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 International Students

Photo scanned from a scrapbook held in IWU archives. The person is unidentified but the book belonged to an 1895 graduate.

Photo scanned from a scrapbook held in IWU archives. The person is unidentified but the book includes named graduates from classes in the years after 1890.

In 1890, Wesleyan’s first two international students graduated from IWU’s Law School. Their names were Yeizo Osawa and Kashiyira Tanaka. They were from Tokyo, Japan, and were in residence on campus when they graduated. Stories in our student publications relate how they shared their culture with IWU’s campus, such as delivering lectures and describing some of the customs of Japan. Their presence among the graduation class of 1890 was even noted in local newspapers and in the Chicago Tribune.

Even earlier, other graduates with international addresses received degrees through our Non-residential program, meaning they did not have to attend classes on our campus. This program is described the following way in an 1895 publication:

The object of this step was to furnish lines of systematic study for those
professional men and women whose duties and environments are such
as to make a resident course of study an impossibility, and yet who
earnestly desire systematic study.

Sounds a lot like what online learning programs promise today, doesn’t it?

An early graduate of the program with an international address is Rev. John Oakly Spencer of Japan, who graduated with a Ph.B in 1888. One wonders about the possibility of Osawa and Tanaka meeting Oakly and finding out about our small school in Central Illinois!

Other Non-resident graduates living abroad in the same time period were Rev. Myron Chesterfield Wilcox of China who also graduated with a Ph.B in 1886, and William Groves of Uruguay who graduated with an M.A. in 1897. William C. Armstrong and Frederick W. A.Meyer, of Ontario, Canada and Arthur Thomas Carr of Birmingham England all received M.A. in 1896.

These men were not international students in the same way we think of today, but they demonstrate our current philosophy has long-standing roots: bring the world to Wesleyan and Wesleyan to the world!

To learn more you can visit Tate Archives and Special Collections in the Ames Library or contact us at archives@iwu.edu!

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.” [click to enlarge]

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!

Alumni stories: Edelbert Rodgers, Class of 32

This entry marks the start of a new series in this blog: stories of IWU Alumni that emerge during research with the collections in the University Archives.

Rodgers' Senior Class photo from the 1934 Wesleyana

Rodgers’ Senior Class photo from the 1934 Wesleyana

The Argus editor in 1932 posted a summary of sociology research completed by Senior Edlebert Rodgers.
January 13, 1932 Argus headline: WESLEYAN SENIOR MAKES
CIVIC SURVEY OF HIS PEOPLE

“In  a  survey  of the  Social and  Economic progress of Negroes in  Bloomington  and Normal Edelbert  Rogers has found that the negro population of these two  cities  is  804.  This number makes up 2.8  percent of  the  entire  population of these  two  cities.  The  negroes  of Champaign make up 7.8  percent  of the population  while  4.7  percent  of  the people in  Springfield are negroes….”

There are only a few mentions* of Rodgers in The Argus at different points in his campus career, but the story above is the only substantive information from his IWU days that we know of at this time. All the stories linked below only share his debate team activities. Other information is available during his only known return to campus.

Edelbert Rodgers at Founders' Day Convocation 2001. Provost Janet McNew is pictured on the left.

Edelbert Rodgers at Founders’ Day Convocation 2001. Provost Janet McNew is pictured on the left.

The quote that follows is from a Press Release for Founders’ Day 2001 (similar wording appears in an Argus Article about the event). At that event Dr. Rodgers was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

“Edelbert Rodgers, class of 1933, IWU’s oldest living minority alumnus, retired professor, Flint Junior College (now Mott Community College) in Michigan. Rodgers also was a practicing psychologist. He will meet with a group of students at 4 p.m. on Feb. 20 in the Cartwright Room, IWU Memorial Student Center, 104 E. University St. Rodgers also will meet with psychology faculty and students in C009B of the Center for Natural Sciences, 201 E. Beecher, at 9 a.m. on Feb. 21.”

The stories related during Rodgers’ visit had an impact on then-Dean of Students Jim Matthews. In a Fall 2007 IWU Magazine story, Matthews recounts the visit and his decision to use Rodgers’ picture as one of the focal points for visitors in the newly-remodeled Hansen Student Center.

Next time you’re in Hansen, stop by the front desk and take a moment to consider the life of Edlebert Rodgers.

*Other Argus stories Rodgers is mentioned in. Note: Spelling in these stories is for Rogers without a “d.”

Debate team activity described on page 1 of the issue at 1931-12-15.

“James Hidden and Edelbert Rogers argued the question [not specified] with a team of men from the same school” (see p2 at 1932-02-24).

The story on p8 of 1932-04-27 is for another debate. Rogers was timer for one “section” of the competition.

And on p3 of 1932-05-04, Rogers is listed with Titan Varsity Debate team: “During the season Edelbert Rogers, and James Hidden also saw action. The debaters wish to thank the fraternities and sororities of Wesleyan for their splendid cooperation in entertaining visiting teams during the season. Teams from eight different schools were taken care of overnight at the various houses. With the majority of the debate squad returning to school next year the outlook for another successful season is very bright.”