Honoring Hopkins’ Black Heritage

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The son of a slave, Kelly Miller took a northbound train in 1880, with dreams of pursuing his fascination with math; in 1887, he became Johns Hopkins’ first black student. In 1970, Gail Williams-Glassner worked 25 hours a week, founded the school’s first cheerleading squad, and made history as one of Hopkins’ first black female undergraduates. In 2010, Wes Moore made his alma mater proud by penning a New York Times bestseller (oh, and becoming a Rhodes Scholar). In the century-plus in between, Johns Hopkins was shaped by many other black students, faculty, and staff, whose achievements and struggles often flew under the radar. Until now, that is.

A traveling exhibit entitled The Indispensable Role of Blacks at Johns Hopkins was unveiled last week and is now on view at the school’s Milton S. Eisenhower Library (and online here). Born out of a frustration with the lack of visibility of Hopkins’ multi-cultural roots, the exhibit includes a display of window decals featuring photographs of three centuries of men and women “whose stories offer glimpses of the intertwined history of blacks and Johns Hopkins.”

Those stories are the centerpiece of the exhibit’s website, and they make for fascinating reading. The university doesn’t always come off as high-minded and inclusive, either: John F. Guess’s bio mentions the school’s initial refusal to recognize a Black Student Union; Karen Burdnell, one of the school’s first black undergraduates, found Hopkins “not a warm institution.” Other bios emphasize a life of service, deep scholarship, and/or creative achievement. Check out the touring exhibit’s schedule here, and browse the bios here.

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