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
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
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
...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.