Click on Thumbnails for Full Size Images

Home Next Back


Main Text

Search by Page Number


Text Only Version

Image Gallery







Mrs. Hattie Mae Smith, a Mattoon native.

Mr. Ralph E. Smith, Sr. and Mrs. Ruby Francis Smith at Mr. Smith's retirement party May 20, 1978.

Mrs. Ruby Francis Smith and Mr. Ralph E. Smith, Sr., both of Mattoon, IL.

Mr. Ralph E. Smith, Sr. at his workstation in Mattoon Post Office. First African American to work at the Post Office. He served as a mail carrier and postal clerk.

Dr. Bill Ridgeway, EIU Professor Emeritus, and Johnetta Jones, Director EIU Minority Affairs. Ms. Jones was also director of African American Studies from 1977 to 1990.

Zella Powell, and African American student, Eastern Illinois State Normal School class of 1910.

Charles Hall was also a track star at Eastern. While Hall excelled in the military, John M. Craft stood out at Eastern as an Olympic athlete. In 1972, he became the first Eastern student to compete in an Olympic Games. He placed fifth in triple jump in Munich, Germany. Craft was an undergraduate student at Eastern from 1965-1969 and a graduate student from 1970-1974. He joined the faculty in 1970 and rose to the rank of Associate Professor of Physical Education. He retired from the university in the Spring of 2002. In 1973, the university made history when Anthony Blackwell of Chicago was appointed the first black editor of the students' newspaper, the Eastern News. In reporting this development the newspaper headline read "Blackwell, after three years, makes editor." The newspaper also reported that, "Tony sees himself as just another person and not a "black" editor as many might picture him." He went on to add that "I've worked long and hard, and being editor is important to me. I like to communicate with people and to write and talk, and I want to see if I can do that." (63)

From records available today, the first African American faculty to be hired at Eastern was Dr. Anne Smith. She joined the faculty about 1960 and taught in the Theater Arts Department. The second faculty, Dr. Frances Pollard came to Eastern in 1962-63. She had an active career in the University. She was professor and director of the program in Library Science and Associate Dean of the University Library. (64) In 1966, Dr. Bill T. Ridgeway became the third pioneer African American professor at Eastern when he joined the Department of Zoology after a Ph.D. degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia. He rose to become a full professor and retired in 1995. He worked a couple of years after that on a part-time basis in the Civil Rights office. Over the years the number of black students and faculty on the campus of Eastern Illinois University has risen considerably. This has been the result of demands by black students and an official response by the university authorities to be more inclusive. In 1949-50 there were only six black students on campus and in the late 1960's, the number had climbed to 425. (65) As of fall 2001 African American graduate and undergraduate students' population stood at roughly 700. On the other hand, the number of black faculty has only increased from three in 1966 to fifteen in 2001 representing 2.4% of the professors.

The presence of African American students on the campus has sometimes created racial tension. As Roger Whitlow described it,

...their [black students] presence put the attitudes of the University and in the town of Charleston to an even greater test... While the test was passed, it was not passed with distinction; and, given the "regional" character of the school, there is little reason to wonder why it was not. By the close of the sixties, more than forty percent of Eastern's students still came from eighteen neighboring counties, and most of those students had never had any encounter with blacks. Joining with the problem of the racial inexperience of white downstate students was the generally militant attitude of many urban black students who, in tune with national attitudes, preferred much of the time to remain among themselves.

The explanation offered by Whitlow is very weak in many respects. In as much as one cannot conclude that growing up in different environments invariable leads to racial prejudice, it is difficult to accept the excuse that the "racial inexperience of white students" accounts for bigotry and racial intolerance. Rather, it is a general belief that racism and other forms of discrimination are learned behaviors. Furthermore, the claim that urban black students were too militant also does not hold water. The issue is that African American students became very militant in an attempt to challenge the status quo which emphasized black inferiority and hence relegated them to second class position. Also black students "remained among themselves" because that was the only way they could survive in a hostile environment. As the events on campus demonstrated, the sources of the racial tensions were more than just misunderstanding between black and white students. They were reflections of larger societal problems in the United States.


Home Next Back