How the team used a variety of data sources about African American students at the University of Michigan in an iterative and highly collaborative research project.
Because the University has not historically recorded students’ race, the team has had to triangulate a variety of data sources, actively uncovering and creating essential data along the way.
Initially, the team relied on existing research that focused on Black medical students, Black lawyers, and Black athletes. The team also reviewed hundreds of photographs and yearbooks for any potential photos of African Americans.
Bentley team members took the names of possible African American students they discovered back to the Library’s collection of alumni records to help confirm racial identities. The students’ files often gave further biographical details, painting a more complete portrait of their lives and experiences.
The team also consulted census data as well as periodicals and newspapers including The Michigan Daily, the Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress, early volumes of Who’s Who of the Colored Race, and The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. They also searched genealogy sites such as ancestry.com.
Housing data, which showed patterns of segregation and marginalization, yielded more names and stories, and was the basis of the project visualizations.
For more on the resources used in the project, see below.
Bentley Archival Collections
The Bentley Historical Library holds a number of collections containing information on African American students. Sources include surveys filled out by former students, fraternity and sorority records, alumni files, oral histories, administrative files, and scrapbooks.
The scrapbook kept by Sophia Holley Ellis (B.A. 1949, M.S. 1950, M.A. 1964) of her time as an undergraduate at U-M. The volume includes photographs of students and events on campus, notes describing events in Ellis’s personal life, correspondence and other items related to Ellis’s academic career, announcements and programs of plays and performances, and other campus events, student publications, greeting cards, and ephemera.
The response form from Emily Harper Williams to the 1924 survey sent out by the University of Michigan Alumnae Council to all women who had attended the University at that point. In the survey, Williams recounts her experience as the only Black woman in the class of 1896 and gives information about her life after graduating.
Records of the Epsilon Chapter of the historically Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, with the bulk of the collection from 1978-1996. The collection includes history, administrative records, topical files, and photographs largely relating to activities of African American students at the University of Michigan.
An alphabetically arranged collection of files kept by the Alumni Office about students who attended the University of Michigan and were deceased as of 1965, including graduates, non-graduates, some honorary degree recipients, faculty, and officers. Files contain biographical information such as alumni catalog questionnaires, registration forms, news articles, and some correspondence and photographs.
Fully digitized records of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and its predecessor, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, containing material related to campus, regional, and national organizations devoted to political and civil rights causes from the 1960s to the 1990s. The collection includes print documents, photographs, and audio-visual material that document racial harassment incidents, political protests, scholarly conferences and symposia, MLK Day celebrations and Black student life on the U-M campus as well as material about the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-apartheid and divestment movements of the 1980s.
Digitized audio recordings of oral history interviews of Black male University of Michigan Athletes conducted by athletics historian John Behee between 1968 and 1974. Behee interviewed past and recent athletes including William DeHart Hubbard (’22), Willis Ward (’35), and Godfrey Murray (’72). Questions cover their athletic careers, experiences as a Black student on campus and in Ann Arbor, and later lives.
Records related to the Opportunity Award Scholarship program established in the 1960s, as well as the census of Black students conducted by Leonard Sain in 1963. Records include correspondence and lists of students related to those programs.
Other Archival Collections
Several collections outside of the University of Michigan contain information on U-M African American students.
The papers of Dewey Roscoe Jones, Sr., editor of the Chicago Defender, advisor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Assistant Director of Hull House. He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan in 1922. Series 1 of his papers contains materials related to his time as a student at the University of Michigan including a scrapbook, correspondence, and items related to the Monon Club, later Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Chicago Public Library.
The papers of W.E.B. DuBois, co-founder of the NAACP and editor of the Crisis, fully digitized online though the University of Massachusetts. Includes correspondence with the University of Michigan related to the annual education issue of the Crisis listing Black college graduates. Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
The Papers of Oakley C. Johnson, the faculty advisor for the Negro-Caucasain Club, the first inter-racial organization on campus founded in 1925 to encourage friendships between races. Materials include photocopies of correspondence relating to the establishment of the Club in 1926 and Johnson’s correspondence with surviving members in the mid-1960’s. University of Michigan Library Special Collections Research Center, Joseph A. Labadie Collection
Earlier works on African Americans at the University of Michigan include a study on Black athletes, Black Medical School graduates, and Black lawyers. These are good starting points for research.
Published accounts of the experiences of Black male athletes at the University of Michigan from the early twentieth century to the 1970s, based on oral histories conducted by the author. Available online through Hathitrust.
A history of Black participation in the legal profession in the State of Michigan, written by Professor Edward C. Little John of Wayne State University Law School. Published by the Wolverine Bar Association, the Michigan organization for Black lawyers. Includes information about Black graduates of the University of Michigan Law School.
Biographies and photographs of Black graduates of the University of Michigan Medical School, written, edited, and published by Georgia A. Lewis Johnson, graduate of the class of 1955.
A history of student activism for racial equity at the University of Michigan and the administrative response to those protests, based on records held at the Bentley Historical Library. Johnson explains the University’s steps towards affirmative action and an analyzes its failure to achieve the demanded results.
An overview of the social and economic situation for Black citizens of Detroit in the 19th century, looking at how class, housing, work, and politics in the city changed through the decades, and how these structures and institutions contributed to and impacted opportunities for the Black community.
Autobiographies and Biographies
We are actively looking for African American alumni autobiographies or biographies. Additions are appreciated. Examples include:
The autobiography of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, history professor, Assistant Attorney General, and civil rights activist Roger Wilkins, who received his B.A. in 1953 and his J.D. in 1956 from the University of Michigan. As a student at Michigan, Wilkins was a leader in the student chapter of the NAACP, the national organization led by his uncle, Roy Wilkins, as well as a member of the senior honor society Michigamua.
A biography of Moses Fleetwood Walker, a member of the 1882 University of Michigan baseball team and one of the first Black players on a major league baseball team when he was signed by the Toledo Blue Stockings, part of the Northwestern League, in 1883.
An autobiography of educator Gwendolyn C. Baker, a professor in the University of Michigan School of Education who received her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from U-M. She taught in Ann Arbor public schools before coming to U-M, and also directed Affirmative Action programs in addition to teaching courses on multicultural education. Her autobiography touches on her experiences advocating for multicultural education.
A number of reference sources are useful for identifying African American students who attended UM. These include various directories and "who’s who" volumes.
Biographical directory of accomplished Black Americans in the style of the Marquis Publishing “Who’s Who” series, including academic degrees and professional information about those chosen for the publication. The Bentley has two volumes, 1978-1979 and 1980-1981, with several other volumes in Hathitrust.
An early biographical dictionary with illustrations of notable Americans of African descent. An incomplete set of volumes in Hathitrust from between 1927 and 1950.
Prepared for the Natonal Half Century Anniversary of Negro Freedom and Lincoln Jubilee, held in Chicago, 1915.
A directory of African Americans who have attained doctorate degrees, edited by Henry Washington Green, director of the School of Education at West Virginia State Teacher’s College.
A special edition biographical dictionary, published to mark 50 years since emancipation. In addition to biographical information, this volume includes statistical and contextual information about Black society in America at the time.
The yearbook of the University of Michigan since 1897, with photos of seniors, athletics and student organizations. Available in full online via Hathitrust.
A directory of University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students enrolled for the fall and winter semesters, including (for most) their local Ann Arbor address and phone number, as well as their hometown address. Searching for known house addresses where Black students lived, such as boarding houses and fraternity houses, returned many possible names. Many volumes available in full online via Hathitrust.
University of Michigan Summer Student Directory
A directory of University of Michigan students enrolled in summer programs. Many students, especially those pursuing graduate programs, would enroll in summer courses, often over many years, and return to their regular jobs for the academic year. This was frequently true of Black students in the Jim Crow south who did not have access to programs at segregated universities in their home states. Summer program students are less documented in other sources, so the directory is often one of the few places thier names can be found, especially for non-graduates.
A full text searchable database of the University of Michigan student newspaper, from when it began in 1890 to 2014.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan
A full text searchable database of the meeting minutes of the University of Michigan Board of Regents. Of particular use are the lists of degree recipients that are approved by the board each semester, which often also provide a graduate’s hometown or previous institution attended.
Biographical encyclopedia with profiles of notable Black Americans from throughout the country’s history.
Newspapers like the Michigan Daily offer context and information on the campus climate. African American newspapers like the Baltimore Afro-American and the Chicago Defender often contained dispatches from the University of Michigan. Some of these papers have been digitized.
Full text searchable database of the Baltimore African American newspaper from 1893-1988.
(required database access)
Full text searchable database of the Chicago African American newspaper from 1909-1985.
Bibliography of Articles
The published thesis of WIlliam H. Boone, a master’s degree recipient in the University of Michigan Department of Sociology in 1940, analyzing in part his own experience and those of his peers at the University of Michigan. Published in the Journal of Negro Education: Vol. 11: Issue 4, 1942.
An investigation of the circumstances experienced by the first Black students to openly enroll at the University of Michigan in 1868, John Summerfield Davidson and Gabriel Franklin Hargo. Published in the Michigan Quarterly Review: Vol. 2: Issue 4, 1963.
An article by Professor Henry Vance Davis, looking at the progress towards racial equity at the University of Michigan since his time as Chairperson of the Black Action Movement Planning Committee in 1970. Published as part of the conference proceedings for “Sankofa: The University since BAM: Twenty Years of Progress?” (University of Michigan Office of Minority Affairs, 1991.)
Historical article on the life of Detroit socialite Elsie Roxborough, including her experience at the University of Michigan in the 1930s, and her troubles later in life. Published in the Michigan Quarterly Review: Vol. 23: Issue 2, 1984.
A history of the Negro-Caucasian Club, the first student organization at the University of Michigan founded in 1925 to promote inter-racial understanding. Michigan Quarterly Review: Vol VIII: Issue 2.
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