Black Presence Timeline

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, 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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  • 1897

    George “Ruff” Bridgeforth is admitted as the first Black student at UMass.

    Born in Athens, Alabama, on October 5, 1873, Bridgeforth was 23 when he entered as a freshman and, in some ways, set a pattern for the pioneering cohort of African American students at UMassthen known as Massachusetts Agricultural College. 

  • 1905

    Photo of groundbreaking college football captain William Hunlie Craighead in action. Amherst, MA, 1902
    William Hunlie Craighead becomes the first African American undergraduate football captain.

    Craighead was likely either the first or second African American to captain a sports team at a predominantly white college un the U.S.

  • 1935

    frank spaulding
    Major Franklin Spaulding is the first African American to receive a PhD at UMass Amherst

    The first African American to receive a doctorate at UMass Amherst and the first nationally to receive a doctorate in agronomy, Major Franklin Spaulding earned a PhD in 1935 for his study "Factors influencing the rate of decomposition of Different Types of Plant Tissues in Soils and the Effects of Products on Plant Growth".

  • 1948

    Dr. Ed Driver
    Ed Driver is hired as a professor of sociology and first Black faculty member.

    Just 23 years old in the fall of 1948, Edwin Douglas Driver was hired by UMass Amherst's Department of Sociology, 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 20th century.

  • 1966

    Carver Club, an informal Black student organization, established at UMass Amherst (primarily undergraduates, a few graduate members)
  • 1966

    The Committee for the Collegiate Education of Black Students (CCEBS) is initiated by a group of concerned Black faculty and staff at UMass.

    During that time, the program was committed to recruiting and assisting Black, Spanish-speaking, Asian-American, and low-income students.

  • 1967

    A committee of Black students met with Dean Tunis and presented a proposal to increase the number of Black students on the UMass Amherst campus
  • 1967

    Afro-American Student Association established as a recognized student organization at UMass Amherst

    Leadership included Cheryl Evans, President; Cheryl Eastmond, Vice-President; Paula Diggs, Treasurer; Carol Seales, Secretary.

  • 1968

    The Black Mass Communications Project is founded.

    The Black Mass Communications Project was founded as an educational and informational outlet for Black students at UMass Amherst in 1968, and authorized in the following year as a Registered Student Organization. Pictured: BMCP members at the Du Bois Homesite's 20th anniversary celebration

  • November, 1968

    Students marched on the Whitmore Administration building and presented twenty-two demands for change, including Black Studies, Nov.
  • 1968

    University administration established the Committee on Afro-American Studies (CAS)/Afro-Am Studies Committee to write a proposal for a Black Studies department at UMass
  • October 4, 1969

    Nina Simone performs at UMass
  • October 18, 1969

    du bois homesite founding
    The W.E.B. Historic Boyhood Homesite is Established

    The vision for a memorial to honor Du Bois was conceived in 1967 when Professor Edmund W. Gordon and Walter Wilson, a local realtor, purchased the Du Bois Homesite property. This five-acre parcel in Great Barrington includes the original homestead of Du Bois’s maternal family, and was later designated a National Historic landmark in 1979.

  • 1969

    yearbook image of black solidarity day
    Black Solidarity Day is established and observed on college campuses.

    November 2nd was designated Black Solidarity Day by a national committee of Black leaders representing a broad spectrum of social, civic, religious, and political organizations active in the Black community. Conceived as a national day of unity and awareness among Black people in the United States, Black Solidarity Day is not related to a program or ideology of any single organization. 

  • February 27, 1970

    New Africa House
    Students occupy Mills House, leading to the formation of the New Africa House.

    Students occupied Mills House in a call for the need of a Black cultural space on campus, leading to events that transformed it into the New Africa House. To this day, New Africa House serves as a hub for Black students and faculty and houses the Department of Afro-American Studies.

  • April 22, 1970

    University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees approved the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies

    The Department of Afro-American Studies is formed within the history department, becoming among the first departments of Black studies. That September, the department began its first academic year with nine faculty offering fourteen courses. Faculty: Allan Austin, Johnnetta Cole, Playthell Benjamin, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Cherif Guellal, Femi Richards, Esther Terry, Michael Thelwell, and Ben Wambari

  • 1971

    Chancellor Randolph Bromery
    Randolph W. Bromery becomes the first Black chancellor at UMass Amherst.

    Randolph W. Bromery becomes the first Black chancellor at UMass, igniting an era of diversification of students and faculty and securing the W.E.B. Du Bois papers, among other major accomplishments.

  • 1971

    Black Cultural Center Art Gallery opens; later named the Augusta Savage Gallery

    Named in honor of renowned sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962), the Gallery was founded by the Afro-American Studies Department. Its mission is to promote artistic works from a broad spectrum of cultures. Exhibits are selected for their aesthetic integrity and their ability to enlighten the viewer on such issues as race, ethnicity, class, and cultural identity.

  • 1972

    Voices of New Africa House Workshop Choir
    Voices of New Africa House Workshop Choir is formed.

    This unique vocal ensemble was organized by famed percussionist and UMass professor, Max Roach, as a performance course in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies. The choir, later led by Dr. Clarence Boyer, performed with such acclaimed artists as Max Roach, Ossie Davis, Reggie Workman, Archie Shepp, Paul Carter Harrison, Dorothy Love Coates, Sallie Martin, DeeDee Bridgewater, Cissy Houston, Carmon Moore, the Famous Boyer Brothers, and the Collective Black Arts Ensemble.

  • 1973

    William Darity
    William Darity establishes the School of Health Sciences.

    In addition to divisions of public health and nursing, this newly created School of Health Sciences included a department of communications disorders, which offered majors and graduate study in audiology and speech and language disorders.

  • May 27, 1973

    Seated left to right at the formal signing of the Du Bois papers contract Graduate School Dean Mortimer Appley; Chancellor Randolph Bromery; Mrs. Shirley Graham Du Bois;Dr. Herbert Aptheker, custodian and editor of the papers; and Michael Thelwell
    UMass acquires the Du Bois papers.

    The Du Bois papers were stored and archived in what was later named the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. The papers were acquired by Chancellor Randolph Bromery for $150,000 after a series of meetings with activist and Du Bois' wife, Shirley Graham; historian Herbert Aptheker; and Graham’s lawyer, Bernard Jaffe, in Cairo, Egypt.

  • 1977

    Contrinutions to black studies magazine covers
    Contributions in Black Studies: A Journal of African and Afro-American studies is created.

    Contributions in Black Studies: A Journal of African and Afro-American Studies was a periodical publication of the Five Colleges, Inc.Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith colleges, and University of Massachusettsthat appeared more or less annually from 1977 to 1997. 

  • Left: Sonny Fortune. Right: Dester Gordon with Rufus Reid in the background.
    The Black Musicians Conference takes place.

    The Seventh Annual Black Musicians Conference was held March 31 and April 1, and featured concerts by the Sonny Fortune Quintet, Dexter Gordon Quartet, lecture-demonstrations, and a Black music update workshop. 

  • 1978

    James Baldwin Smiling at a podium
    James Baldwin is awarded a UMass honorary doctorate degree.

    After novelist James Baldwin's honorary doctorate ceremony in 1978, some attendees gathered to talk with him at the house of Paul Puryear, a political scientist and former UMass provost. During the gathering, the idea of Baldwin teaching at the Five Colleges was brought up for the first time. (via the Massachusetts Collegian) Baldwin would later join UMass as a Distinguished Fellow in 1983.

  • February 8, 1979

    The Campaign to Combat Racism is announced.

    On February 8, 1979, a press conference was held to formally announce the Campaign to Combat Racisma call to action conceived by a committed multi-racial coalition of students from diverse backgrounds to address racial tensions at UMass. Both students and university staff workers posed a challenge to all to join in the campaign against racism. 

  • 1983

    James baldwin sitting on a couch
    James Baldwin joins UMass as a Distinguished Fellow.

    Pivotal American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, James Baldwin, joined UMass as professor and Distinguished Fellow.

  • October 27 1986

    World Series game leads to a post game brawl in which white students verbally and physically attacked Black students.

    The fight put 10 people in the University of Massachusetts infirmary with cuts and bruises and left student Yancey Robinson in a neck brace. About 500 students met at the university three nights after the beating, some to allege that police stood by and watched as Robinson was beaten, others to complain that the university was slow to investigate. A subsequent investigation and a report by a member of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination found that race was a primary factor in the incident.

  • February 12, 1988

    Student occupation of the New Africa House

    Over 100 Black students occupied the New Africa House in protest of an incident on February 7 when four white students shouted slurs at two Black students. The demands that the four students be expelled and the University increase its minority enrollment were met by Chancellor Duffy.

  • October 27, 1988

    screenshot of the yearbook in 1998 with a student holding sign reading "fight racism"
    UMass sponsors "Civility Week" to increase awareness of racism.

    In response to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination's report that found the October 27, 1986, Southwest campus residence riot to be racially motivated, UMass sponsored a week of events designed to increase awareness of racism and help create an environment of tolerance for cultural diversity.

  • April - May, 1991

    image of students occupying the collegian office
    Citing racist policies, students shut down campus newspaper, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

    Campus newspaper, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, came under fire after students gathered to protest a verdict of innocent in the case of four white Los Angeles police officers who were videotaped beating Black motorist Rodney King. After a rally, 150 protestors turned their attention to their own campus and occupied the third floor of the Whitmore administration building, demanding more hirings of faculty of color. 

  • April 1, 1992

    closeup of chuck d
    Chuck D comes to campus as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program.

    On April 1, 1992, Chuck D, head rapper of Public Enemy, sold out the Fine Arts Center for his lecture on a plethora of subjects as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program. Chuck, a self-proclaimed "media pirate," regularly made time to speak to young America, especially those who were culturally in tune with him.

  • April 24, 1992

    Black Student Union calls for constitutional convention to unite Black organizations.

    The University of Massachusetts Black Student Union was founded on April 24, 1992. A longtime goal of Black students at the University, the Black Student Union was created to serve as an umbrella organization which would consolidate over 20 other Black organizations on campus, including fraternities, sororities, and registered student organizations. 

  • 1993

    Desmond Tutu at a podium
    Desmond Tutu speaks at the Fine Arts Center.

    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.

  • 1993-94

    The Black Student Union, along with other campus student organizations, brings Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Cornell West, and Minister Louis Farrakhan to UMass for public speaking engagements.
  • September 27, 1993

    Mae Jemison
    NASA's first female African American astronaut, Dr. Mae Jemison, speaks about education and its importance in America and the world as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program.
  • October 5, 1994

    Board of Trustees votes to name the main university library in honor of W.E.B. Du Bois.

    The Du Bois Library houses the memoirs and papers of the distinguished African American scholar, writer, and activist, W.E.B. Du Bois. The papers were acquired by Dr. Randolph Bromery, who was a friend of Du Bois and UMass Amherst’s first African American chancellor. Built in 1974 by Edward Durrell Stone and called the Tower Library, the building was renamed the W.E.B. Du Bois Library in 1994 after a popular movement on campus. Additionally, the University owns the W.E.B. Du Bois boyhood homesite in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

  • 1996

    Exterior of the new africa house
    W.E.B. Du Bois Department doctoral program established

    This is the second department in the nation to offer the PhD in Afro-American Studies. The objective of the program is to produce scholars and teachers in the tradition of W. E. B. Du Bois, who insisted throughout his long life that a commitment to social justice must be rooted in scholarship of the highest order and scholarly excellence requires us to be socially responsible and engaged in improving our world. 

  • 2000

    B.B. King autographed Photo
    B.B. King performs at the Fine Arts Center.

    Pictured: An autographed photo by B.B. King from after his performance, from the class of 2000 yearbook.

  • July 2001 - June 2002

    Portrait of Marcellette Williams
    Marcellette Gaillard-Gay Williams becomes the first woman to serve as chancellor.

    Marcellette Gaillard-Gay Williams served as chancellor of the Amherst campus from July 2001 to June 2002. The first woman to serve as chancellor, Williams advocated for the importance of community, collaboration, interdisciplinary understanding, and human enablement. She also spearheaded a massive infrastructure update and led the University through a difficult financial period as well as the attacks on 9/11.

  • 2003

    The Chancellor's Counsel on Community, Diversity, and Social Justice completes campus-wide climate surveys of faculty, staff, and graduate student employees.
  • Chancellor John V. Lombardi appoints a special Commission on Campus Diversity, chaired by the dean of the Graduate School of Howard University.
  • 2005

    Photo spread from INDEX 2005
    Spike Lee speaks at UMass Amherst.

    The focus of his one-hour speech was his portrayal of life as an African American in an impoverished neighborhood through film. He talked about his experiences as a film student at NYU and the process in which he made each of his movies.

  • March 1, 2005

    Diversity and Inclusion at UMass Amherst: A Blueprint for Change is presented by the special Commission on Campus Diversity.

    The report presents 15 major recommendations for diversity. For more details about the Commission on Campus Diversity and subsequent action plans presented by the University, visit this archived website.

  • April 29, 2005

    On Improving Campus Diversity: Action Plan is published as the campus' response to Blueprint for Change and as an action plan for moving important diversity issues forward.​
  • 2009

    Du Bois Center Logo
    The W.E.B. Du Bois Center is established

    The W.E.B. Du Bois Center is established "to engage the nation and the world in discussion and scholarship about the global issues involving race, labor and social justice."

  • November 18-20, 2010

    Art & Power in Movement Conference Held at UMass

    The Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies brought together scholars and activists, writers and artists, youth and elders, to mark the 40th year on campus, as well as to support the exchange of knowledge about the dynamic Black Power Movement period in which academic Black Studies units were established. The conference drew over 400 participants.

  • October 21, 2013

    Laverne Cox, Transgender Activist, Speaks at UMass

    Approximately 700 people filled the Student Union Ballroom at UMass to listen to Lavern Cox speak. Cox was the chosen speaker for the University's homecoming weekend. The title of the event "Ain't I a Woman?" referenced Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech of the same name at the Women's Convention.

  • September 11, 2014

    Laverne Cox Speaks at UMass as Part of the Common Read Program

    Cox delivered a talk titled "Ain't I a Woman?" to a crowd of nearly 1,000 students at the UMass Randolph Bromery Fine Arts Center.

  • February 18, 2016

    Chancellor Subbaswamy and Chief Parham shaking hands
    Tyrone Parham Appointed UMPD Chief of Police

    Tyrone Parham is sworn in as UMPD’s 10th Police Chief by UMass Amherst Chancellor, Kumble R. Subbaswamy in a ceremony that included Chief Parhams family

  • November 2016

    Campus Climate Survey Launched

    UMass conducts its Campus Climate Survey, a web-based questionnaire that asks students, staff, and faculty about inclusiveness of the campus community. Over 43% of the campus participates.

  • August 2017

    Anna Branch Introduces the UMass Learning Community Initiative
    Enobong (Anna) Branch Becomes First Associate Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion

    Enobong (Anna) Branch Becomes First Associate Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion and establishes the Office of Equity and Inclusion, having spearheaded a major campus-wide climate improvement survey the prior semester.

  • October 18, 2019

    50th Anniversary of the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite

    Great Barrington and the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries mark the 50th anniversary of what was, in 1969, the controversial establishment of the W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite, at 612 South Egremont Road, Great Barrington.

  • February 2020

    The Fine Arts Center at UMass Amherst was approved by the Board of Trustees to be renamed the Randolph Bromery Center for the Arts, after former Chancellor Bromery

    The Randolph W. Bromery Center for the Arts is a fitting tribute for Bromery, who recruited jazz legends Max Roach, Archie Shepp, and Fred Tillis to the music department faculty and oversaw construction of the Fine Arts Center. 

  • October 26, 2021

    Fred Tillis
    UMass Amherst Names Bromery Center Main Stage in Honor of Late Frederick C. Tillis, Ph.D., former Fine Arts Center Director

    Tillis profoundly shaped the cultural and musical landscape at UMass Amherst, the Pioneer Valley and beyond. His work as a performer and composer spanned jazz and European music traditions, encompassing a wide range of cultural references. 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.