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1969: The Dawn of a Trailblazing Academic Program

In the News, University Archives

This spring 2016 semester we are proud to partner once again with the English Department’s Professional Internship Program and host Elizabeth Beaver, our newest UH Special Collections Social Media Intern.  As part of her duties, Beaver will be researching, drafting, and editing content for the Special Collections blog as well as our Facebook page.  In her first contribution, she examines the founding and evolution of African American Studies at the University of Houston.


1969: The Dawn of a Trailblazing Academic Program
Elizabeth Beaver

Today, I would like to pay homage to our very own African American Studies Department which has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.African American Studies Program Logo

The 1960s were a time of intense civil rights activism which generated a great deal of momentum for issues of racial equality. In comparison to the national ferocity, the citizens of Houston presented a more subdued and subtle front. A city-wide media blackout and backroom negotiations allowed the city to quietly take on the task of integrating its large, commercial establishments without the horrific scenes of violent clashes taking place in other Southern cities. Despite this compromised and negotiated “peace” of the period, University of Houston students’ demands for changes in the curriculum found them standing at the fore of the evolution of Liberal Arts education in the South. In 1969, dissatisfied with the status quo, the student organization Afro-Americans for Black Liberation (or AABL) presented University President Philip Hoffman with a list of ten demands. The 1969 Houstonian reports that the so-called demands included “more black administrators and instructors,” “a raise in the pay scales for maintenance employees,” as well as the establishment of “an Afro-American studies department.” The University rose to the demands of the students, as well as the changing social climate of the city itself, and launched a number of African American Studies courses in the spring of 1969.

Exploring a new field of study, the African American Studies Program actively invited interest and education in an important cultural field that had previously been entirely sidelined. In an era rich with advocacy and public protest, the University of Houston was quick on the heels of the first program in the nation (offered by San Francisco State University in 1968), and was the first in Texas and the Southeastern United States to offer one of these trailblazing programs.

-Raquel Kelley, AAS Graduate Class of 1995

-Raquel Kelley, AAS Graduate Class of 1995

The value of education may be a given. However, the establishment of the African American Studies Program illustrated this importance in two ways: 1) It provided expanded educational opportunities to individuals (of all colors and creeds) in a field of study that had reached a critical mass of interest and demand and 2) exemplified that education served a larger, societal impact, given the previous marginalization of scholarship related to the African American experience.Dr Maulana Karenga

Over the years, the AAS Program has hosted many notable speakers, including highly acclaimed scholar and writer Dr. Maulana Karenga, astronaut and former UH Graduate Bernard A. Harris, and many other distinguished leaders. Our archives contain records from when Dr. Karenga came to speak in February of 1995, and include travel details and information related to the talk and panel, “Black Studies, Social Policy and Social Practice: Joining Campus and Community.” As a prominent scholar in his field, astronaut, and UH graduate, Bernard Harris was invited to the university by the AAS Program to give a talk in January of 1994. Only a year later he was a member of NASA’s STS-63 Crew and became the first African American to take part in Extravehicular Activity or “EVA” (NASA nomenclature for a spacewalk)! The organization plans and details for his campus talk can be found in our African American Studies Records. The folder contains, among other things, personal details and biographical information, education and honors received, as well as mission highlights from the time he logged in space. We also have a video interview of Harris (available digitally, as well) if you are interested in learning more about this esteemed astronaut and UH alum.

Astronaut Photograph of Bernard A Harris, courtesy of NASAThe current African American Studies Department is the result of significant growth over numerous decades and the recent efforts by university authorities. In March of 2014, CLASS Dean John W. Roberts appointed a task force dedicated to the growth and development of the AAS Program. By the next year, it was a fully formed department making plans for African American History Month. The current department has big plans for this year as well, now boasting a wide selection of courses and opportunities for community outreach. The department enjoys a longstanding study abroad relationship with Gambia, as well as numerous scholarship offerings. The department has grown to match the needs of the University and the city as they develop and change, and it continues to impact Houston’s diverse cultural environment in increasingly positive ways. The program organizes many different off and on-campus talks and events as well as community involvement opportunities, and has hosted numerous visiting scholars over the years.

We invite you to come by the reading room to catch a few exciting glimpses into the history of this exemplary academic program via the the University Archives and the African American Studies Records!

Guy V. Lewis, 1922 – 2015

In the News, University Archives

University of Houston basketball legend Guy Vernon Lewis II was laid to rest today.  Lewis passed away on Thanksgiving, November 26, 2015, in Kyle, TX at the age of 93.  To say Houston Cougar basketball is indebted to Coach Lewis is to tiptoe around a libelous understatement.  From when he first laced up his sneakers for the Red and White in 1946, through his retirement from coaching in 1986, and into his enduring presence and counsel in his later years, Cougar basketball, athletics, and the University itself were forever changed by his decades of service and devotion.  Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, Lewis saw his teams lay claim to two Southwest Conference championships, four SWC tournament championships, five Final Four appearances, and tally 592 wins under his tenure as head coach of the Cougars.

A snapshot history of Guy V. Lewis and the University of Houston

Collaborative Homecoming Exhibit Up Now

Events, Exhibits, University Archives
"Win For The Cullens" (1951, UH Photographs Collection)

Homecoming Parade Float, “Win For The Cullens” (1951, UH Photographs Collection)

Homecoming Week is upon the University of Houston, and the University Archives and Special Collections are joining in the celebration. Last year, you may recall, the archives worked with other library partners to launch a virtual exhibit, UH Homecoming through the Years. This year, the Homecoming Board, Council of Ethnic Organizations, and University Archives have partnered to produce a collaborative Homecoming exhibit entitled “A Look Back at UH Homecoming.” Representatives from these groups have been meeting for months, brainstorming ideas, coordinating research in the archives, and planning for the exhibit and related events. University Archives staff have provided guidance on using the archives and shared resources on the history of homecoming and the University. Meanwhile, the students brought their energy and vision of a Varsity Red Homecoming and selected the materials and stories they wanted to highlight in the exhibit. Homecoming marked a perfect opportunity for this sort of collaboration, and the new exhibit looks great!

The exhibit focuses on the early days of homecoming at UH, and covers events ranging from the first Homecoming in 1946 to the crowning of UH’s first African-American homecoming queen in 1968. In keeping with the Homecoming Board’s theme for the year, the exhibit seeks to inform students about the origins of homecoming at UH, instill Cougar pride, and highlight some of the traditions that have been a part of this campus celebration over the years.

DIGITAL SCREENS!The exhibit is currently on display in front of Special Collections on the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library. It will be there throughout Homecoming Week, with one very special exception. As a part of the week’s festivities, the exhibit will be hitting the road! Making a rare trip outside of Special Collections, these University Archives materials included in the exhibit will be featured during the Homecoming Board’s Mum-Making 101 event, which takes place Legacy Lounge in the Student Center on Thursday, November 5. The artifacts will be on display there from 7-8pm, while the event goes on till 10pm. The next day, the exhibit will pop back up in front of Special Collections, where it will remain on display through November 13th.

Flashback 1997!

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, Houston Hip Hop, In the News, University Archives

The Beloit College Mindset List, a must-read for anyone who wants to feel time quickly slipping away, was recently published for the incoming collegiate freshman class, the majority of which were born in that magical year of 1997 (?!). While it might make some of us feel just a little bit older, the list is worth a read and always provides some eye-opening perspective.

Ron Nief, Tom McBride, and Charles Westerberg (the creators of the list) provide some real marvels, reminding us that, “Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.” They came into the world around the same time as Dolly the sheep and Michael “Prince” Jackson, Jr. In addition, these young’uns have never licked a postage stamp (#3) and, frankly, it can get a little confusing when old people say, “around the turn of the century” (#17). The one that makes these old bones ache a little more this evening? “The eyes of Texas have never looked upon The Houston Oilers.” (#26)

In a salute to the University of Houston Cougars Class of 2019, we have gone digging through the archives and share with you a few highlights from the year 1997 housed here at your University of Houston Special Collections.

And, no, we’re not trying just to make you feel old.

Favorite Things: Fiesta City Charter

Favorite Things, University Archives
Governor Allan Shivers signs the Fiesta City charter (1952)

Governor Allan Shivers signs the Fiesta City charter (1952)

Whether it’s a rare book printing found at long last or piece of ephemera found in an archival collection by chance, those who visit the University of Houston Special Collections almost always find something they cannot wait to share with others.  Here we celebrate what makes the University of Houston Special Collections so special–our Favorite Things.

University Archivist Mary Manning recommends a very timely item from our collections for our latest favorite–the Fiesta City charter.

It is that time of year, as spring has ushered in a veritable city-within-a-city on the campus of the University of Houston in one of our oldest traditions.  Along Scott Street, in the shadow of TDECU Stadium, the student body has built, once again, our fine Fiesta City, home of Frontier Fiesta.  A combination of variety shows, cook-offs, and concerts, Frontier Fiesta officially opened last night and runs through this weekend featuring entertainment for everyone.

The Fiesta City charter on display in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room

The Fiesta City charter on display in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room

Our University Archives preserve and make available for study the history of this tradition via the UH Frontier Fiesta Collection.  Containing newspaper clippings, photographs, correspondence, show scripts, and event programs dating all the way back to 1941, the UH Frontier Fiesta Collection is open for research to anyone interested in tracing the event’s history (including the students who lead and run this massive undertaking each year).

But still, it’s not really a city, right?

Well, sometimes there is more to a name than just a cute, simple moniker.

Honorary Mayor Johnny Goya III presents Humphrey Bogart with the key to Fiesta City (1952, UH Frontier Fiesta Collection)

Honorary Mayor Johnny Goya III presents Humphrey Bogart with the key to Fiesta City (1952, UH Frontier Fiesta Collection)

Last spring, Manning curated an exhibition of some of these materials entitled “Frontier Fiesta: The Greatest College Show On Earth.”  While many items in the exhibit garnered attention from those interested in the history of this long-standing fixture on the UH calendar, Manning noted one item of particular significance.  In Houston History, reflecting on the Fiesta and what the records reveal of its history, Manning writes, “Especially noteworthy is Fiesta City’s charter drawn up by students in 1952 and branded onto a tanned cowhide by student Betty Rich and taken to Austin for Governor Allan Shivers’s signature.”

Far from any, ahem, branding ploy, this cowhide proves that a bonafide city recently sprung up on a grand swath of asphalt in the heart of the Third Ward, hosting a tradition that is uniquely Houston.  Those interested in viewing Fiesta City’s charter, complete with the still-just-visible signature of Governor Shivers proclaiming it a city “happily free of municipal corruption, yankees, and other dangerous influences,” may do so in the Special Collections Reading Room during our normal research hours.  Enjoy the Fiesta, and Fiesta City, Houston!

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