Black History Month

02-06-2005

I’ve been talking a lot about the land-grant philosophy and connecting its relevancy in the 21st century. Key to our land-grant legacy is that we remain an inclusive university that embraces the global diversity of our society.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we will remember the many essential things society uses today that were created by African Americans.

We have traffic lights, national blood donor banks, clocks and watches, clothes driers, heating furnaces and air conditioning—all invented by African Americans.

While we begin to celebrate this month nationally, it’s important that we share some of the historic firsts of African Americans at Michigan Agricultural College (MAC), later named MSU.

In 1899, MAC admitted its first African American student, Mr. William O. Thompson. After graduation in 1904, he taught for a while at what is now called Tuskegee University and later returned to the Lansing area and served the congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church until his death in 1923. In 1902, Ms. Myrtle Craig, became the first African American woman to enter MAC. She graduated and taught African American youths in Kansas and Missouri and later at Lincoln Institute, currently Lincoln University in Kansas, a historical black college founded under the second Morrill Act, the land-grant philosophy of 1890.

Another first happened when on June 15, 1900, Booker T. Washington spoke at the MAC commencement ceremony. He was the first African American to ever speak at the MAC commencement. He regularly wrote MAC President Snyder and asked him about the training of black men at the college. Mr. Washington accepted MSU’s alumnus William Thompson to teach at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama after graduation. During his address, Mr. Washington said “Our knowledge must be harnessed to the things of real life”.

Justin Morrill’s land-grant act of 1862 was the catalyst to eventually provide access to public higher education to people from all backgrounds. The second Morrill Act of 1890 that established black land-grant colleges further opened that access.

In the late 1800s, MAC sent professors to Tuskegee and to North Carolina to teach at the A&M, or Agricultural and Manufacturing schools, created for black students. The shared knowledge and collaboration between white northern schools and black southern ones was evident then. The broader goal was shared by all to improve the lives of everyone in a burgeoning economy—regardless of race.

Real life is of lesser value if we don’t recognize the contributions and self-less giving by other human beings. Margaret Mead, an anthropologist, said, “…we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities…one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

I am glad those first gifts by William Thompson and Myrtle Craig resonate on this campus. We have come a long way, and yet are continuously creating more space for other such gifts.

Take a moment as you reflect and celebrate this month and visit the MSU Web site that acknowledges the legacy of African Americans at the university.

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