African Americans have been admitted to the University of Hartford since its inception in 1957. In September, 2014, current members of Brothers and Sisters United (BSU) welcomed African American alumni back to campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the student organization known at various times as the Negro Club, the Black People’s Union, and the African-American Students Organization. According to BSU’s advisor Assistant Vice President for Student Development DeLois Lindsey, BSU is the oldest, largest, and most awarded student organization at the University.
Watch a video from the 50th reunion of a campus tour featuring African drumming and a ceremony at the residence halls bearing the names of the African American leaders.
According to writings by then University President Archibald Woodruff, students of color were 3.2 percent (about 122 students) of the total student body in the 1960s. It was a time when UHart students, like students across the country, were holding sit-ins, marches, and strikes to protest the Vietnam War and to support the civil rights movement.
On our campus, the Black People’s Union sent a list of proposals to Woodruff and the administration that included requests for increased scholarships for African American students; the establishment of a black studies department and major; admission of more black students; more black faculty and staff; and the naming of some of the houses in the then-new residence hall complexes after African American leaders in the civil rights movement.
This is how four residence halls came to be named after African American historical figures, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey.
Today’s University student body includes 30 percent students of color and today’s BSU continues to do much to support both the University and surrounding community including having a Book Fund to help students cover the cost of textbooks, holding an annual Fashion Show to raise funds for the Book Fund, hosting admitted high school students on pre-freshman weekend, hosting after school programs, adult continuing educations programs, and working with many community agencies.
The University takes pride in its support of the Civil Rights Movement and inclusiveness. In 1959, the University invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at Hartford’s Bushnell Memorial Hall. Dr. King’s topic was “The Future of Integration.” The original audiotapes of his address are housed in the University archives as part of our history.
In its 58-year history, the University has presented honorary degrees to more than two dozen African American leaders, many of whom were key figures in the civil rights movement and forerunners in their fields. They include, among many others, opera star Marion Anderson, champion tennis player Arthur Ashe, NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks, jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, and Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In May, 2014, honorary degrees were presented to Marian Wright Edelman who worked with Dr. King as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign and Rabbi Stanley Kessler who marched with Dr. King in both Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. In November, 2014, an honorary degree was presented to ballet icon Misty Copeland, who is the first African American soloist in the American Ballet Theatre in two decades.