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Black History Month Archives Night

Fred Burwell, Beloit College’s Archivist, gave a talk on African American History at Beloit College to wrap up Black History Month this past Thursday, Feb. 27. Five students and one community member attended the talk. Burwell discussed the history of African American students who have attended Beloit College throughout the years as well as Beloit College Academy in the early 1890s.

In addition to the histories of some of the first African American students, such as George Woodson, Charles Winter Wood, Grace Ousley, and Thomas Fisher, Burwell also talked about professors. It was not until 1960 that the first African American professor came to teach at Beloit College. He stayed for one year. Burwell discussed the difficulties of hiring African American professors because at the time racial segregation was affecting the town and atmosphere of Beloit.

It was not until very recently in the college’s history that an African American professor was tenured. Professor George Williams was the first African American to be granted tenureship at Beloit College. Professor Debra Majeed was the first African American woman to get tenure.

Beloit College Academy was a college preparatory program for young students. When the academy was just getting started, the town was a mostly white settlement, with only a few African American families. As more and more African American families began to move north, Beloit became more heavily segregated.

There was a shift in the culture of Beloit College around the turn of the 20th century. At this time, African American students were being asked not to participate in sports teams, something that had not happened before at the college.

Tensions rose as the civil rights movement gained momentum and Beloit College was responding to that tension in a negative way. In 1969, African American students felt invisible at Beloit College, so they took action and presented the College with a list of demands. The demands were looked at, but not taken as seriously as they should have been. It was not until 1994 that the college was faced with another set of demands, this time from the student organization Black Students United. Some of the demands in 1969 were “a black financial aid consultant”, “admissions program aimed at increasing the percentage of Black students to 10% of the student body”, and “mandatory courses on the concept of Blackness for the student body, faculty, and administration.” Beloit College took these demands much more seriously than they had in the past, but not every demand was met: the student body is currently 6.6 percent Black, and the faculty is 7.6 percent Black. A pathway was created for future African American students with these demands.   

African American identities have transcended and impacted Beloit College through the Civil War, World War I and II, the Civil Rights Movement, and continue to do so to this day. The path was started but continues to expand as current students advocate for future generations. 

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