Black History Month comes to a close


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A picture of Lulu Johnson — the first woman to get a Ph.D. in Iowa — sporting knickers and knee-high socks was among one of several photos displayed throughout an array of dusty yearbooks, scrapbooks, newspapers, and records.

On Tuesday, Karen Mason, the curator for Iowa Women’s Archives at the Main Library, helped the UI Society of Black Graduate and Professional Students wrap up Black History Month by depicting many of the struggles African Americans experienced while at the university.

Kayla Wheeler, a member of the executive board of the Society of Black Graduate and Professional Students, said this event was to create awareness of the academic history of black students.

“What we want to get across to the university is how important and fast the history of black students has been here,” Wheeler said.  “I think often times when people think of black history, they immediately go to sports or men.”

Mason said there needs to be an emphasis on academics.

“It’s such a rich history, and I think the history of many black university students is not as well-known as it should be,” she said.  “Some of the people I talked about were very distinguished graduates at the university.”

Mason said many black students were forced to live with other families and act as a nanny. 

“There were hardly any black students at the time,” Mason said.  “Students would run to class during the day and then back to prepare an evening meal.”

Wheeler said the organization’s goal is to build relationships with black students and community members together. 

“Also this event shows how progressive Iowa has been, but there were a lot of issues that black students had to deal with and continue to deal with here,” Wheeler said.  “There aren’t as many black graduates here as there should be, and the Iowa City community still has some racism, it might not have been as overt as it was in the ’50s or ’60s, but it’s definitely still there.”

African Americans currently make up roughly 2.7 percent of the student body.

James Robinson, a UI doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies, said he has attended black-history events all month. 

“I think it is important to know how life was for students before we were here and to see if there are in patterns of struggles students had to go through then and have to go through now,” he said.  “On the other hand we need to know what students were doing with their intellectual work, dissertations, that kind of stuff.”

Robinson said that often, many people lack the knowledge about the history of African Americans in the United States.

“There are any number of black graduates that can do great things and become world-renown artists, sculptures, or scholars,” Robinson said.  “Hopefully, this allows students here to know that they can do the same things.”

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