Monday, February 2, 2015

Celebrating Black History Month at the MU Student Center

This year’s exhibition in honor of Black History Month explores several themes related to the story of African-American students, faculty and administrators at the University of Missouri. Sections focus on student activism that resulted in positive changes on our campus, administrators and athletes who broke the color barrier, and the early pioneers that challenged the university’s admission policy.  Organizations highlighted in the exhibition include the Legion of Black Collegians, a branch of student government that serves as the voice of MU’s black students, and the MU chapters of African-American fraternities and sororities.
Visit the Lower Lounge in the MU Student Center to learn more about Black History at Mizzou!

Here are some highlights of the exhibition: 

Gus T. Ridgel, MU's First Black Graduate

Gus T. Ridgel and other students spend time in Read Hall, the former home of the Student Union in 1951. (2013.030, Donated by Dr. Gus. T. Ridgel)

The first African-American student to earn a graduate degree at MU, Dr. Gus T. Ridgel, earned his Master’s degree in economics in 1951. Dr. Ridgel was born in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He graduated from Lincoln University magna cum laude in 1950 with a degree in Business Administration. Dr. Ridgel later on went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and did postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, Indiana University, Duke University and other schools. In 1960, he was hired as head of the Department of Business at Kentucky State University where, other than a few years in the 1980s, he served until he retired in 1996 as vice president for finance and administration. In 1987, the Gus T. Ridgel Fellowship was established at MU to assist qualified underrepresented minority graduate students in any field.

School Officials who Broke the Color Barrier

Early African-American administrators include Dr. Mary F. Lenox, the first African-American female to serve as a dean of an MU college, and Elson Floyd, the first African-American president of the UM system.

Dr. Mary F. Lenox, Dean of the School of Library and Information Science (Savitar 1987)

Mary F. Lenox began her career at the University of Missouri in 1978 as an Associate Professor in the School of Library and Informational Science. She became the first African-American woman to hold the position of dean at UMC when she assumed the position of Dean of SLIS in 1984. Mary Lenox served as Dean until June 1, 1996, when the independent School of Library and Informational Science was administratively placed under the College of Education and retitled the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies. After the reorganization, Lenox returned to the classroom as an professor, but retained her administrative role as an associate dean in the College of Education. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Chicago State University, Master of Arts degree from Dominican University, and Doctorate in Education from UMass Amherst College of Education. She has completed postdoctoral studies at Harvard University and was a visiting professor at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa. 

Dr. Elson Floyd served as president of the UM system from 2002-2006. (Image: Washington State University, Office of the President)
Dr. Elson Floyd became the first African-American to serve as the president of the UM four-campus system in 2002.  According to a Maneater article written upon his resignation, "During his tenure at the UM system, he won praise as a hard-working, charismatic and visionary leader for his university while dealing with tough budget issues. Floyd also endowed 266 new need-based scholarships and developed tuition guidelines aimed at holding increases to the inflation rate." (Maneater, Dec. 13, 2006)  A native of Henderson, N.C., Dr. Floyd holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science and speech, a master of education degree in adult education, and a doctor of philosophy degree in higher and adult education, all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has also served as a senior administrator at Eastern Michigan State University and Eastern Washington University. Dr. Floyd is currently the president of Washington State University, where he has served since departing Missouri in 2006.

African-American Athletes find success as Tigers!

 The first African-American athletes in Mizzou football and basketball are included to draw attention to the achievements of black students outside of the classroom and Pan-Hellenic settings. Anthony Peeler, former Tiger basketball star and retired NBA player, shows the success later generations of African-American athletes were able to achieve because players like Al Abram, Mel West and Norris Stevenson.

In 1958, Al Abram, Jr., was the first African-American athlete to receive a scholarship to play for Mizzou. Abram was a very unassuming man who by all accounts dealt with the unfortunate situations that would arise with class and dignity. (MU Athletics Hall of Fame biography) Abram was inducted into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004. (Image: MIZZOU, 2013)

Anthony Peeler, former Tiger basketball player, spent 13 years in the NBA. In 2006, Peeler was named to the Missouri's 30-member All-Century team, in honor of the school's 100th year of competition. In this Mar. 12, 1992 photo, Anthony Peeler is hoisted by teammate Nathan Buntin after a 65-60 win over Kansas State in the Big Eight title game. (Image: Columbia Missourian)

Other Firsts

Mort Walker (BA, 1948) recognized the changing atmosphere of the armed forces when he added an African-American character to his celebrated Beetle Bailey comic strip in 1970. Lieutenant  Jackson Flap has been called “effortlessly cool”. Walker stated in a 1984 interview that, “People were a little concerned when I started doing it, because they thought I was going to do a funny stereotype.  And after a while they realized that I wasn’t making fun of him, he’s just a funny character.” (Nemo Magazine, no. 5, 1984)
Lieutenant Jackson Flap by Mort Walker, MU alum and world-renowned cartoonist 

For more history, see our previous blog post at Black History Month 2014.

Authored by Sarah S. Jones, Ph.D. Candidate, Art History, University of Missouri