Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Black Milestones in Higher Education, Wolverine Edition (Go Blue!)

July 13th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance


Introduction: This is the second post in a series of posts I’m writing to pay tribute to those African Americans whose pioneering presence on U.S. college campuses opened doors for subsequent generations of Black people.

As I compose the entries for this series I am struck over and over again by two things, 1) the high level of academic achievement of so many of Black America’s pioneering scholars, and 2) how many of these Black “firsts” have taken place during my lifetime. These observations lead me to two corresponding conclusions, 1) that African Americans have accomplished much more in U.S. higher education than we give ourselves credit for, and 2) that far too many institutions, departments, and graduate programs remain largely closed to Black participation, either intentionally or unintentionally.

By the way, if you are a Black “first” on your campus, in your department, etc., please let me know so that I can include you in this series (when your campus and/or alma mater comes up) and in my Black Milestones in Higher Education timeline at the Twilight and Reason website.

History and Overview: The University of Michigan was founded in 1817 near Detroit, on what the U of M Campus Information Centers describes as “1,920 acres of land ceded by the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi people.” In 1837 the University of Michigan moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor where the 7 enrolled students were taught by 2 professors.

The University of Michigan enrolled its first Black students in 1868, two years before it would welcome women students onto the campus. At the time that Black students were first admitted, the University was experiencing unprecedented prosperity. Enrollment in 1867 had reach a historic high of 1255 students, taught by a faculty of 33.

Today the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor has an undergraduate enrollment of 25,555 undergraduates , including 1,709 Black students. The current graduate enrollment is 14,470 graduate students, including 571 Black students. The U of M employs 2,891 tenured and tenure-track faculty,  of whom  146 are Black.

Timeline: Black Milestones at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

  • 1853 — Samuel Codes Watson becomes the first African American student to attend the University of Michigan.
  • 1870 — Gabriel F. Hargo becomes the first African American student to graduate from the University of Michigan. Hargo studied law and was a sargeant at arms in the Lincoln Debating Society. He earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • 1872 — William Henry Fitzbutler becomes the first African American to graduate from the U of M Medical School.
  • 1880 — Mary Henrietta Graham becomes the first Black woman to graduate from the U of M (Bachelor of Philosophy, Literature).
  • 1890 — Ida Gray graduates from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, and in so doing becomes the United States’ first Black woman dental school graduate.
  • 1918 — Elmer Samuel Imes becomes the first African American at U of M (and only the second African American in the U.S.) to complete a Ph.D. in Physics.
  • 1925 — U of M students organize the Negro – Caucasion Club in order to improve race relations on and off campus.
  • 1949 — Marjorie Lee Browne earns a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the U of M, becoming one of the first two Black women to earn doctorates in this field, both in 1949 (the other is Evelyn Boyd Granville, at Yale University).
  • 1952 — Albert H. Wheeler joins the Michigan faculty as an assistant professor microbiology and immunology. Wheeler would go on to become the first Black professor to earn tenure at UM.
  • 1969 — Niara Sudarkasa (born Gloria Albertha Marshall) becomes the first African American appointed to the  faculty of the University of Michigan Department of Anthropology. She would go on to become the first African American woman to earn tenure at the U of M.
  • 1970 — Hon. Harry T. Edwards joins the faculty of Michigan Law School. He would eventually become the first African American law professor to earn tenure at U of M. In the same year, Michigan’s Center for Afroamerican and African Studies is established.
  • 1971 — The William Monroe Trotter House is founded as a Black student cultural center.
  • 1972 — Willie Hobbs Moore completes her Ph.D. in Physics at UM – Ann Arbor, becoming the first Black woman in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in that field. In 1958 Willie Hobbs Moore became the first Black woman to complete an undergraduate degree in Engineering at UM. In the same year, Henry Johnson becomes Michigan’s first African American administrator (Vice President for Student Services).
  • 2003 — On June 23 the U.S. Supreme Court rules that while diversity remains a “compelling interest” in higher education, the admissions system employed by U of M undergraduate admissions is unconstitutional. The Court upholds the whole-file review process used at the U of M Law School

Mary Henrietta Graham

Mary Henrietta Graham, Michigan’s first Black female graduate (Literature, 1880)


For Further Reading: Slater, Robert Bruce. “The First Black Faculty Members at the Nation’s Highest-Ranked Universities.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 22. (Winter, 1998-1999), pp. 97-106.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African American Students, African Americans, Ann Arbor, Black History, Black Students, Higher Education, race, University of Michigan

3 Responses

  1. Henry Johnson

    Good morning,

    I am delighted to see your chronicle of African Americans who have, with God’s Grace and many supporters—seen and unseen, have made a difference in our society. Keep up your work and let me know if I help you in any way.

    warm regards,

    Henry Johnson Vice President Emeritus
    University of Michigan

  2. Ajuan Mance

    Thank you for your comments. I take inspiration each day from the remarkable achievements of these African American pioneers.

    I will contact you about ways that you might be able to assist me in compiling information about the Black presence in U.S. higher education. Thank you for stopping in.

  3. john

    you rule