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Every Name Has A Story

We invite you to read stories spotlighting the exceptional men and women whose legacies and accomplishments at U-M have been too long in the shadows.

Black Action Movement demonstration in front of Hill Auditorium, 1970.
Mackinac Bridge construction, circa 1954.

Strong as Steel

In 1911, Cornelius L. Henderson became the second African American to earn an engineering degree from U-M. He was a pioneering steel engineer and architect who helped construct two of the major Great Lakes crossings between the United States and Canada.

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  • June 22, 2022

    African American Student Housing in Ann Arbor

    The histories of homes connected to the University of Michigan’s African American community.

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  • Paul Cornely black and white portrait

    April 7, 2022

    The Dignity of Man

    Paul Cornely, the first African American man to receive a Ph.D. in public health, was a fierce champion of equal health care for all, leading to the desegregation of America’s hospitals.

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  • Medical college register from 1863 with hand-written names

    March 9, 2022

    Col[ore]d Men Are Not Admitted Here

    The University of Michigan’s first medical students rose to achievement in spite of prejudice and obstacles.

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  • Orval Johnson wearing a track uniform in the team photo

    February 22, 2022

    First in Class

    In 1948, Orval Johnson ran against the most popular and decorated football player for class president. On paper, he didn’t stand a chance. But things weren’t that black and white.

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  • George Jewett holding football circa 1890

    October 28, 2021

    Renaissance Man

    George Jewett was the first African American football player at U-M. He was also accomplished off the field, studying medicine and opening a business in Ann Arbor.

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  • Lyman T. Johnson portrait

    October 28, 2021

    An Integrated Life

    Lyman T. Johnson was the grandson of four former slaves. He integrated the University of Kentucky in 1949—five years before Brown v. Board of Education.

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  • Clarence Norris undated portrait

    June 28, 2021

    Working His Way Through

    “Working my way through the University of Michigan, one of the great institutions of higher learning in the world, really did prove to be a challenge and blessing of my entire life.” – Clarence Norris

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  • Negro-Caucasian Club, 1926-1927

    Members of the Negro-Caucasian Club, 1926-27

    June 28, 2021

    The Negro-Caucasian Club

    The Negro-Caucasian Club’s aim was “to work for a better understanding between the races and for the abolition of discrimination against Negroes.”

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  • Mosher Jordan dormitory

    Sample Caption

    January 28, 2021

    An Unwritten Law

    In 1930, as the University of Michigan was preparing to unveil its new dormitory for women, Mosher-Jordan, an ugly fact emerged: Every one of the 450 women who would be housed there would be white. African American students, parents, and alumni carried out a long battle to integrate the dorms, engaging in years of activism.

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  • Mary Henrietta Graham

    Mary Henrietta Graham was likely the first female Black student at U-M.

    January 10, 2021

    Of Splendid Ability

    Mary Henrietta Graham’s accomplishments went far beyond being the first Black woman to enroll at Michigan.

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  • Michigan track team in 1925

    DeHart Hubbard (23 in the photo) with his teammates on the Michigan track squad, 1925.

    January 5, 2021

    Lonely as Hell

    In a forgotten series of interviews, Black Michigan athletes of the past recalled times when racial lines in sports were firm — then faded.

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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Autobiographies and Biographies

Several African American alumni have published books about their personal stories, both at U-M and beyond.

  • cover of No Equal Justice book
    cover of No Equal Justice book
    Wayne State University Press, 2022 Edward Littlejohn and Peter J. Hammer

    George W. Crockett Jr. was a distinguished attorney, accomplished jurist, and Congressman who dedicated his life to the struggle for civil rights for African Americans and for all those unjustly targeted by the law.

  • Cover for Fleet Walker's Divided Heart
    Cover for Fleet Walker's Divided Heart
    University of Nebraska Press, 1995 David W. Zang

    Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer

    Long before Jackie Robinson, Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first African American to play professional baseball in the major leagues, playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the 1880s.

  • Line drawing portrait of William Henry Fitzbutler
    Line drawing portrait of William Henry Fitzbutler
    Wayne State University Press for the Detroit Historical Society, 1973 L.L. Hanawalt

    Henry Fitzbutler: Detroit’s First Black Medical Student

    William Henry Fitzbutler was Michigan’s first Black medical graduate and had a long and distinguished career as a physician and educator in Kentucky.

  • Cover for Open Secrets by Betty Brown Chappell
    Cover for Open Secrets by Betty Brown Chappell
    JAMBE Group, 2013 Betty Brown Chappell:

    Open Secrets: A Poor Person’s Life in Higher Education

    Betty Brown Chappel challenged and overcame the “open secrets” of discrimination to carve a place as a social worker and educator at Eastern Michigan University.

  • Cover of News Lady by Carole Simpson
    Cover of News Lady by Carole Simpson
    Author House, 2010 Carole Simpson:

    News Lady

    Carole Simpson is a familiar face to millions of Americans. A career reporter, she was the “news lady” who anchored ABC’s weekend news for more than 15 years.

  • Cazzie Russell dunking a basketball in 1964
    Cazzie Russell dunking a basketball in 1964
    Revell Co., 1967 Cazzie Russell:

    Me, Cazzie Russell

    Cazzie Lee Russell was an incredible basketball talent who led Michigan to three Big Ten titles and whose exploits gave Crisler Arena the nickname “the house Cazzie built.”

  • Portrait of Clarence W. Norris
    Portrait of Clarence W. Norris
    San Antonio, Texas: 1987 Clarence Windzell Norris, Sr.:

    Up From Poverty

    Clarence Norris was a proud University of Michigan alumnus who dedicated his life to teaching and to administering historically Black community colleges in Texas.

  • Cover for From a Small Town to the World by David L. Stratmon, Sr.
    Cover for From a Small Town to the World by David L. Stratmon, Sr.
    Xlibris Corp., 2008 David L. Stratmon, Sr.:

    From a Small Town to the World: My Story

    David L. Stratmon dedicated his life to America’s foreign service, serving as a diplomat and cultural affairs officer throughout Africa and the Middle East.

  • Cover for Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup by Gwendolyn Baker
    Cover for Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup by Gwendolyn Baker
    University of Michigan Press, 2014 Gwendolyn Calvert Baker:

    Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup: A Spirited Black Woman in a White World

    Born in de facto segregated Ann Arbor, Gwendolyn Calvert Baker rose from elementary school teacher to head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

  • Cover for Every Man Should Try by Hubert Eaton
    Cover for Every Man Should Try by Hubert Eaton
    Bonaparte Press, 1984 Hubert Eaton:

    Every Man Should Try

    Hubert A. Eaton was an extremely skilled tennis player, but more than that he was an accomplished physician and leader in the struggle for civil rights in North Carolina.

  • Cover for Voices and Silences, the memoir of James Earl Jones
    Cover for Voices and Silences, the memoir of James Earl Jones
    Scribner, 1993 James Earl Jones and Penelope Niven:

    Voices and Silences

    James Earl Jones is one of America’s most distinguished and versatile actors with a career in film and theater stretching over more than six decades.

  • Cover for the book Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist
    Cover for the book Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist
    Michigan Publishing, 2017 James L. Curtis:

    Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist: A Life of Advocacy for Social Change

    James L. Curtis is an accomplished psychiatrist and was a leading figure in the struggle to end racism and segregation in medicine and particularly medical schools.