Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Looking Back at 2008: Black Firsts

January 9th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

Today, nearly 400 years after the first enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia and nearly 150 years after the end U.S. chattel slavery, there probably shouldn’t be so many Black firsts. The fact that in 2008 there were still so many academic programs that had never previously graduated any Black students and so man administrative posts that have never before been filed by a person of African descent is a as surprising as it is troubling. Indeed many of the “Black firsts” listed below have expressed this very sentiment. Upon discovering that they are the “first” to accomplish a particular milestone, many of these modern-day pioneers expressed feelings of pride and satisfaction, but mingled with surprise and even sadness. Most were not, after all, setting out to be pioneers. Rather, they were simply pursuing a intellectual passion or career path.

There are two ways to interpret the phenomenon of Black firsts. The more negative analysis is that racism continues to allow only a trickle of African Americans to achieve in certain areas, and only at certain institutions. A more optimistic perspective, which I favor, is that as we move towards the second decade of the 21st century, the obstacles that had previously limited African American progress in specific areas and on particular campuses are falling away so swiftly that this decade and the next will be characterized by a wave of Black firsts, as African Americans move rapidly into those fields and positions that had previously been closed to them.

So here’s a toast to the Black Firsts of 2008! Congratulations on your outstanding achievements, and best wishes for continued success in the future.

  • On December 23 Mike Haywood, a former Notre Dame football player and 1986 graduate, became the first Black head coach in Miami University football history and only the sixth Black head football coach in Division I.
  • In late December DeWayne Walker became the first Black head coach in the history of New Mexico State University. Walker will be leaving his former post as UCLA’s defensive coordinator. His appointment makes him the seventh Black head football coach in Division I.
  • The University of Maryland Eastern Shore became the first historically Black college or university (HBCU) to receive accreditation for its Golf Management Program. The program will be available to business students focusing in hospitality administration or marketing.
  • On June 1 Evelynn Hammonds, the University’s senior vice provost for Faculty Development and Diversity and the Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, became the first African American and the first woman appointed to the post of Dean of Harvard College.
  • Tamara L. King became the first African American selected to serve as president of the Association for Student Judicial Affairs. Ms. King is a graduate of Penn State University and NYU Law School. She is the director of judicial programs at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Brian K. Blount was inaugurated as the first African American president of the Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. He also became the first African American appointed president of any seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Sharon Brummell became the first woman and the first African American to coach an NCAA bowling team to a national championship. Her team, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Lady Hawks, is the first women’s team in any sport to win a national title for a Historically Black College or University.
  • Bernard C. Watson became the first African American to have an endowed chair named in his honor at Temple University. The Bernard C. Watson Chair in Urban Education was established at Temple’s College of Education.
  • Eric Anderson, an associate professor of design at Carnegie Mellon University, became the first African American to be was elected president of the board of directors and educational council of the Industrial Designers Society of America.
  • Florida State University varsity football player Myron Rolle became the first FSU football player to be named a Rhodes Scholar.
  • Ronald Winthers became the first African American to chair the board of trustees at New Jersey’s Burlington County College.
  • Gloria J. Gibson, currently dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (and professor of English, folklore and ethnomusicology) at Arkansas State University, was selected to become the first African American to serve as executive vice president and provost at the University of Northern Iowa.
  • Christopher B. Howard was named the first African American president of Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College, one of America’s only remaining single-sex colleges for men. Howard is currently the vice president for leadership and strategic initiatives at the University of Oklahoma.
  • Joanne Epps became the first African American and the first woman to serve as dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.
  • Rutgers University professor Annette Gordon-Reed became the first African American woman to win the National Book Award in the nonfiction category (for The Hemingses of Monticello).
  • Edwina Morris became the first African American ever to be selected for the Roan Scholars Leadership Program, an honor that includes a full four-year scholarship to East Tennessee State University. Morris is a senior at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee.
  • Inger Meredith Daniels became the first African American to graduate with a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Virginia.
  • Dr. Eli Jones was appointed Dean of the E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is the first non-white man or woman to hold this position.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in Academia, African Americans, Black Colleges, Black History, Black Students, Current Events, Higher Education

2 Responses

  1. Samuel

    DeWayne Walker is actually the second black head football coach in New Mexico State University football history. The first black head coach was Tony Samuel who coached from the 1997-2004 seasons.

    In addition, New Mexico State has been very progressive in the hiring of minority head coaches. The past two men’s basketball head coaches have been African-American, the interim coach before them was also African-American. The women’s track and field and men’s/women’s cross country coach, Orin Richburg, is also African-American. The school’s athletic director is African-American as well.

    The Las Cruces Sun-News wrote a very nice article on the diversity in the New Mexico State University athletic department.

  2. Clnmike

    2008 was a hell of a year.

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