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Uncovering Untold History

This years-long project utilizes archival materials and other data for an in-depth look at African American experiences at U-M from 1817-1970, going beyond “pioneers” or “firsts” to document enrollment numbers, housing and student experiences, achievements, and much more.

Members of Lester House, the first interracial house for women on campus, circa 1940.

Project Origins and Collaborations

The African American Student Project was officially launched in 2016 in anticipation of the University of Michigan’s bicentennial. For more on the project’s research methodologies, please see Resources and Research.

Bentley Director Terry McDonald authorized this project in order to provide more context and data about African Americans at U-M from 1817-1970, disclosing a full range of experiences including both achievements and struggle.

Bentley Assistant Director and Archivist for University History Brian Williams spearheaded the project, working with a team of researchers, volunteers, and collaborators in a fact- and story-finding effort that remains highly collaborative. The team has consulted and collaborated with the University of Wisconsin, which undertook a similar project. The team also consulted with U-M alumni, members of African American fraternities and sororities, U-M faculty, MLibrary, and community members.

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Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in the Mosher-Jordan dormitory.

More To Be Done

Now that our initial findings are public in the form of a searchable database, we will seek additions and corrections as we continue to add to the story.

Moving forward, our goal is to continue to add to the database as more information becomes available. We look forward to strengthening existing collaborations and developing new ones with researchers, faculty, librarians, and others as that project progresses. Our hope is that our project and experiences may be relevant to others taking on a similar project on a large or small scale.

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Black Action Movement (BAM) Strike, 1970

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George Jewett, 1892

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Women of the Class of 1887

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"Den of the Mellow Men" 1971

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Mosher Jordan dormitory, 1930

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Cornelius Henderson, 1911

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Students in Class

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Vivian Deborah Wilson Student Card

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W. E.B. DuBois "Crisis" letter

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University of Michigan Baseball Team, 1883

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Katherine Louise Crawford

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Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in the Mosher-Jordan dormitory.

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(Top to bottom) Professor Angela Dillard among archival materials at the Bentley Historical Library; student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone.

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Negro-Caucasian Club

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Group on Steps of Alpha Phi Alpha House

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Black Action Movement (BAM) Strike, 1970

Black Action Movement protesters march with signs in front of Hill Auditorium on March 20, 1970. The image is from a series of surveillance photographs taken by the University of Michigan Safety Department during the BAM strike. Source: Safety Dept. (University of Michigan) photograph collection, Box 1, BAM, March 1970

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George Jewett, 1892

George Jewett was from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan Medical School between 1890 and 1893. In 1890, Jewett became the first African American to play on the varsity football team. He completed his medical studies at Northwestern in 1895. This may be a wedding portrait taken later in his life. Source: Scan from copy print loaned by Coleman Jewett

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Women of the Class of 1887

Group photograph of the senior women of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts class of 1887. Frederica Florence Jones is pictured in the top right, the lone African American woman in her class. Her sister, Sophia Bethena Jones, earned an M.D. in 1885, and was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Michigan Medical School. Source: University of Michigan Photographs Vertical File, Class of 1887, F99-504 (Medium)

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"Den of the Mellow Men" 1971

Michigan football players pose in front of their off-campus house at 1345 Geddes Road called “The Den of the Mellow Men.” Players pictured are Billy Taylor, Glen Doughty, Thom Darden, Alden “Butch” Carpenter, Michael Oldham, and Michael Taylor. Fellow football player Reggie McKenzie also lived at the house. They were part of the largest group of Black athletes on athletic scholarship at that time. Source: Athletic Department (University of Michigan) records, Box 11, Folder: 1971, Mellow Men

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Mosher Jordan dormitory, 1930

This Mosher Jordan dormitory opened in 1930 with space for more than 400 women students. African American women were initially excluded from living in the new dormitory and were instead encouraged to live in a segregated house for “colored women.” In 1932, E’Dora Morton became the first African American woman to live in Mosher Jordan. Image taken by A.F. Crooks. Source: Alumni Association (University of Michigan) records, Box 135, Mosher-Jordan Hall: Exteriors

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Cornelius Henderson, 1911

Senior photograph of Cornelius Langston Henderson from the 1911 University of Michigan Michiganensian yearbook. Henderson earned a degree from the College of Engineering in 1911. He worked with the Canadian Bridge Company and helped design the Ambassador Bridge between the United States and Canada. Source: 1911 Michiganensian yearbook

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Students in Class

Students in a University of Michigan Law School class around the late 1960s. Source: University of Michigan News and Information Services Photographs, Box E-16, Student Activities

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Vivian Deborah Wilson Student Card

Student information card for Vivian D. Wilson containing local addresses, home address, occupation of parents, and other data maintained about student life by the Dean of Women at the University of Michigan. It also includes a photograph taken at the time of enrollment. Source: University of Michigan Alumni Files, 1845-1978, Wilson, Vivian Deborah

W. E.B. DuBois "Crisis" letter

Letter from W.E.B. DuBois to the University of Michigan requesting information on graduating African American students for publication in the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis. The annual education issue featured names, stories, and statistics on African American college graduates. Source: Harry Burns Hutchins paers, Box 13, Correspondence, May 1-7, 1917

University of Michigan Baseball Team, 1883

Team photos of the 1883 University of Michigan baseball team featuring Weldy Wilberforce Walker, the second African American to play baseball at Michigan. His brother, Moses Fleetwood Walker, was on the 1882 team. Source: University of Michigan Athletic Department records, Box 25, Team Photos, 1882-1900

Katherine Louise Crawford

Katherine Louise Crawford graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1898 and opened a medical practice in Ann Arbor. Source: University of Michigan BMC Media Services records, Box 6, Class photos - Graduation, 1890-1899

Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in the Mosher-Jordan dormitory.

Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in Mosher-Jordan dormitory. Source: University of Michigan Alumni Files, 1845-1978, Morton, E'Dora Susie

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(Top to bottom) Professor Angela Dillard among archival materials at the Bentley Historical Library; student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone.

Student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone containing local addresses, home address, occupation of parents, and other data maintained by the Dean of Women at the University of Michigan. It also includes a photograph taken at the time of enrollment. Source: University of Michigan Alumni Files, 1845-1978, Blackistone, Marjorie Adelle

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Negro-Caucasian Club

Members of the Negro-Caucasian Club, a campus group established in 1926 to study and discuss problems in relations between races. The club brought several prominent speakers to campus, including Alain LeRoy Locke, and W.E.B. DuBois, before it disbanded in 1930. Source: 1927 Michiganenisan yearbook, page 323

Group on Steps of Alpha Phi Alpha House

This group photo was taken around 1912 on the front steps of 1017 Catherine Avenue in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the location of the Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Alpha Phi Alpha is the oldest African American fraternity. The Epsilon chapter was established at Michigan in 1909. The photo is by Ann Arbor-based Lyndon Photo Studio. Source: Alpha Phi Alpha, Epsilon Chapter (University of Michigan) photograph collection

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Team Members

Current Team Members

  • Brian Williams

    Project Lead

  • Matt Adair

    Lead Archivist for Digitization

  • Caitlin Moriarty

    Project Archivist

  • Greg Kinney

    Archivist

  • Andrew Rutledge

    Research Associate

  • Margaret Leary

    Volunteer Researcher

  • Justin Joque

    Visualization Librarian

  • Tulani Pryor

    Research Assistant

Past Team Members and Acknowledgments

  • Josiah DeSmyther

    Student Research Assistant

  • Brandon Jackson

    Research Assistant

  • Chiara Kalogjera-Sackellares

    Student Research Assistant

  • Clint Robert

    Student Research Assistant

  • Emily Swenson

    Project Archivist

  • Asia Van Horn-Lee

    Intern

  • Kyle Whitaker

    Researcher

The African American Student Project

In The News

Mary Henrietta Graham

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

Let Every Story Be Told

Until recently, the history of thousands of African American students at U-M had been lost in time. Bentley Director Terry McDonald talks about a project to change that.

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Negro-Caucasian Club, 1926-1927

Members of the Negro-Caucasian Club, 1926-27

Negro-Caucasian Club At University of Michigan Helped Pave The Way For Others

An early 20th century interracial club was formed at the University of Michigan to fight issues of segregation and racial inequality. Its tenure was short, but its legacy endures.

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Vivian Deborah Wilson was admitted to U-M in 1927.

Bentley Project Uncovers Untold History of African-Americans at U-M

The Bentley Historical Library is working to uncover the untold history of African Americans at the University of Michigan.

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