, who spoke on “The Psyche of Racist Culture”.
Iowa State’s newly expanded Black History Month culminated in a performance of Lorraine Hansberry’s autobiographical play “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”. This marked the first Black theater production at Iowa State.
Expanding Black History Month in 1983 stands as an important moment in Iowa State University’s cultural history, as we collectively grow in “Our Attitude, Our Future”.
The coal-mining town of Buxton, Iowa has captured the imagination of many people throughout the state and beyond. Buxton was a company town owned by the Consolidated Coal Company to house the miners and other employees working the nearby coal mines or supporting the miners. Built in 1900, its heydey lasted for about 15 years, until the nearby mines were exhausted. By 1905, 55% of the population was Black. Company-owned housing was given to employees on a first-come, first-served basis, so that the town was largely integrated. As Buxton grew, it developed suburbs, and some of these were segregated, such as the primarily white East Swede Town and West Swede Town. Churches were also segregated, but schools and many social activities were integrated.
Buxton was also unique among coal company towns in that many individuals, and not just the coal company, owned businesses; many of these were owned by Black individuals. Interviews with many of its former Black residents reveal that they considered the town a Black utopia. Rachelle Chase, in her book Lost Buxton, writes,
“But to understand this label of utopia is to view it in the context of the African American residents’ experience.
“Buxton was started a mere 35 years after the end of slavery. Numerous African Americans interviewed stated that their parents or grandparents had been slaves, repeatedly sharing stores of their life of slavery. And those who had not been slaves still experienced extreme racism.
“They came from that to Buxton–a place where they could go anywhere they wanted, live any way they wanted, eat or shop where they wanted, and have the freedom they wanted.”
Dorothy Schweider was a white ISU professor in the department of History, who, along with her husband Elmer Schweider, ISU professor of Family Environment, and ISU professor of Sociology Joseph Hruba, conducted a large-scale research project on Buxton in 1980, interviewing many former residents about their experiences living in Buxton. They asked them a variety of questions about the mining and businesses in the town, schools, social life, family life, and race relations.
Below are some passages from interview transcripts that are part of the Dorothy Schwieder papers (RS 13/12/54): [Note: some passages use dated language to describe people of color.]
From an interview with Jeanette Adams, a Black resident, about Swede Town (Q are the questions by interviewers Joe Hraba and Elmer Schweider; A are answers from Adams):
Q. We discovered something yesterday, that we talked about, or Gus talked about East Swede Town and West Swede Town.
A. Oh, yes, I used to ….
Q. [Why] did they call it Swede Town, were there an awful lot of Swedes?
A. Oh, yes, there were a lot of Swedes. Yes, they had their own church and everything. Yes, it was quite their own town. Course they had to go down to the company store; I guess to deal. But they had their own little churches, their own little settlement. […]
Q. Well, let me talk a little more about that. Here’s Buxton with the company store, now is there a place called East and West Swede Town where most of the Swedes lived, and then another place where many of the Blacks lived? Or Italians, or was there a kind of segregation?
A. No, no, no, no segregation. The Swedes just had their own way up there cause they wanted to. But Buxton had no, ah, no colored and white. There were more colored [than] there were white. I think the population was higher for colored there than it was for white.
Later, Adams described black and white neighbors socializing together:
Q. (S) Were you ever, did you ever have white people come visit you in your home?
A. Oh, my yes. We had neighbors that we just loved like little sisters and brothers.
Q. And then you went in some of the white homes, back and forth, you mixed socially with that, no problem.
A. Oh yes, indeed, we mixed socially. …
Another former Buxton resident, Lester Beamon, describes the experience of Black people in towns other than Buxton, including the Ku Klux Klan and sunset laws. Heydock was the town that the Consolidated Coal Company moved on to after the Buxton mines were depleted.
Q. Did you ever hear any stories about the Ku Klux Klan being active in…?
A. They were supposed to have been active right there in Heydock.
Q. Did you ever have any direct experiences with that…?
A. Well, no, I wouldn’t just say so, but they said they were active right there in Heydock.
Q. Who told you this?
A. Oh, just hear the older people talk, you know.
Q. Anything else about the treatment… Ah, obviously Black people could go into Albia and these other towns and shop.
Q. But did they have like what were know as sunset laws in those days that Black people couldn’t be there after dark? Remember anything like that?
A. I’ve heard, my mother and them said someplace, now I don’t remember where its at, but someplace they had a sign that said …let me get it straight now. “Read and run,” or maybe “don’t let the sun go down on you” or something lie that. I don’t know where that was at. I really don’t know.
Oliver Burkett lived in Buxton before his family moved to Waterloo. He seemed to experience culture shock on leaving Buxton:
Q. In your classes there was about a third of the kids were white kids, Oliver something like that?
A. A third was white, huh huh.
Q. I know we talked about this but let me ask you again this. How did black and white kids get along together at school?
A. Real well. There wasn’t a lot of friction at all. When I come here [to Waterloo] it was just like going to a foreign country.
Q. Really, tell me about it.
A. Like I say, the black was dominant there, I mean in population and we come here. I went to Grant School, it’s right up here on Mobile Street and many times I was the only black one in my room. Yeah, see that’s been 51 years ago and there wasn’t very many black people here.
The Dorothy Schwieder papers contain many more interviews of former Buxton residents, along with other research notes from her Buxton project. More information on Buxton can be found in a number of publications, websites, as well as collections held at the State Historical Society of Iowa.
“Black Americans are major contributors to historic and contemporary life… Because we wish to deepen our own appreciation of ourselves, and because we need to share our rich culture and heritage with the world.”
Debra Gibson, 1983 – Bomb 1984 pg. 72
In 1983, what was intended to be a week of commemoration turned into a month-long celebration of everything African-American history. Debra Gibson, alumni information specialist and coordinator for Black History Month at the time, chose “Our Attitude, Our Future” as the theme for the month’s activities.
According to this snippet from the 1984 Bomb, pg. 72, the highlight of the month’s activities was the performance of the first black theater production to be held at Iowa State University. The play, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” by Lorraine Hansberry received positive reviews from those in attendance.
Several lectures were also hosted throughout the month on topics relating to Black History Month, as well as several other exciting events.
Over the years our knowledge about the accomplishments of Black students, faculty, and staff at Iowa State has grown and, as a result, we are able to share that information. We will continue to work to document and share the history of Black people, and other underrepresented communities, here at ISU, but also strive to post year-round to celebrate the impact that Black students, faculty, and staff have had on our campus, and not just limit our recognition to one month.
I hope you enjoy reading or rereading these posts. If you would like to learn more about this topic, please visit us. We’re located on the 4th floor of the Parks Library, open M–F 9 to 5.
Tracking down administrative histories can be a difficult process. Even after working in the archives for many years these fact-finding missions can be a challenge. For this blog post I wanted to look at the early history of what we now call the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. This office had its origins in 1968 with the eight grievances presented to campus administration by Iowa State’s Black student athletes. You can read more about that event in an earlier blog post.
The results of this conversation between administration and the students was a better understanding of the University’s responsibility in supporting underrepresented groups on campus. One of the first steps the administration took was to hire staff to develop programs to highlight and support Iowa State’s minority student populations. These programs were initially overseen by staff in the Dean of Students Office and geared towards Iowa State’s Black student population. It is unclear exactly when the Office of Minority Student Programs was established; resources point to 1972 or 1973 as the most likely year though. What is certain is that Robert Lott was the first coordinator of this office. The following individuals played key roles in the development of these early programs at Iowa State.
William Bell was hired as Associate Dean of Students in September of 1968 as a direct result of the demands submitted by the Black students. Bell came to Ames from his previous position as professor of physical education and director of athletics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Bell was instrumental in establishing a number of programs during his two years at Iowa State. At his urging, the University initiated projects in coordination with historically Black colleges and universities including a faculty exchange program with Prairie View State College of Texas and fellowships in the Department of Agronomy aimed at increasing the numbers of Black graduate students in that department. Bell also helped organize Iowa State’s first Black Cultural Week, assisted in the establishment of the Black Cultural Center, participated in the recruitment of Black students and faculty, and assisted with the student counseling program. Bell also oversaw the Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship Fund, established in 1968, which helped students of color attend college. In 1970, Bell left Iowa State to return to his home state of North Carolina.
The fall of 1970 saw the hiring of Harold Pollard as Assistant Dean of Students. According to the November 12, 1970 article in the Iowa State Daily, Pollard’s role specialized in human relations programs, with an emphasis on programs for the Black Cultural Center and assisting with recruitment of minority students and faculty. Although student affairs programming was not yet a specific unit within the Dean of Students Office, the scope of the activities was growing. The 1971 Dean of Students Office annual report notes that this was the first year in which the university specifically recruited minority students to campus although other sources note that this recruitment started in 1967. This same report notes that there were approximately 175 students of color on campus at this time (out of a total student population of around 19,300). Pollard left Iowa State after a year.
1970 also saw the hiring of Willis Bright who served as a part-time Program Advisor in the Dean of Students Office and as a Counselor in the Student Counselling Service. Bright would advise and work closely with Iowa State’s Black students, serve on the Affirmative Action Committee, and develop programs associated with the Black Cultural Center. Bright resigned in the summer of 1973.
Robert Lott was hired as Assistant Dean of Students in December 1971 to replace Pollard. He was given responsibility for minority student programs, the Black Cultural Center, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship fund. Lott was also placed in charge of administering the student orientation program. During his time at Iowa State, the University would develop an Affirmative Action Program and hold its first Black Awareness Week on campus. Lott would help develop the Advanced Preparation Program, an orientation program aimed at assisting incoming Black students transition to the University community. He also supported recruitment of more students of color. With the formation of the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs in 1973, Lott was named Assistant to the Vice President and Director of the Office of Minority Student Programs. Lott resigned from his post in September 1974.
From this point on there would continue to be an office on campus dedicated to improving the lives and experiences of Iowa State’s students of color. However, it would not be until George Jackson arrived on campus in 1978 that the Office had sustained and stable leadership. The name of the office may have changed over the years, but their mission is largely the same. According the their website, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs “supports and empowers Iowa State University’s students who self-identify as African American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Latinx, Native American/Alaskan Native and/or Multiracial, and advocates for their holistic development across the University.”
There are many others who helped develop these early programs for students of color, I have just highlighted a few. You can learn more of this history by doing your own research in Special Collections and University Archives. We would love to see you!
Paul Laurence Dunbar was an influential Black American poet. Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio to former slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar excelled in school and was considered the class poet in high school. Unable to afford college, he looked for work, but was rejected by Dayton businesses and newspapers because of his race. He finally took a job as an elevator operator. Continuing to write poetry, he was invited by a former teacher to read his poetry to the Western Association of Writers meeting in Dayton in 1892. This experience brought him wider recognition and led him to publish his first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, in 1893. Included in this book were some of his earliest dialect poems that he came to be famous for.
Dunbar published a second book of poetry in 1895, Majors and Minors, one of the several Dunbar books that we hold in Special Collections. This second book included both poems written in standard English, grouped under the heading “Majors,” and poems written in dialect, under the heading “Minors.” Dialect poetry developed out of the Plantation tradition genre of writing in which white writers presented a romanticized vision of the Antebellum South and used dialect in a way that reinforced negative racial stereotypes. But Dunbar and other Black dialect poets “sought to use the problematic plantation-tradition background in a way that rescued both the form and its subjects from the more demeaning aspects of the tradition on which they drew,” as described in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. “In so doing, the poets moved dialect poetry away from caricature and even, in the view of some writers and critics of the time, toward the presentation of a distinctive African-American cultural heritage rooted in the folk life of the rural South.”
Special Collections has nine of Dunbar’s 20 books of poetry and fiction. Including his second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, shown above right, and his final published book of poetry, Joggin’ Erlong, shown above (1906). We also hold three of his works of of fiction: The Strength of Gideon, The Love of Landry, and The Uncalled.
I’d like to focus on a set of photographically illustrated works of Dunbar’s dialect poetry: six books published almost annually between 1809 and 1906 by Dodd, Mead & Co. These editions were collaborative artistic works, illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club and other Art Nouveau-style decorations. ISU Special Collections owns three of these: Candle-Lightin’ Time (1904; first published 1901), When Malindy Sings (1906; first published 1896), and Joggin’ Erlong (1906).
Art Nouveau style publisher’s binding of Candle-Lightin’ Time.
Publisher’s binding of When Malindy Sings.
Cloth publisher’s binding of Joggin’ Erlong.
The Hampton Institute Camera Club, which ran from 1893-1926, was a group of predominantly white faculty and staff at the Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, a historically Black university in Hampton, Virginia. They practiced a form of photography known as Pictorialism, in which photographers used their medium to create fine art images, emphasizing beauty, composition, and tonality over creating a strictly documentary visual record. Although predominantly white, the Camera Club members portrayed members of the African American community in Hampton, recreating scenes described in Dunbar’s verse. Ray Sapirstein, who has done research on these illustrated volumes, argues that, not only did the Club illustrate some of Dunbar’s racially subversive poems, like “When Malindy Sings,” but also that their artistic choices in illustrating the poem “actually makes explicit some of Dunbar’s subtly subversive content” (“Out from Behind” 172).
Pages introducing the title poem of the book, When Malindy Sings.
Opening pages of the poem “When Malindy Sings” in the book published with the same title.
The poem pokes fun at one singer, Miss Lucy, who sings with proficiency, but cannot compare to the untaught but wholehearted singing of Malindy. Sapirstein points out that the poem does not specify the racial identity of Miss Lucy but implies that Malindy is African American based on the gospel songs that make up her repertoire. However, in the photograph that illustrates the first three stanzas of the poem, the photographers made the decision to depict a white woman at the piano facing a black man. Sapirstein writes, “The illustration from the photo-text makes Dunbar’s statement about the inferiority of Lucy’s ‘nachel o’gans’ far more racially explicit and transgressive. … In this specific instance, it was the Hampton photographers who were responsible for making Dunbar’s subversive implication explicit, as well as depicting a young white girl in a domestic interior with a self-possessed, well-dressed (and married) young black man, potentially as social equals. Published in 1901, the tension and uncertainty on the models’ faces also reveals the transgressive nature of their proximity. The headpiece of the poem depicts Malindy as a joyous singer in a homespun vernacular calico dress” (ibid, 173).
As Sapirstein points out, these illustrated editions were largely compilations of poetry previously published by Dunbar, with a few exceptions, and they appear to be largely assembled by the Camera Club and later approved by Dunbar, as indicated by documents held in the Hampton University Archives. For example, a mockup of the first book of the series, Poems of Cabin and Field, held in the Hampton University Archives, contains a note reading, “‘Mr. Dunbar says no to the first print'” (198), indicating that Dunbar exercised some editorial jurisdiction over the work. Still, there is little evidence of Dunbar’s feelings about the Camera Club’s overall project with the illustrated editions. He did benefit from them in multiple ways, however. The editions were very popular and allowed him to support himself through his writing. He received a thousand dollars in royalties from each publication, which enabled him to cover medical expenses as he grew ill with the tuberculosis that ended his life at age 33. Beyond that, the illustrated editions had an influence on later African American writers and photographers, including Langston Hughes, Roy de Carava, Gordon Parks, Richard Wright, and Walter Dean Myers, who worked on similar collaboratively illustrated books of poetry (Picturing 327).
The last of the editions, Joggin’ Erlong, was published in 1906, just after Dunbar’s death that same year. A note on one of the pages indicates that “Slide Along” was the last dialect poem written by Dunbar.
(note: The information on the illustrated editions of Dunbar’s poetry came from the following two sources.)
Sapirstein, Ray. “Out from Behind the Mask: Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Hampton Institute Camera Club, and Photographic Performance of Identity.” Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African AmericanIdentity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. 167-203.
This blog post was authored by Curation Services Student Writer Cassandra Anderson.
Black History Month is celebrated from February 1 through February 28 starting in 1976 when the celebration was extended from a week to an entire month. Here on campus, we have a number of student organizations that celebrate Black History Month and work year round to educate campus on issues black students face today. The Black Student Government was a name that I found occurring repeatedly in the “Black History Month” folder of RS 22/03/001, so I decided to see if I could learn more about them.
On campus, the Black Student Government organized educational events, speakers, and more for the students at ISU. Their mission was to help black students on campus feel safe and at home on campus while also fighting for a better life. In 1992 the “Black Student Government” changed their name to the “Black Student Alliance” and continue to use this name on campus today.
During Black History Month, student organizations often work together to bring speakers, workshops, and other activities to campus. In 2000, seventeen campus groups, including the Black Student Alliance, worked together to create a range of activities celebrating Black History Month.
Lastly, like any student organization, the Black Student Alliance is also about having fun and building a community. They often host events for students to hang out, like this “Show Me What You Got” game night! The organization is still active today with 97 student members. Each year the organization has an opportunity to attend the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government, hosted by a different Big XII school each year.
For more information on Black History Month, the Black Student Alliance/Black Student Government, or other student organizations, check out RS 22/03/001! All of the documents from this blog piece came from Box 1 of the collection, folders “Black History Month”, “Black Student Alliance”, and “Black Student Government”.
The ISU men’s track team made history in the 1984 Olympics and showcased some of the best talent Iowa State has ever boasted in this sport.
Three team members made it to the Olympics: Danny Harris from the USA, Sunday Uti from Nigeria, and Moses Kiyai from Kenya.
Both Danny Harris and Sunday Uti took home medals (Harris silver and Uti bronze), and Harris broke his fifth world record in the 400 hurdles during the semi-finals for Olympic trials.
The 1985 media guide for men’s track notes that Harris’s record-breaking times were all the more impressive considering that he was barely 18-years-old during the trials (a sophomore at ISU) and had only run the 400 hurdles 19 times prior to the event.
1985 media guide cover. RS 24/11/0/6 Box 1, folder 2
Here are some pictures of Harris performing at the NCAA competition earlier that summer:
And here is a shot of Uti in motion, likely during a training session at ISU.
Given their incredible expertise, it seems likely that all of these athletes spent much of their time on the indoor track of the men’s gym, pictured below as it would have looked when they were in school.
Sunday Uti graduated in 1987 with his B.S. in Community and Regional Planning.
1987 Bomb page 510
1987 Bomb page 510 (close up)
Unfortunately, it is unclear what happened next to Danny Harris or Moses Kiyai — whether they transferred schools, or simply moved on to other pursuits. I could not find mentions of either in our alumni records.
We do know, however, that Danny Harris set up his own private coaching and personal training service 12 years later in Los Angeles, California near his hometown, Perris.
It is also worth noting that the ISU women’s track team excelled in the 1984 Olympics. In some ways, their accomplishments surpassed those of the men. But because of this, I believe that Nawal El Moutawakel in particular deserves her own blog post, and we can look at her story another day. Regardless, feel free to visit the archives to see any of this material, or any of the items shown above, in person.
This week, 45 year ago, Iowa State University’s Black Cultural Center, Inc., Black Student Organization, and ISU Committee on Lectures sponsored Black History Week. The week’s theme was “Towards a United State of Mind.”
Author and former FBI agent Sam Greenlee delivered the first day’s evening lecture, “Strategies for Change.” Greenlee is widely known for his book, the political satire, The Spook Who Sat by the Door. His work was later turned into a film.
Sociologist and Civil Rights Activist Dr. Harry Edwards gave a talk, called “The Myth of the Racially Superior Athlete,” while Ray Greene, ISU’s assistant football coach talked about recruiting Black athletes.
The week was capped off by Grinnell College’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” choir.
Check out the program below to see the other events planned for ISU’s Black History Week.
People familiar with Iowa State University history usually are already aware of the story of George Washington Carver, Iowa State’s first African American graduate and faculty member, and Jack Trice, Iowa State’s first black student athlete. Over the years, much research has been done on these two individuals. Unfortunately, learning about students of color that came after them is a much more difficult task.
One frequent request we receive are questions about the first students of color to receive degrees from a specific department, the first to play on a particular sports team, or the first to be part of a campus organization. Most people contact us in the hopes that maybe somebody has compiled such a list and that it exists in the University Archives.
In reality, these questions are extremely difficult to answer for a variety of reasons, but primarily because no such list exists. Over the years, archives staff have slowly been adding to an internal list of known early black students, but it is far from complete and stops in the 1960s. One of the most reliable sources for learning about student life, the yearbook, is an unreliable resource for identifying students of color because not all students appear in it and it can be particularly difficult to determine race and ethnicity based on the small, grainy, black and white images. Another factor to consider is that the University did not start collecting information on student race and ethnicity until the late 1960s so it is difficult to even know how many students of color were on campus at a given time.
So how does one go about searching for students of color in the archives? As previously mentioned, the yearbook is one place to start. Other resources to investigate are the commencement programs. These can be effective for identifying graduate students of color as the programs often list the school that the students received an undergraduate degree. If the school listed is a historically black college or university, then that is a promising lead. Student directories are another possible resource. Unfortunately, searching through these materials can be very tedious and time consuming. It is also important to remember that this is just a starting point for research. Tracking down additional details will likely lead to contacting archives at other schools and communities or into direct contact with members of the person’s family or his/her descendants.
These are just a small number of the many black students who have come to Iowa State since George Washington Carver first arrived on campus in 1891. If you would like to start your own investigation into students of color at Iowa State, the staff in Special Collections and University Archives would be happy to assist. Stop in and say hello!