The Black Student Union presented “Our Story: Black at K-State,” a history of black students at K-State, Tuesday evening at Hale Library as part of the BSU’s efforts at raising awareness and understanding of black history and culture.
The BSU hosted Cliff Hight, university archivist, who spoke to the BSU about the history of black students at K-State. Although the presentation took place during a regular meeting of the BSU, it was open to the public.
“When students learn about black history and culture at K-State, it gives perspective as to where African-Americans have been and where we’re going, and it helps guide us in the future,” Muenfua Lewis, senior in finance and BSU president, said.
In his presentation, Hight recounted the history of black students on campus, starting with George Washington Owens, the first black graduate of K-State. Owens graduated in 1899 and later became the manager of the dairy herd and creamery of the Tuskegee Institute. Hight said that Owens faced adversity as the first and only black student on campus at the time, but many of his personal struggles were not recorded in Owens’ autobiography draft, which the university has in its possession.
Minnie Howell, the first female black student to graduate from K-State, graduated only a few years later in 1901, with a degree in domestic science. After her time at K-State, Howell was a teacher at Virginia State College and Southern University, Negro A&M College. Howell later returned to Manhattan and taught at the Douglass Community Center.
Hight also presented on the origins of the BSU at K-State in the late 1960s. Originally, two black student groups, the Black Student Association and the K-State Community Sisters, existed on campus, but the groups combined in 1970 to address issues and struggles that arose from the Civil Rights movement. The resulting group would become the current BSU.
“It’s about representation, Takara Brownridge, senior in elementary education and BSU secretary, said. “Knowing that there were people here before us. It’s about knowing that there were black students that went here, that graduated from K-State, and were successful. It’s so that whenever a black student is struggling and doesn’t feel like they can make it through college, they can see that there have been people before them that have succeeded, and they can, too.”
After the presentation, students in attendance had the chance to browse several items in the university’s archives that pertain to black history at K-State. These included theses from early black graduates, personal correspondence between Booker T. Washington and K-State President E. R. Nichols, works by photographer Gordon Parks and copies of Black Panther newsletters.
Several copies of Uhuru, a short-lived black student newspaper at K-State in the 1970s, were on display. Hight said it was interesting to note the differences between Uhuru’s coverage of issues on campus at the time and The Collegian’s coverage of the same issues.
“You might consider Uhuru and what was being reported in it versus what was being reported in The Collegian at the same time,” Hight said. “We can do an analysis of this paper and see if it was really structured in a way that addressed news and issues that were not being reported as effectively as they should have been.”
Hight also said the university is working with BSU to ensure that current events are captured digitally and archived. Currently, the library has worked to archive the BSU’s Twitter feed and website using the archiving service Archive-It.
“It helps us to preserve for future generations some of the things that have been done online recently,” Hight said.
Lewis said it is up to current members of BSU to impact their legacy in K-State’s history.
“We can continue to be advocates for social justice, to fight for opportunities for everybody, looking at what’s disadvantaging certain people within society at a deeper level,” Lewis said.
Demetrie Thomas, junior in business, said he enjoyed the presentation.
It’s good seeing black people rise up and learn more about their heritage,” Thomas said. “It’s good to see people actually wanting to do more for themselves instead of waiting around or waiting for the next generation.”
The presentation was a part of the BSU’s campaign to increase awareness of black history and culture at K-State during Black History Month. Last week, the BSU hosted the third annual Black Student Union Leadership Conference, a leadership conference that encouraged black high school students from across the state to pursue higher education.
Earlier this month, the BSU hosted Maggie Anderson, author of “Our Black Year.” Anderson spoke about her experience after she exclusively shopped at black-owned businesses.