John M. Craft, being welcomed back officially
after competing in the 1972 Munich Olympics. (left to right)
Tom Katsimpalis, EIU Athletics Director, Gilbert Fite, University
President, John Craft and Maynard "Pat" O'Brien,
Mrs. Elizabeth Nash being sworn in as the
first female and first African American Postmaster of Mattoon,
Dr. Arlen Fowler was a professor of History
at EIU from 1969-1976. He was also the founding director of
African American Studies at EIU, and the first EIU professor
to teach a course on blacks in America. He is now a retired
professor of History, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Cornerstone laying ceremony for 1968 addition
to EIU Library: (left to right) first two individuals not
identified; Quincy Doudna, President; Hobart F. Heller; B.J.
Szerenyl; and Francis Pollard, Director of Library Science
Program at EIU. Dr. Pollard was among the first African Americans
to be hired at EIU.
Chris "Poke" Cobb, #30, running
with the ball, c. 1978.
Chris "Poke" Cobb, # 30, EIU football
player, receiving the Panther Award from a University official
for a 1976 record-tying performance.
A black candidate, Diane Williams, received
the highest number of votes in the contest, but because of a protest
lodged on behalf of another, Karyl Buddemeier [a white student],
Miss Williams' vote total was reduced as a penalty, and Miss Buddemeier
was declared the homecoming queen. The alleged campaign violation
which sparked the protest involved the placing of campaign materials
supporting Miss Williams' candidacy in close proximity to the voting
area a practice expressly forbidden by student campaign regulation.
Miss Williams' supporters claimed the campaign
material could have been placed there to hurt her candidacy and
the sponsors of Miss Buddemeier were of the view that whether the
rule was unfair or not existed before the election. The delay in
releasing the result of the voting totals was interpreted by black
students as an attempt to deny Miss Williams the crown. Thus was
seen as racially motivated. After a meeting by university officials,
it was decided that there will be no homecoming queen for 1973.
This no doubt left a sore spot on both sides.
These unfortunate incidents notwithstanding, African
American students and faculty have thrived over the years on the
campus of Eastern Illinois University as learners, athletes, administrators,
researchers and teachers. Noteworthy examples include the fact that
the university appointed the first black and female president, Dr.
Carol Surles from March 1, 1999 to July 31, 2001. There is also
the case of Dr. Teshome Abebe, Provost and Vice-President for Academic
Affairs, from July 1, 1998 to September 7, 2000. In addition, the
current chair of the university Board of Trustees, Dr. Nate Anderson
of East St. Louis, Illinois is also an African American. Dr. Anderson,
who is a graduate of Eastern was appointed to the Board in 1996,
reappointed to a six-year term in 1999 and elected chair of the
Board on April 16, 2001.
Outside the university a number of African Americans
have made their mark. For example, Patricia Roberts Harris, a native
of Mattoon had a lengthy career as a lawyer, educator, and public
servant. Born on May 31, 1924 and raised in Mattoon and Chicago,
Harris was both a national and international figure. She had her
undergraduate education at Howard University. Following her graduation
in 1945, she pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago.
From 1946 to 1949 she worked as a program director with the Young
Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Chicago. She married her
husband, William B. Harris, a Howard University professor of law
in 1955. In 1960 she graduated from George Washington University
Law School. She was admitted to the District of Columbia bar and
had a year's stint in the criminal division of the United States
Department of Justice. (73) She was also associate dean of students
and lecturer in law at Howard University. She rose to the rank of
full professor and dean of the law school at Howard. Harris became
the first African-American woman to hold a U.S. ambassadorial position
when she was named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg by President Lyndon
Johnson in 1965. She was the first African-American woman to serve
in a presidential cabinet post. President Jimmy Carter in 1977 appointed
her as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. And in 1981
she returned to George Washington University as a law professor.
Harris died of cancer in Washington D.C., on March 23, 1985. A United
States Postal Service Black Heritage Stamp was issued in her honor
Mrs. Roberta Williams was another Mattoon native
who made her mark in Coles County. She graduated from Mattoon High
School in 1939. Following her training at Summers Beauty School
in Mattoon, she was registered as a Beauty Culturist in 1941. This
qualified her to perform all phases of beauty culture, including
permanent waving, hair shaping, hair coloring, facials and manicuring.
Between 1955 and 1969 Mrs. Williams was owner and operator of Roberta's
Beauty Salon, Mattoon, Illinois. From 1969 to 1983 she was an instructor
in cosmetology at Lake Land College in Mattoon. For many years,
Roberta was an active member of the Mattoon Hairdressers and Cosmetologists
Association Affiliate #16. She served on many committees of the
association. She also held the positions of secretary, treasurer,
vice president and in 1970 was elected as the president of the association.
Now retired, Mrs. Roberta Williams lives in Charleston.