Research Files: Kwanzaa Events

Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that celebrates African heritage. The very first campus Kwanza event at Illinois Wesleyan University was held on December 10th, 1996, thirty years after its creation. The event was run by the combined efforts of Monica Taylor, the multicultural affairs director at the time, and the Black Student Union, and is now an annual tradition.

1998 Kwanzaa Karenga

IWU Argus December 4, 1998

Kwanzaa is a week long African American harvest celebration created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, who was a professor of African studies at California State Univeristy. Illinois Wesleyan was fortunate enough to have Karenga visit its campus in 1998, where he presented his speech, “The Principles and Practice of Kwanzaa: Harvesting and Sharing the Good.” After this speech, Karenga and seven IWU students performed the ritual of the lighting of the Mishumaa.

“The mission of human life is to constantly bring good into the world.” – Maulana Karenga 1998

While the actual event occurs from December 26th until January 1st, IWU celebrates it in early December, so the students can celebrate it together on campus. The event includes singing, dancing, drum performances, as well as a feast of traditional Kwanzaa cuisine, such as catfish, chicken wings, black-eyed peas, and Joliffe rice. There is also a speech given about the seven principles of Kwanzaa; unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. This celebration takes place every year and is free and open to the public.

Research Files: IWU’s First Black Students

Guest posted by Melissa Mariotti, edited by Meg Miner

One recurring question asked in the archives is when did IWU admit students of color? While Illinois Wesleyan may not have been the first school to have a graduate of color, it did admit students of color not too long after its opening in 1850 but not without some prompting.

We lack easily accessible information on demographics for early students, but the earliest evidence comes from an argument that played out in a local newspaper surrounding the admission of “a colored boy” to IWU’s Model School (aka, elementary) program. The anonymous letter writer stated that the student’s “request was refused” (The Daily Pantagraph, May 9, 1867, p. 4). The writer makes the pointed criticism that the student was qualified by published standards for admission at the time and questions why a specific vote was needed. His conclusion is that it was due to the color of his skin.

Archives Record Group 16-1/10 contains a research file compiled about Black History at IWU, including photo copies of these local news sources, that show a series of commentaries by the writer calling himself “Radical” and one response from then-President O.S. Munsell.

We can use the date in these sources for further exploration of the question.

April 17, 1867 Faculty Meeting Minutes, RG 10-1/1/1

An 1867 faculty resolution on the request of “An American citizen of African descent.”

We don’t know the name of that student or if he ever joined our campus, but an explicit faculty vote on the principle was successful in April 1867 and the Board of Trustees approved the decision at its June meeting.

There is no detailed discussion in any known IWU source about the case, but the culmination of this early effort seems to have finally occurred 13 years later.

Gus A. Hill is the first known African American student to attend Illinois Wesleyan University. He was a member of IWU’s Law School, Class of 1880. He was mentioned several times in our student newspaper of the era, which was known as the Wesleyan Bee. For instance, in the February 1st, 1883 Wesleyan Bee, the article refers to him as “a colored man and brother.” We have no photographs of Hill in the archives or campus publications.

Alfred O. Coffin, an early African-American graduate of the University, was born to slave parents and went on to become a teacher and college professor. From Continuity and Change, 1850-2000 by Minor Myers, jr. and Carl Teichman.

“Alfred O. Coffin, an early African-American graduate of the University, was born to slave parents and went on to become a teacher and college professor.” — Continuity and Change, 1850-2000 by Minor Myers, jr. and Carl Teichman.

In 1889, Alfred O. Coffin became the first African-American in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D in Biology. Editors of another student paper titled the Elite Journal, also refer to Coffin as the “talented young colored gentleman” in the April 19th, 1889. Coffin lived in Texas and was enrolled in our version of a distance-education program, so having his presence on campus noted while he was on campus for his final exams indicates contemporary students’ interest in his story. Anyone interested can visit the University Archives to see book one of a two-volume “herbarium” set that Coffin created for his degree completion requirements.

That book was discovered just two years ago in a campus office. Book two wasn’t with it but it offers me a chance to remind everyone that while IWU is 165 years old, it is still possible to make unexpected finds, so keep your eyes open whenever the spring cleaning bug strikes!

N.B. The first known record of international students enrolling is in 1889 and will be described in the next post. Another “first” was women’s admittance to IWU in 1870, although a discussion about that possibility is first recorded in 1851. Two brief presentations on this topic — one in 2010 and one in 2014 — are available for introductions to that part of our history.

To learn more about this topic, or just to visit and marvel at 126 year old plants from A. O. Coffin’s Texas collection, visit Tate Archives and Special Collections in the Ames Library or contact us at archives@iwu.edu!

Research Files: The Founder’s Gate/West Gate

Guest posted by Melissa Mariotti

IWU West Gate. Found on IWU Website.

IWU West Gate. Photo copied from IWU Website.

As most students and faculty know, there are several main entrances into Wesleyan’s campuses. There is the North entrance on Franklin Avenue, the South entrance by Empire Street, the East entrance by Park Street, and the West entrance by Main Street. There is not much known about the latter entrance. It stands between Pfieffer and Gulick Halls and bears the inscription:

“We stand in a position of incalculable responsibility to the great wave of population overspreading the valley of the Mississippi. Destiny seems to point out this valley as the depository of great heart of the Nation. From this center mighty pulsations, for good or evil, must in future flow, which shall not only affect the fortunes of the Republic but reach in their influence other and distant Nations of the earth.”

The West Gates, looking north toward the Women’s Dormitory. From a 1931 booklet of pen sketches of Illinois Wesleyan University.

The West Gates, looking north toward the Women’s Dormitory. From a 1931 booklet of pen sketches of Illinois Wesleyan University; RG 4-16/2/4.

Upon further research, it was discovered that the gates were ”erected and presented to the school by the Bloomington Association of Commerce in 1921” (Founders’ Day Convocation, 2006). There are two differing theories about where this quote came from. According to the 1960 Wesleyana, it is “an excerpt from the report on education to the annual meeting of the Illinois Conference held in Springfield in 1854.” But according to an Argus article from February 13th, 1940, it was said on December 18th, 1850 from the “Conference Record.”

The quote was verified in the Methodist Conference Record of 1854 by the archives that holds those documents: The Illinois Great Rivers Conference Archives at MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois. There is more to the quote than was summarized on our West Gates, but the spirit of the passage resonates just as much today as it did for our Founders.

Students around the West Gate in 1951. From the 1951 Wesleyana.

Students around the West Gate in 1951. From the 1951 Wesleyana.

The quote that is inscribed on the gate is said to represent “the ‘incalculable responsibility’ the founders of Illinois Wesleyan felt in the work they had undertaken” in establishing Illinois Wesleyan as an “institution of learning” (President Wilson, Founder’s Day Convocation Remarks, 2006). It describes the passion that the Founder’s had for teaching and learning, along with the many obstacles they had to face into creating the school. This inscription is referenced many times during Founder’s Day Convocations, and is evident in the care and consideration of all who work to sustain and advance that goal today.

 

Connecting the new to the old: time travel through “Re-Photography “

This recent addition to the archives offers an opportunity to introduce the campus to a trend in the archives world called re-photography.

1960_Holmes_hall_plantRe-photography involves re-enacting a scene from an earlier period in time by recreating it in a modern context. This is done in at least two ways: by deliberate restaging or reenactment without any variation such as is illustrated here, or by using an old photo for inspiration to create something with a modern twist.

 

2014_Holmes_hall_remakeWe are illustrating the first case with the 1960 photo (above). It was donated to the archives recently and arrived with an article about planting the nascent rubber tree in Holmes Hall (see this Fall 2007 IWU Magazine story for more on the plant). Last summer Archives Student Assistant Melissa Mariotti (right) posed for a re-shoot in the same spot so it is possible to see how different the same location looks today. (Photo credit: Megan Dickey)

The second way we’ve seen this done is by offering a new interpretation of an old scene that isn’t dependent on the specific location. Anyone can try this out by looking up old photos such as the ones added below. Over 1400 historical IWU photos, scanned from among the many thousands held in the University Archives, are available at http://tinyurl.com/iwu-historical.

Make your mark on IWU history…re-make an old scene in your own way today!