Michigan’s Story: The History of Race at U-M
The story of race at the University of Michigan (U-M) is perhaps as old as the institution itself. In fact it comprises countless stories, of which too few have been told. Although no exhibit could fully explore the depth and breadth of the experiences and accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff of color, it is our hope that the materials presented here will inspire thoughtful conversation and continued investigation into the remarkable and diverse lives of the communities that shape our campuses.
- The Firsts | Samuel Codes Watson
In 1853, Samuel Codes Watson was the first African American student admitted to the University. Born in South Carolina in 1832, Watson was mixed race and passed for white while attending Michigan. In 1857 he received his M.D. from Cleveland Medical College, as one of the first African Americans to do so. He later became Detroit’s first elected African American city official, and was declared the city’s richest black property owner in 1867.
- Living on Campus | Oppose Separate Quarters at U-M
In 1929, the Regents of the University of Michigan proposed providing University-run housing on Glen Avenue “near the Negro district” for African American women at the University. The Regents dropped the proposal after African American women students strenuously objected to what they viewed as deliberate segregation. The students previously had been housed in a designated rooming house on Hill Street, and earlier in “unsupervised colored homes.” State law specified that no state-funded institution could raise any bar against any person of any race. According to an article in The Pittsburg Courier, there was some concern that Mosher-Jordan Hall, slated to open in 1930 and designed to house 450 women, would be allowed to contravene that law because it was financed by an outside agency rather than the state.
- Diversity in Sports | Moses Fleetwood Walker
In 1882, Moses “Fleetwood” Walker was the first African American to play baseball at the University of Michigan. Walker may have also been the first African American to play college baseball. Walker became a businessman, inventor, newspaper editor, and author. He left Michigan in 1883, without a degree, to join a professional baseball team in Toledo. He became the first African American major leaguer when that Toledo team joined the American Association.
- Groups and Clubs | Alpha Phi Alpha
Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha was chartered on April 9, 1909, becoming the earliest known African American fraternity at U-M.
- Student Council, Programs and Centers | Trotter Multicultural Center
The William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center (TMC) is the only University building named after a minority person. The TMC grew out of the Black Action Movement (BAM) strike, and offered meeting and event space for Black students, faculty and staff. In 1981, the facility expanded its services to become a student multicultural center.
- Activism | Black Student Union Takeover
On April 9, 1968, the day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s burial in Atlanta, the newly formed Black Student Union took over the Administration Building (now the LSA Building) and chained themselves inside for five hours, demanding more funding for African American students and African American faculty hires. After a long talk with President Robben Fleming, the lockout ended. They joined a trend at colleges nationwide demanding the addition of black studies to universities’ curricula. One outcome was the establishment of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies in 1970.