Posted June 2022

Also known as Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, and Black Independence Day, Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday. The celebration marks the moment when federal troops arrived in Texas to ensure that all enslaved people be freed after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation over two years prior. Now a federal holiday, Juneteenth not only commemorates the effective end of slavery in the US, but also uplifts the Black community as we celebrate their joys and listen to their voices.

In honor of Juneteenth, take a look at some of these incredible milestones from BU’s Black community.


First Black woman to graduate from a US medical school

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (MED’1864) becomes the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the US after graduating from the historic New England Female Medical College (which later merged with Boston University). With donations across the country, this trailblazer in medicine was recently honored with a new headstone and gravesite.


First Black LAW graduate

Emanuel Hewlett becomes the first black Boston University School of Law graduate and one of the first black degree recipients of a major US law school. Upon his death in 1929, the Supreme Court adjourned for the day, an honor reserved for the most respected members of the bar.


BU alumni co-founds the NAACP Boston Chapter

Butler Roland Wilson (Class of 1884) is one of three black men inadvertently admitted to the American Bar Association. The organization then requires applicants to make known their race on applications, and does not integrate until 1943. In 1912, Wilson co-founds the Boston chapter of the NAACP.


First Black woman elected editor-in-chief of law review journal

Clara Burrill Bruce (Class of 1926) is elected editor-in-chief of the Boston University Law Review. She is the first black woman in the US to hold the top position in a law review journal.


First Black dean named

An author, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman is named Dean of Marsh Chapel, becoming the first black dean in a predominantly white University. Thurman’s theology of radical nonviolence is credited with shaping a generation of civil rights activists.

African Studies Center founded

The African Studies Center, a program making major contributions to our national capacity to acquire and disseminate knowledge about Africa and its affairs, opens at Boston University.


MLK Jr Receives PhD

Martin Luther King, Jr., receives his PhD from Boston University in 1955. A champion of the Civil Rights Movement with many historical honors, King also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and afterwards presents his papers to the Special Collections (now the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center)


BU alumni becomes first Black US diplomat

Clifton R. Wharton, Sr. (Class of 1920) becomes the first black diplomat to head a US delegation to a European country with his appointment as US minister to Romania by President Eisenhower. He is also the first black Foreign Service Officer in the US State Department.


BU student sets world record with seven-foot high-jump

In 1959, Boston University’s John Curtis Thomas becomes the first person to clear a high jump of seven feet indoors, later beating his own world record and breaking the outdoor high jump record three times. Thomas later went on to compete at the Olympics twice, earning a bronze medal in the 1960 games.


BU alumni becomes first Black senator elected by popular vote

The Honorable Edward Brooke (Class of 1948) is elected to the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, becoming the nation’s first black individual to hold this vote and to be elected to the US Senate by popular vote.


Boston University launches African American Studies Program

Boston University established the first graduate African American Studies Program in the country. This initiative resulted from conversations between Dr. Cromwell and Deans William J. Newman and Calvin B.T. Lee. Community engagement was particularly important to Dr. Cromwell, who stated, “you want the community to care, to feel that they have the right to tell you if something is wrong.” In 1976 the program expanded to offer a joint MA degree with Journalism under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


First Rhodes Scholar from Boston University

Richard Taylor (COM’73) becomes Boston University’s first Rhodes Scholar. After receiving his B.A. degree in journalism and public communications in 1971, he earned his second B.A. degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University in 1973.


First Black Congresswoman to represent Southern state

Barbara Jordan (Class of 1959) is elected to represent Texas in the US House of Representatives, becoming the first black Congresswoman to represent a state in the Deep South. She delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1976 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.


Howard Thurman Center opened

Boston University’s cultural center, The Howard Thurman Center, opens its doors based on the “common ground” philosophy of Dr. Howard Thurman. The center continues to host cultural programs, activities, and services designed to build community through self-exploration and shared experiences.


Louis W. Sullivan gives keynote address

The Honorable Louis W. Sullivan, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, BU School of Medicine alumnus, founder of the Boston University Hematology Service at Boston City Hospital, and founding dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, addresses the graduates at Commencement.


BU alumni wins Nobel Prize for Literature

BU professor of English, Derek Walcott, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature after publishing the epic poem Omeros. He was known for writing about the harsh legacy of colonialism.


Reverend Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood gives keynote address

The Reverend Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, a senior pastor at St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, delivers the main Commencement address to more than 15,000 guests.


SED names new dean

Hardin L. K. Coleman, a leading University of Wisconsin–Madison educator and psychologist who specializes in preparing schools counselor for culturally diverse settings, is named dean of the School of Education. Upon his appointment, Coleman is described as an outstanding educator and professional whose experience, scholarship, and training epitomize Boston University’s long history of engagement with the community.


Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. gives keynote address

Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States, delivers the University’s 137th Commencement address. The nation’s top cop saluted the progress the country has made in areas such as race relations as he received an honorary Doctor of Laws, invoking both his status as the nation’s first African American attorney general and the fact that the country and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have black chief executives.


Mass. Governor Deval Patrick gives keynote address

At the University’s 141st Commencement at Nickerson Field, Deval Patrick advises graduates that life’s journey is often more important than getting the answers and that real human connection requires intimacy. “Sometimes, the open-ended question is not about getting to the answer, but rather about the journey, and Google has little to do with that,” the governor said. “Sometime today, put your tablet or smartphone aside, look your Mom and Dad in the eye, and tell them that you love them. Hold your roommate’s hand and tell them you appreciate them for helping get you through to today… Thank one of your teachers in person. Be present—and see what a difference it makes in your lives and the world.” His remarks earned a standing ovation from the graduates and guests.


Former US health official to lead Health Innovation Institute

Jonathan Woodson, a vascular surgeon and former Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs for the US Department of Defense, is tapped to lead the University’s new Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy, based in the Questrom School of Business. Woodson, who served with the DOD from 2010 to 2016, assumes the Larz Anderson Professorship in Management and Professor of the Practice. A collaborative endeavor, the new institute will focus on expanding health system research initiatives, deepening connections between scholars, policymakers, and corporations, and advancing curricular initiatives across the University.


BU announces first Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion

BU names award-winning poet Crystal Ann Williams to the newly created position of associate provost for diversity & inclusion. Charged with promoting diversity among the University’s ranks, Williams’ goals include helping Provost Jean Morrison develop practices and programs to further diversify BU’s faculty.


CFA names new dean

BU names Harvey Young as the new dean of the College of Fine Arts. Young, a prominent theater historian and arts advocate and author of the award-winning book Embodying Black Experience, champions transformative experiences of the arts and plans to promote and expand BU’s reputation in the arts.

New BU LA programs head

Charisse McGhee-Lazarou, former vice president of NBC’s primetime programs, becomes head of BU’s Los Angeles Programs, which provide internship-based experiences in the entertainment industry for BU students. She plans to create an innovative, modern program that prepares students for and helps them navigate an ever-changing and challenging field.

MLK, 50 years later

The BU community reflects on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) 50 years after his death. Through a series of videos and essays compiled by BU Today, BU faculty, students, staff, and alumni discuss what Dr. King means to them.

US Rep. John Lewis delivers keynote address

Congressman John Lewis (Hon.’18) (D.-Ga.), BU’s 2018 Commencement speaker, urges BU graduates to “get out there and vote like you’ve never voted before.” Lewis, a legendary civil rights leader and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, draws a standing ovation, saying “Be optimistic, don’t get lost in a sea of despair, but be bold, be courageous, and all will work out.”

Noted scholar of inequality to lead School of Law

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, renowned legal scholar and expert in racial and gender inequality as well as civil rights law, is named LAW dean. Drawn by BU’s history of access and diversity, Dean Onwuachi-Willig works to increase the school’s current focus on interdisciplinary scholarship, social justice, and public service.

K. Matthew Dames appointed new University Librarian

A nationally recognized scholar in copyright law and innovator in library sciences, new University Librarian K. Matthew Dames’ priorities include increasing access to scholarship and strengthening ties to Boston. He says the University’s desire to be a cultural institution at the center of Boston was one of the things that most attracted him to the job.


Kenneth Elmore named a pillar of higher education

Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87) is among 17 professors and administrators nationwide who have been named Pillars of the Profession by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, a Washington, D.C., student affairs organization. The award honors educators of “sustained professional distinction” and “significant lifetime contributions,” as recognized by colleagues, students, or friends.


Ibram X. Kendi to join BU and launch BU Antiracism Center

One of the nation’s leading scholars and historians of racism will join Boston University’s faculty on July 1 and launch the BU Center for Antiracist Research. Kendi, 37, is the author of the 2019 best-selling book How To Be an Antiracist. The new center is developed to foster collaborations across the University, build multidisciplinary problem-centered research teams, and collect, organize, and utilize data on racial inequity.

BU creates senior diversity post, taps longtime trustee

President Robert A. Brown announced that Andrea Taylor will relinquish her seat on the Board of Trustees and start her new position as BU’s first senior diversity officer on August 17. Her new post is a leadership position, reporting directly to the president, who, in collaboration with other University leaders, will advance an agenda of diversity, equity, and inclusion.


BU Declares Juneteenth an official university holiday

BU’s decision to add Juneteenth as an official holiday is part of an ongoing effort to make BU “the diverse, equitable, and inclusive community that best embodies our values,” President Robert A. Brown announced in a letter to the University.

Antiracism Center director wins MacArthur “Genius” Grant

The National Book Award–winning historian and scholar, whose research and gift for communicating ideas with policymakers and everyday people alike have made him a leader of a national movement around antiracism, has been selected as a 2021 MacArthur fellow. Kendi joined BU in 2020 and is a College of Arts & Sciences professor of history and the University’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities. He, along with the other 24 fellows, receives a no-strings-attached $625,000 award spread over five years, in recognition of their exceptional creativity, achievements, and promise for future contributions.