Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Black Milestones in Higher Education: Pitt Panther Edition

July 12th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Presidential hopeful John McCain may have trouble distinguishing between Pittsburgh and Green Bay, but Black on Campus does not. Take a break from the political gaffes of the current campaign season and enjoy this brief account of the Black history of Pittsburgh’s largest academic institution.

History and Overview: The University of Pittsburgh was founded in 1787, as a private academy. The first African American students entered Pitt during the late 1800s, and the University produced its first Black graduate in 1893.

Today Pitt enrolls nearly 17,000 students on its main campus. Roughly 1400 of those students are Black. Pitt also enrolls a significant number of international students, among whom several African nations are represented. They are: Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Black Milestones at the University of Pittsburgh:

  • 1893 — William Hunter Dammond becomes the first African American to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh (civil engineering with honors).
  • 1910 — Jean Hamilton Walls becomes the first African American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh (mathematics and physics)
  • 1922 — Council of Negro College Women is founded to foster intellectual growth and camaraderie, and to build a support and friendship network among Black women at Pitt.
  • 1930 — Jean Hamilton Walls becomes the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation is titled, A Study of Seventy-Eight Negro Graduates of the University of Pittsburgh from 1920-1936).
  • 1934 — Walter R. Talbot completes his doctorate and, thus, becomes the 4th Black person in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.
  • 1936 — John Woodruff, an African American runner on the Pitt rack tream, wins a gold medal in the 800-meter run at the Berlin Olympic Games.
  • 1956 — Bobby Grier, Pitt Panthers football standout, becomes the first African American to play in the Sugar Bowl.
  • 1964 — Dr. Frederick S. Humphries becomes the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh.
  • 1967 — The Black Action Society is founded at Pitt.
  • 1968 — Welsh S. White joins the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh Law School. White would go on to become the first African American to become a tenured professor of law at Pitt.
  • 2008 — The University of Pittsburgh annual Black History month is officially named the “University of Pittsburgh K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program,” in honor of the history-making Pitt alum and trustee emeritus. Irvis was the first Black speaker of the Pennsylvania state legislature, and the first Black speaker of any state legislature since Reconstruction.

Jean Hamilton Walls (seated, left) and her women classmates, photographed in 1911.

(Source: Black Women at Pitt)

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in Academia, African American Students, African Americans, Black History, Black Students, Higher Education, Jean Hamilton Walls, race, University of Pittsburgh

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