In Celebration of MLK Day

18 01 2013
Dr. King can be seen here in the MSU Auditorium.  Ticket sales from the speech were given to the STEP program.

Dr. King can be seen here in the MSU Auditorium. Ticket sales from the speech were given to the STEP program.

Although Black History Month does not officially begin until February 1st, it is never too early or often to recognize the accomplishments of the many African Americans who

Myrtle Craig, in the middle-left, was the first African American student to attend MSU.  She is seen here with her graduating class of 1907.

Myrtle Craig, in the middle-left, was the first African American student to attend MSU. She is seen here with her graduating class of 1907.

have made their mark on MSU history, especially with the upcoming holiday for the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement cannot be understated, in addition to the thousands of others whose valiant efforts to end discriminatory practices have brought the US to where it is today.  Four years before his death, Dr. King brought such issues to life when he visited MSU in person to speak at the Auditorium.  The purpose of his visit was not only to discuss policies for desegregation in the south, but also to support the formation of a new and entirely unique student-run organization by the name of STEP.  G. Scott Romney, former member of the MSU Board of Trustees and brother to Governor Mitt Romney, was an MSU student at the time of King’s speech, and in the Board meeting minutes years later he recalls, “Dr. King as being a very humble and respectful person, but one who had great power.”  More information about the particulars of the 1965 visit can be found here, in the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Visits MSU” exhibit on the Archives’ website, including photographs and sound bites from his speech while on campus.

Ernest Green can be seen here alongside the rest of the honorary Blue Key members in this photograph from the 1962 Wolverine yearbook.

Ernest Green can be seen here alongside the rest of the honorary Blue Key members in this photograph from the 1962 Wolverine yearbook.

Among the other notable figures that made strides in education for African Americans were many of the students themselves.  Although they already have a blog post dedicated to their

Clifton and Dolores Wharton can be seen here waving as they arrive on campus in 1969.

Clifton and Dolores Wharton can be seen here waving as they arrive on campus in 1969.

accomplishments (found here), Myrtle Craig, Gideon Smith, and Everett Yates cannot go unmentioned.  Each of these three students were firsts for MSU in their own way, and each deserves recognition for their contributions to the advancement of higher education for African Americans and for opening the doors for future students to attend MSU.  Ernest Green, of the Little

This photograph from 1979 shows Earvin Magic Johnson posing with his Sporting News Trophy.

This photograph from 1979 shows Earvin Magic Johnson posing with his Sporting News Trophy.

Rock Nine, was one such student.  Green was famously the first African American to graduate in 1957 from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas after months of harassment and debate.  Upon his graduation, he received an anonymous full-ride scholarship (rumored to be from John Hannah, himself!), and went on to complete his undergraduate degree in Social Sciences at MSU.  He is known to have said that his time spent at his alma mater transformed his life and taught him skills critical for his later success.  Earvin “Magic” Johnson is another famous face that left an unrivaled legacy at MSU.  Johnson is celebrated not only for his stellar basketball performances, but he has also gained national recognition for his efforts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS through the creation of the Magic Johnson Foundation.

There could be an entry for every day of February concerning the vast array of contributions the African American community has made to MSU.  From Myrtle Craig breaking not only racial and gender stereotypes, to Clifton Wharton, first black president of a major university – the list is endless, and a month could never encompass the accomplishments of each individual.

Breaking Barriers: First African American Students at Michigan State

28 02 2012

As Black History Month is coming to a close, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the first African American students at MSU that broke barriers changing the way the University and its students perceived the presence of African American students on campus. The following three individuals were among the first black students to be a part of the Michigan State community.

Myrtle Craig arrived at MAC after graduating from a small school in Missouri. Craig was not only a woman enrolling at MAC, but was the first African American student to attend the university. She faced many obstacles during her time here.  Not only was the Women’s Building too expensive for her, but she was not allowed to live there because of her race. When she first began at MAC, she lived with Addison Brown, the secretary to the State Board of Agriculture and cooked as a way to pay off her rent. She then moved in with Chance Newman, an Assistant Professor of Drawing and worked as a sales clerk, in a clothing store, and as a waitress to make ends meet. On May 31, 1907 she graduated and received her diploma from United States President Theodore Roosevelt. For the next forty years she devoted her life to teaching African American students.

Gideon E. Smith was also a very influential figure in the history of Black individuals at Michigan State. Starring at left tackle for the Aggies during the 1913, 1914, and 1915 seasons, Smith was the first African American to play football at MAC. He was one of the most influential players on the team and contributed a lot towards winning seasons of football. However, like all other African American students before 1930, Smith’s name and picture were not included in the men’s societies’ pages in the yearbook. Despite his involvement in sports and other societies on campus, there was no visual record of Smith due to the way that African American’s were perceived in society. Despite his struggles to gain credibility among the college community, Smith graduated with a BS in Agriculture in 1916. He went on to become one of the first professional football players and he served in the military during World War I. He then dedicated the rest of his life to teaching and coaching African American youth.

Everett C. Yates, the first African American to play in the college cadet band and orchestra, also paved the way for future Black students here at Michigan State. Yates was a percussionist in both of these organizations that provided music for the parades and dances at that took place on campus.  He graduated with fellow classmate Gideon Smith in 1916 receiving a BS in Horticulture. Even though the two men graduated together, it was not until recently that Yates’ legacy was recognized. After graduating from MAC, Yates went on to become a very successful teacher, teaching music in schools around the country.

These three individuals, Myrtle Craig, Gideon Smith, and Everett Yates, were some of the first African American students to break color barriers on campus. Through their persistence in their respective and highly visible activities, they paved the way for future Black students at Michigan State.

Celebrating Black History Month: Booker T. Washington’s Connection with MAC

9 02 2012

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, it is important to look back and highlight influential figures that contributed to the Michigan State community. Although his visit to the university was short, the famous Booker T. Washington left a lasting impact at Michigan State.  Washington was the dominant figure in the African American community from 1900 until his death in 1915. Throughout his time of black advocacy, he had the support of all races and classes and was able to serve the community in a very influential way. While serving as the principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, he started becoming in contact with MAC’s President Snyder.

President Snyder was an important advocate for a strong definition of MAC’s mission and its role in the state. He strongly believed in the land grant philosophy that aimed to empower the sons and daughters of the state’s industrial classes.  President Snyder began to contact Booker T. Washington, who also had the same philosophy regarding land grant institutions. He asked Washington if he would be able to speak at the commencement ceremony on June 16, 1899; Washington agreed, but ended up cancelling the speech in April.  His friends planned for him a trip to Europe and as he was to sail out from New York on May 3rd, he wouldn’t be back in time for the speech.

The following year, Snyder asked again, and Washington agreed and promised that he would definitely deliver the speech this year. On June 15, 1900, Booker T. Washington delivered the commencement speech at MAC entitled “Solving the Negro Problem in the Black Belt of the South”.  In this speech he identified the basic tenets of the land grant philosophy of education and stressed that intellectual and vocational education worked together to improve the human condition. Furthermore, he spoke of the importance of equal rights for Negro students. This commencement speech was considered very important for the students of MAC. While most students did come from poor or middle class families, they had yet to experience the effects of racism, for the university at this time was primarily white. Washington’s speech highlighted the importance of treating everyone with equal rights, especially in agricultural education, despite their race or social class. Washington stated:

“From the beginning of time, agriculture has constituted the main foundation upon which all races have grown useful and strong”

Washington continued to stay in contact with MAC up until his death in 1915. The University Archives & Historical Collections has a series of correspondences from Washington to the school asking about any black graduates for he had positions open at the Tuskegee Institute, as well as correspondences merely just to stay in contact with the school. Washington’s speech resonated with the student body and administration. It was at this point that we begin to see the black student presence at MAC escalate and start to thrive at the university.

Celebrating African American History Month

31 01 2012

During the month of February, the nation gathers together to celebrate African American History Month.  Michigan State University has had a black presence since 1900 when William O. Thomson enrolled at M.A.C.; he graduated four years later in 1904. Three years later, President Theodore Roosevelt, on a visit to M.A.C. for commencements, handed out a diploma to the first African American woman to graduate from M.A.C., Myrtle Craig. Over the years, many influential individual paved the way for Black students at the University. From athletes, to scientists, to faculty members, the University has been proud to be called the alma matter for so many influential African American individuals. Check out our online exhibit HERE has it showcases some of the African American pioneers at M.A.C. and honors their achievements.