Website explores the Penn State African-American experience

University Park, Pa. — Much has happened in the 111 years since the University accepted its first black student, Calvin Waller, but until very recently, few people knew about Penn State’s black legacy. It’s a rich one, including doctors, judges, business people, college presidents and the nation’s first black astronaut to fly in space.

A new website, the “African American Chronicles, Black History at Penn State” at http://www.blackhistory.psu.edu/ online, tells the stories of some of those alumni. The site officially launched at the Black Alumni Reunion held Sept. 10. The reunion also publicized a push to raise $100,000 for scholarships for future black students.

“I hope that people will learn from this,” said Cheraine Stanford, an associate producer at Penn State Public Broadcasting, who is helping develop the website. “I hope that people will be inspired by this. I hope that people will be encouraged to think about their own stories and histories and recording them. I hope people appreciate it and want to continue the effort.”

Darryl Daisey, a 1983 alumnus and self-described history buff, began compiling information on the legacy in 2007. The first version appeared at the 2008 Black Alumni Reunion, and Daisey has continued to update and revise the information.

Penn State Public Broadcasting used Daisey’s efforts as the basis for the website, which features a timeline that begins with Waller’s admittance in 1899. At first, important dates are few and far between, but in the 1950s, the timeline begins to explode. Producers and multimedia staff at Penn State Public Broadcasting conducted the interviews, acquired the videos and scanned the photos included in the site.

Video clips pack the site -- everything from Wally Triplett talking about playing in the 1948 Cotton Bowl to Betty Love Gibbs’s recollections of being denied a spot on the Penn State cheerleading squad to Cynthia Baldwin’s insights on being a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge. Even historical footage from Penn State during the civil rights era is captured.

"The site may be especially important at Penn State. Our university is the second largest producer of African-American graduates in the state," said W. Terrell Jones, vice provost for Educational Equity, whose office sponsored the Chronicles site and who played a large role in moving the project forward. Temple is first, he added, and Penn State graduates 70 percent of its black students. “That’s 30 percent higher than the national average,” Jones said.

But it’s not just black students and alumni who will benefit from the Chronicles. The information helps complete the Penn State story.

“When I was a student we did not know about most of the information that is communicated on this website. I knew Penn State history, having served as a tour guide for the admissions office, but no mention of the African-American contributions were made,” Daisey said.

The Chronicles are part of a larger project to document and communicate the history of African-Americans at Penn State. The project gained momentum when the Office of Educational Equity, the Africana Research Center, the Penn State Alumni Association, the Department of African and African American Studies, Penn State Public Broadcasting, the Penn State Archives, the Black Alumni Reunion Committee, and others enthusiastically contributed resources and assistance. This support greatly enhanced, enriched and expanded the initial efforts, and ultimately led to the creation of the website.

The Black Alumni Reunion Committee and the African-American Alumni Organizations believe this type of information will help reconnect black alumni to the University and hopefully encourage at least 1,000 of its members to give $100 or more to be used for scholarships to help other students become part of the Penn State experience. Previous endowment funds have helped six students, two in 2008-2009 and four in 2009-2010.

For more information on contributing to the fund, contact Ed Thompson, director of development, Educational Equity, at ent4@psu.edu.

"We hope that creating a collective memory will help everyone understand that Penn State was made great by contributions from a lot of people, and African-Americans were part of that," Daisey said. "There was a high level of achievement by African-Americans at Penn State. We believe that black history can inspire our current students, faculty, staff and alumni to build on the accomplishments of those who came before them."

Stanford said the Chronicles are important to all students at Penn State.

“Students will realize that there’s a legacy before them,” she said, “and they owe a lot of what they’re able to gain here because of people who took some risks and some chances a long time ago.”

Last Updated June 22, 2011