Boston University’s black alumni and students are known around the world for making history, inspiring communities, and setting examples for us all to follow—from the educational and professional pioneers of the nineteenth century, to the Civil Rights activists of the 1950s, to participants in the legacy-continuing programs of today.
What follows is a timeline of black Boston University alumni who have made particularly notable achievements and meaningful events in BU’s black history. Use the left-hand navigation to explore the legacy chronologically.
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Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduates from the New England Female Medical College, which in 1873 becomes a major component of the newly established Boston University School of Medicine.
Claflin University is founded with the purpose of educating emancipated slaves. The land in South Carolina is purchased with funds donated by one of the three founders of Boston University, Lee Claflin, and his son William Claflin. The oldest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in South Carolina, Claflin’s charter forbids discrimination of any sort among faculty, staff and students. This establishes Claflin as the first university in South Carolina to be open to all students regardless of race, class, or gender.
A key statement in The President’s and Deans’ Second Annual Report shows the intent to move past the exclusionary educational practices of the time: “All indications show that the time is at hand, when every Christian country will demand that its highest and best educational appliances, organized in its universities, be made available to all comers, without respect to creed or race or sex…”
Emmanuel Hewlett, known to be Frederick Douglass’s brother-in-law, becomes the first black Boston University School of Law graduate and one of the first black degree recipients of a major U.S. law school. Upon his death, in 1929, the Supreme Court adjourns for the day, an honor reserved for the most respected members of the bar.
America’s first black psychiatrist, Solomon Carter Fuller, graduates from the School of Medicine.
Bishop Edgar Amos Love ( STH’18), creates a Gamma Chapter of Omega Psi Phi at Boston University. Five years earlier, he was a founding father of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at Howard University. This was the first international fraternal organization to be founded on the campus of a historically black college.
World-renowned artist Romare Bearden attends Boston University. His collage series titled “A Black Odyssey” was based on Homer’s classic epic.
Allan Knight Chalmers, who joined the faculty at Boston University in 1948, and later mentored MLK, Jr., is named chairman of the Scottsboro Defense Committee.
Della Brown Taylor Hardman (CFA’45) receives a master’s degree in art from Boston University. In 2009, her daughter, Andrea Taylor (COM’68), would become a University trustee.
Chemist, city council member, and patent attorney Esther Arvilla Harrison (now Esther A. H. Hopkins) graduates in 1947 with her B.A. degree in chemistry.
She later received M.S. degrees in Chemistry from Howard University (1949) and Yale University (1962), as well as her Ph.D. degree in Chemistry, also from Yale (1967), and a J.D. degree with a focus on patent law from Suffolk University (1977).
In 1989, Hopkins retired from a career with the Polaroid Corporation and was appointed as deputy general counsel at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. After leaving the Massachusetts DEP, Hopkins embarked on a political career and became the first African American selectman of Framingham, Massachusetts.
She served on the University’s Board of Trustees for 22 years and is now a University overseer. She is a Golden member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, having been initiated into the Epsilon Chapter while an undergraduate student at Boston University.
Edward W. Brooke III, future Massachusetts attorney general and then U.S. senator, graduates from BU’s School of Law. He later receives an honorary degree, in 1968.
Boston University’s African Studies Program officially begins (it later took the name African Research and Studies Program).
Howard Thurman (Hon.’67) is named Dean of Marsh Chapel, becoming the first black dean in a predominantly white university.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) receives his PhD from Boston University. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964, he donates his papers to the Special Collections (now called the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center).
Douglas E. Moore (STH’53) leads a sit-in in Durham, NC.
Louis Wade Sullivan graduates from BU School of Medicine, later founding the Morehouse School of Medicine and becoming Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George H. W. Bush.
Barbara Jordan, future member of the US House of Representatives, graduates from the BU School of Law.
While a BU student-athlete, John Thomas (SED’63) becomes the first person to high-jump seven feet
After he was expelled from Vanderbilt University for his strategic leadership in nonviolent activism to integrate lunch counters in and around Nashville, Tennessee, future civil rights leader James Morris Lawson completes his Bachelor of Divinity at BU’s School of Theology.
John H. Bustamante (LAW’52, CAS’53), was Dr. King’s roommate and later on personal friend and attorney. Dr. King awarded him the SCLC Freedom Award in 1967. They pledged Alpha Phi Alpha while at BU and my father was Alpha Man of The Year in 1979. He later went on to found a bank, own a newspaper, and represent both Carl Stokes and Jesse Jackson. In 1983, he is awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award from Boston University College of Liberal Arts.
Umoja, meaning “unity” in Swahili, is established in order to represent the needs of Black students through cultural, educational, and recreational programs. Umoja is the first minority organization on campus. Since then, with the emergence of other minority organizations, Umoja remains an all-University organization, and strives to be as representative as possible of the Boston University minority community.
Andrea Taylor, later to become a civic leader and Microsoft’s director for North American community affairs, graduates from the College of Communication—following in the footsteps of mother Della Hardman (GRS’45), father Francis Taylor (CFA’56), and uncles Willard Brown (LAW’35,’36) and Lt. Col. John Taylor (COM’59).
Boston University’s African American Studies Center is founded.
Charlie Thomas (SED’42), is inducted into Boston University Athletics Hall of Fame, after lettering in three sports–baseball, football, and basketball.
David M. French became the first chairman of Boston University’s Department of Community Medicine. French then set his sights on the African continent, believing the community health center model could deliver the crucial primary care so many desperately needed. He and his family spent a decade living in the Ivory Coast as he oversaw a program coordinated by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Boston University that trained health care workers in 20 African countries to set up networks of clinics providing primary and preventive care.
Richard Taylor (COM’73) becomes Boston University’s first Rhodes Scholar. In 1973, he serves as a guest attendee at a dinner dedicated to incoming black students to BU.
Noted journalist Ida Elizabeth Lewis (CGS’54, COM’56) became the first editor-in-chief of “Essence” magazine and later founded “Encore: American & Worldwide News,” making her the first black woman to publish a national magazine. She became the first woman editor-in-chief of “Crisis,” the magazine of the NAACP, in 1998.
She shifted to public relations in the 1980s, working as a media consultant on several major political campaigns, including Ross Perot’s presidential bid in 1992, and returned to journalism in 1998, when she became the first female editor-in-chief of the NAACP magazine The Crisis, at 95 years old the country’s oldest African-American journal.
Lewis, who studied journalism at COM and graduated in 1956 is recipient of a 1999 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Carl Adams accepts the position of head coach of BU’s wrestling team, one he would hold until the program’s closure in 2014. In his first season at BU, he coached the Terriers to a New England title, and the accolades came in a steady stream for decades: 10 conference championships, 4 Terrier All-Americans, and 85 NCAA tournament appearances by Terrier wrestlers.
In 2002, Adams was inducted into the Massachusetts Wrestling Hall of Fame. Before coaching, Adams was a three-time All-American wrestler, he earned two NCAA titles in his 158-pound weight class, in 1971 and 1972. He captured the National Amateur Athletic Union Freestyle championships in 1973 and 1975 and earned a silver medal at the Pan American Games, along with a third-place showing in the World Championships. National Mat News named him Top Middleweight of the Decade for the 1970s.
Debbie Miller is the all-time great in Boston University women’s basketball. In 1981, Miller was the first woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame from the modern era and was awarded the Scarlet Key. She also received the Gretchen Shuyler Award as the University’s top female athlete. Miller received All-America honors her junior and senior years and was twice a finalist for the Margaret Wade Trophy, given to the nation’s top player. She also represented the United States on numerous national teams and was selected to the 1980 Olympic team.
An informal Howard Thurman Fellowship was created by Dean Emeritus George Makechnie. It presented commemorative programs to the University and the Boston community at large.
Yvette Michelle Jarvis (CLA’79) becomes the 1st African American to play professional basketball in the Greek League and the 1st salaried female athlete. A humanitarian and political activist, Jarvis organized and created events and programs designed to support women’s and immigrants rights and fought hard for the disabled.When Jarvis joined the Athens City Council in 2002, she became the first African American and the first foreigner to hold public office. During her term, she developed a hotline for victims of domestic violence, created language programs for immigrants, secured municipal contracts for the sight impaired, and developed racism in sport awareness programs. In 2006, she served as Special Advisor to the Mayor of Athens on immigration.
BU opens its cultural center, Howard Thurman Center, based on the “common ground” philosophy of Dr. Howard Thurman. The center hosts cultural programs, activities, and services designed to build community through self-exploration and shared experiences.
The Honorable Louis W. Sullivan (MED’58), secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, addresses the graduates at Commencement. Sullivan would go on to become president of the Morehouse College School of Medicine.
Derek Walcott, professor of English, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Student leaders in the Thurman Center propose the creation of a student organization that would reflect the Thurman legacy and deal with contemporary issues affecting group relations. They are called Associates in the Search for Common Ground.
Lauren Swann, MS, RD, LDN becomes the first African-American selected for the Outstanding Nutrition Entrepreneurs Award from the American Dietetic Association Nutrition Entrepreneurs (formerly Consulting Nutritionists) practice group. In 2008, Swann becomes the first African-American elected to chair the Nutrition Entrepreneurs practice group, a national Executive Committee of the American Dietetic Association. She also co-authors the country’s first healthy soul food cookbook, The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook, written by The National Council of Negro Women in honor of Dr. Dorothy Height. Swann traced the history of African-American dietary habits from the time of slave-trade capture to contemporary health status relative to the meaning and role of soul food.
Wynn Thomas (CFA ’75), served as a production designer for eight Spike Lee films, including She’s Gotta Have It, and was honored in 1996 with a Distinguished Award for set design by Boston University CFA’s School of Theater.
Jeanette Thornton’s (MED ’81) story is dramatized in the made-for-television movie The Ditch Digger’s Daughters. Today, Dr. Thornton is an Addiction Psychiatrist and author of Prescriptive Cuisine and co-author of another book with her youngest sister, Rita, entitled A Suitcase Full of Dreams. She is writing her third book, which takes an in-depth look at food addiction obesity.
Dr. Leah Hollis (SED’98) is a Martin Luther King, Jr. fellow. Since then, Hollis has become a noted educator, researcher, and lecturer. Her work, which centers on current unlawful discrimination suffered by women from diverse backgrounds, suggests that discrimination is not confined to minority status. Her research suggests that opportunity in American society continues to be adversely affected by one’s protected class membership. In her book, Unequal Opportunity, Hollis takes the time to tell the stories of real victims of discrimination, bringing life to the stories behind dull court records in an imaginative and compelling way.
Pearline Booth Greene is the first African American Elementary School Principal appointed in the Centennial School District in Warminster, PA. Greene also organized the Bucks County Chapter Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and served as the chapter’s first president.
2000 and beyond
40-year veteran with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the legendary principal harpist Ann Hobson Pilot becomes a faculty member at Boston University. A new half-hour documentary that will tell the story of her life in music, A Harpist’s Legacy, Ann Hobson Pilot and the Sound of Change, will air on PBS stations beginning in July 2011.
The Golden Decade Foundation is created by four Boston University students; Duane “Smokey” Jackson (MET ’76), Yvette Grant (SED ’77), Steven “Lumbo” Leonard (COM ’77), and Colin Rock (SMG ’77). The name “Golden Decade” comes from an era in the 1970’s that witnessed some of the largest influxes of Black and minority students into predominantly white colleges and universities in the greater Boston area. The Golden Decade Foundation offers scholarship and mentoring programs in order to encourage its members’ success, while developing their personal networking and business skills.
Valerie Clayton (CFA ’75) becomes the director for the New Jersey branch of the famed Settlement Music School. She began working at the School in 1997.
Attorney Gina Walcott became the first African-American in the nation to direct a Lawyer Assistance Program.
Common Ground, an exercise based on the belief of Howard Thurman (Hon.’67), former dean of Marsh Chapel, that we have more in common with each other than we have differences, is established to take place from 1 to 4 p.m. each Wednesday of orientation.
Peter Fernandez (CFA’75) performs in theaters across the country and The Philadelphia Tribune, the African American newspaper in Philadelphia, publishes a two-page article about his work in theater. He credits his home state (Rhode Island) and BU for his great training.
President Obama offers effusive thanks Duane Jackson (MET’76) for his role in foiling a potentially lethal bomb attack. Jackson, a seasoned Manhattan street vendor, had a bad feeling on the evening of May 1 when he noticed a driverless Nissan Pathfinder idling at a busy bus stop in front of the Times Square Marriott Marquis hotel. Jackson left his handbag stand on 45th and Broadway to see if what walked like a duck and quacked like a duck was really a duck. It was.
BU’s Celebration of Black Alumni held in October.
Dee Scott-Huggins (SON’74) becomes a board member of the United Nations Association of New York (UNA-NY). UNA-NY helped to celebrate Black History Month by screening Selma to Soweta, a film that depicts the critical period in which America’s involvement helped bring an end to South African apartheid, at the UNA-NY ongoing film-talk series.
Judy A. Smith (COM ’80), an American author, television producer and crisis manager known as the founder, president and CEO of the crisis management firm, Smith & Company becomes the inspiration for the hit ABC television series “Scandal”.
Young Alumni of Color Reunion hosted in April. Leadership committee included Farrah Belizaire (SAR ’11), Tamika Jeune (SAR ’12), Lauren Allen (CAS ’12), Ahmed Ahmed (CAS ’10), Dionte Henderson (ENG ’09), Adrian Hoquee (SAR ’07), R. Joshua Reynolds (CFA ’11), Kimberly Morton (CAS ’11), Jessica Thomas (COM ’11), and Jonathan Priester (COM ’10).
Cornell William Brooks (STH’87) is named President and CEO of the NAACP. His appointment was announced in May, and he was introduced to members at the national convention in Las Vegas in July. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Brooks, 53, of Annandale, New Jersey, will be the organization’s 18th national president.
Actress Uzoamaka Nwanneka “Uzo” Aduba wins Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in “Orange is the New Black”at the 66th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2014.
Sons of Serendip, a musical quartet featuring BU alums, are finalists on America’s Got Talent. Comprising lead vocalist Micah Christian (STH’13), harpist Mason Morton (CFA’12), cellist and vocalist Kendall Ramseur (CFA’12), and pianist and guitarist Cordaro Rodriguez (LAW’12), the group met at BU and continues to record albums and celebrate their ties to our University.
Joel Christian Gill (CFA’04) publishes his graphic anthology Strange Fruit. Gill uses comics to tell the stories of African Americans whose contributions and sufferings occupy fringes in the country’s historical memory.
Sybil Haydel Morial (SED’52,’55) publishes Witness to Change: From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment. A retired educator and longtime community and civil rights activist, Morial put pen to paper during her eight years of post-Katrina exile living with her daughter in Baton Rouge.