Profiles & Narratives

The UMass Black Presence website serves as a living history of the experiences, contributions, and stories of Black students, alumni, faculty and staff. Through the oral history interviews and archival research, we've captured these stories to provide an authentic and in-depth understanding of these lived experiences.

This is a growing website with additional interviews, news, profiles, and moments in history being populated on an ongoing basis. We encourage you to share any content you have that should be highlighted on this webpage.

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Photo of groundbreaking college football captain William Hunlie Craighead in action. Amherst, MA, 1902
One of the first African American students to enroll at Massachusetts Agricultural College, William Hunlie Craighead was born in South Hill, Va., on Dec. 17, 1877. His coach at the time, Matthew W. Bullock, is regarded as the first African American coach to lead a football team at a predominantly white university, and although it is difficult to confirm, Craighead was probably either the first or second African American to captain a sports team at a predominantly white college.
Archie Shepp taught at UMass for 30 years beginning in 1971. He taught two classes: “Revolutionary Concepts in African-American Music” and “Black Musician in the Theater.” “Revolutionary Concepts” followed the history of African-American instrumental music from its origins in Africa to its current incarnations today.
W.E.B. Du Bois
On October 5, 1994, the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees voted to name the main library at the Amherst campus in honor of W.E.B. Du Bois. Trustee Document T94-096 states: “As we march into the Twenty First Century we feel that it is time to go beyond the color line and appropriately name the Tower Library in honor of one of the finest heroes, not only of Massachusetts but of the world—William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.”
Briana Scurry was not only one of UMass' best soccer players ever, but the United States' as well. While at the University of Massachusetts, Scurry was named all-America in 1993 and was also the Adidas Goalkeeper of the Year. The Atlantic 10 recognized her as the conference's Player of the Year. In her UMass career, she had 37 shutouts and goals against average of 0.56. The shutout mark is second all-time and the GAA is fifth and she is second in career saves with 368.
Bromery at his desk
Randolph Wilson Bromery was an American educator and geologist, and a former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1971—79). He was the first Black chancellor of the university, and the second African American to lead a predominantly and historically white campus, after Clifton R. Wharton Jr. at Michigan State University.
In 1971, Seymour joined the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Department of Communication Disorders. While at UMass she served as the director of Communication Disorders Clinic, was appointed chair of the department and was appointed dean of the Graduate School. In 2001, Seymour assumed the position of interim provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs; and in 2004 she was appointed provost. In 2009, Seymour retired from UMass to serve as provost of Simmons College in Boston.
Desmond Tutu at a podium speaking
In 1993, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archibishop Desmond Tutu spoke to a sold out crowd at the Fine Arts Center as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program. Tutu's first stop on a 10-day national tour sold out well in advance of his appearance.
Edwin Driver lecturing at podium
Just 23 years old in the fall 1948, Edwin Douglas Driver was hired by the Sociology Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, becoming the first person of non-European descent to join the faculty and, along with Ruby Pernell of the University of Minnesota, one of the first two African Americans hired onto the faculty of a state flagship university in the twentieth century.
A pioneer in Afro-American Studies, in 1970 Ekwueme Michael Thelwell became the founding chairman of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department. The Jamaican-born writer, activist, educator, and intellectual received his early education at Jamaica College. He came to the United States in 1959 to attend Howard University and went on to do his graduate work at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Dr. Enobong (Anna) Branch, associate professor of sociology, was the first associate chancellor for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at UMass Amherst. She was appointed to this role in August 2017. Currently she is the senior vice president for equity at Rutgers University. 
Esther Terry at a podium

Esther Alexander Terry was a major contributor to the development of Black Studies; Esther Terry holds a B.A. from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, a M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D.

Fred Tillis in from the of Bromery Center of Fine Art
Frederick Tillis profoundly shaped the cultural and musical landscape at UMass Amherst, the Pioneer Valley and beyond. His more than 100 compositions include works for piano and voice, orchestra and chorus, along with chamber music and works in the African-American spiritual tradition. Tillis published 15 books of poetry.