In a call to community, President Garimella underscored the need to come together and “combat racism, promote social justice, and foster greater civic responsibility.” This message highlighted several university actions to advance this important work, including the dedication of space in the Davis Center to honor our common commitment to unity, respect, diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. Celebrating Diverse Voices at UVM: Ten Black Experiences is the first of many exhibits to be hosted in this space.

    About the exhibit

    This opening exhibit is centered on the experiences of Black members of the UVM community. It highlights a long, rich, and complex history that involves great accomplishments as well as hardship, prejudice, and bias. Taken together, these stories remind us not only of those who have come before, but also of the ways in which Black lives have mattered and shaped our institution for more than two centuries.

    The content and design of this inaugural exhibit was shaped by Dr. Paul Deslandes, Professor and Chair of the Department of History, volunteer members of the Display Case Committee, and the Silver Special Collections Library working in close collaboration with Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

     

    Profiles and Artifacts

    Each profile includes the individual's affiliation with UVM, brief biography, and an artifact that is reflective of their history.

    Andrew Harris, Class of 1838

    The back of a chair with a plaque in the Waterman building dedicated to Andrew Harris.

    Andrew Harris was born in upstate New York in 1814 and adopted by the family of a white Presbyterian minister. He entered the University of Vermont in 1835, at a time when some were calling for the abolition of slavery. His time at UVM was not easy however, despite the presence of a small minority of sympathetic supporters. In 1838, he became the first African American to graduate from the University but was forced to receive his degree offstage due to the racist objections of classmates. He left Burlington for Philadelphia where he became very active in anti-slavery causes, speaking to a large crowd on the topic in New York City in 1839. In 1841, Harris became a Presbyterian minister but unfortunately died shortly after at the age of 27. There are no known existing portraits of Harris.

    Artifact

    An illustration of the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City, where Andrew Harris delivered an anti-slavery speech to a large crowd in 1839. Gatherings of this sort were common in the nineteenth century, when people flocked to public spaces to listen to lectures.

    Broadway Tabernacle

     

     

    George Washington Henderson, Class of 1877

    Portrait of Henderson

    Before the full discovery of Andrew Harris’s accomplishments, George Washington Henderson was often assumed to be the first African American graduate of the University of Vermont. While this was not the case, he is celebrated as the first African American to ever be elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Henderson matriculated in 1873. Upon graduation, he worked as a teacher and eventually as a minister and professor. Among others, he held positions at two historically Black universities: Fisk in Tennessee and Wilberforce in Ohio. He retired from Wilberforce in 1932. In addition to his scholarship and teaching, Henderson was highly active in early civil rights initiatives and an active campaigner against the horrific practice of lynching.

    Artifact

    A University of Vermont Alumni Magazine from April 1968. The cover features an image of Henderson, whose life story was documented in an article titled “The Strange Tale of G.W. Henderson.”

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    Edna Hall Brown, Class of 1930

    Portrait of Edna Hall Brown

    Edna Hall Brown was likely among the first African American women to graduate from the University of Vermont. Born in Baltimore in 1909 into a prominent family, she attended Frederick Douglas High School before transferring to Vermont’s St. Johnsbury Academy. She started at UVM in 1926 and graduated in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She also received a master’s degree from Columbia University. She worked as a teacher in Baltimore and died in that city in 2000. Material in the university archives provide us with some glimpses into her life. The commencement number of the St. Johnsbury Academy student magazine noted Brown’s love of reading and skills in Latin. It also proclaimed: “We know she’ll make good.”

    Artifact

    A 1917 article from an issue of the Baltimore Sun, discusses the sizeable estate left by Dr. Reverdy M. Hall, a man of color who bequeathed gifts to many relatives including his granddaughter, Edna Hall Brown.

    1917 Baltimore Sun article

    Crystal Malone, Class of 1947

    Portrait of Crystal Malone in front of UVM Ira Allen Chapel

    Crystal Malone arrived at UVM from Washington D.C. in 1943. One of two Black students at the time, she came to the campus during an era when some in the country were questioning the legacies of Anti-Semitism and what had been referred to as “Anti-Negroism.” Following calls by students to do something to counter these pernicious influences, some sororities dispensed with the pervasive traditions of segregation that dominated on many U.S. campuses. In 1945, UVM’s Alpha Xi Delta sorority chapter pledged Malone. After the national body found out, they tried to prevent Malone from joining. Malone refused to step aside and her sorority sisters threw their support behind her. The group burned their charter and disbanded the sorority. Malone’s pioneering efforts and those of her sisters were chronicled in a Life magazine article in 1946. Following her graduation, Malone pursued a career as a high school teacher.

    Artifact

    A letter written by Beverley Robinson (National President of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority) in 1945 to the UVM chapter to chastise the organization for pledging Crystal Malone, a “negro member.” It reflects the racism that Malone and her sorority sisters at UVM encountered.

    View full-sized letter (jpg)

    Read letter (plain text)

    Richard Dennis, Class of 1957

    Richard Dennis in a defensive position in basketball uniform

    Richard “Dick” Dennis was born in Summit, New Jersey and came to the University of Vermont in 1953 where he was one of just a handful of African American students. An outstanding athlete, he was also a member of Phi Sigma Delta fraternity and a critic of a UVM tradition known as “Kake Walk.” This annual event saw fraternities compete against each other by wearing blackface and choreographing dances that relied on racist stereotypes commonplace in minstrel shows. As a gesture of solidarity, members of Dennis’s fraternity refused to wear blackface at the 1954 carnival, donning purple makeup instead. Following his graduation in 1957, Dennis began a teaching career. Eventually, though, he turned to business, serving as an executive at Bell Telephone Laboratories and AT&T. He was an active volunteer and served the University as a member and chair of the Board of Trustees, the first African American to hold this position. Dennis died in 2005.

    Artifact

    A football program from 1955 featuring Dick Dennis. Among the information highlighted is his political science major.

    Meet the Catamounts
     
     

    William Pickens, Class of 1958

    Pickens speaking with UVM students

    William Pickens III came to the University of Vermont in 1954. His grandfather was one the founders of the NAACP and his entire family was highly engaged in American politics and racial activism. At UVM, Pickens continued that tradition by becoming involved in campus causes, protesting the “Kake Walk,” and serving, from 1957 until 1958, as the first African American president of the Student Association (now the Student Government Association). Following UVM, where he studied history and political science, Pickens went on to a career as a business executive at Marine Midland Bank and Philip Morris. He has also served on many non-profit boards and received an honorary degree from UVM in 2009. Recently, he donated a major collection of books on African American history, literature, the Civil Rights movement, and Black life to Silver Special Collections in Billings Library.

    Artifact

    Minutes from a May 8, 1958 Student Association meeting led by SGA President William Pickens, the first African American to hold this position. Notable is the resolution that was passed upholding the principle of free speech.

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    Read minutes (pdf)

    H. Lawrence McCrorey, Professor and Dean

    Faculty Portrait of McCrorey

    H. Lawrence (Larry) McCrorey was born in Philadelphia in 1927, the son of a Presbyterian minister and the grandson of the first African American president of Johnson C. Smith University, a historically Black institution. Following military service, he received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. After a brief career in the pharmaceutical industry, he pursued a PhD in physiology at the University of Illinois. In 1966, he joined the University of Vermont as an assistant professor, rising through the ranks rapidly. He served a variety of important administrative roles at the university including as the first African American dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences. McCrorey was a champion of civil rights and anti-racism and spoke and taught frequently on these topics. McCrorey died in 2009. His papers are housed in Silver Special Collections in Billings Library.

    Artifact

    A written commentary from 1970 on the UVM tradition of “Kake Walk,” written by Dr. Larry McCrorey. McCrorey thoughtfully dissects the ways in which this annual event perpetuated racism.

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    Read commentary (pdf)

    Jennifer Cover, Professor

    Macbeth (Ray Aranha) and Lady MacBeth (Jennifer Cover)

    Jennifer Cover, educated at Emerson College, came to UVM as a theater professor in 1972 and was credited with “bringing black theater to an essentially white university.” In 1977, Cover played Lady Macbeth in a Champlain Shakespeare Festival production and she compiled and directed "No Mo’ Jim Crow," which opened a year-long Harlem Renaissance Symposium on campus. In 1980, she directed a theatrical production of Richard Wright’s Native Son. Just before leaving UVM in 1982, Cover presented "Still I Rise," a one-woman show that celebrated Black heritage through poetry and music. She then went on to a career in the arts in Washington, D.C. and recently retired as President of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington.

    Artifact

    A photograph showing a performance of “No Mo’ Jim Crow” that was held on campus in 1977 as part of the Harlem Renaissance Symposium. This tribute to the writers of the Harlem Renaissance was compiled and directed by theater professor Jennifer Cover.

    ""

     

    David Jamieson, Class of 1992

    Leila Fergus, David Jamieson, and Angela Stover

    David Jamieson was a UVM student and artist who was involved in the 1988 and 1991 takeovers of the President’s Office in Waterman to raise awareness about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. During the 1991 event, Jamieson sketched many of the protestors in a notebook he carried with him. His art dealt explicitly with issues of race and gay sexuality. An example of his art is displayed on the wall of the Davis Center’s Scarlett Oak Lounge, in the stair well leading up to the Fireplace Lounge. Like many gay men of his generation, Jamieson sadly died of AIDS in 1992. Jamieson is pictured in the center of this image, with fellow students Leila Fergus and Angela Stover, at the conclusion of the 1988 takeover.

    Artifact

    A 1985 article in the Burlington Free Press on the visit of author James Baldwin to Burlington. The artist and student David Jamieson lobbied the Student Association (now the Student Government Association) to sponsor the visit.

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    View full-size Free Press article (jpg)

    Read Free Press article (plain text)

    John Lewis, Honorary Degree 2007

    John Lewis in cap and gown speaking at podium

    John Lewis (1940-2020) was an American civil rights leader and politician, who represented Georgia in the House of Representatives from 1987 (elected in 1986) until his death in 2020. Lewis was a key figure in organizing the landmark 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Following this event, Lewis chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1965, as he led a Selma to Montgomery march for voters’ rights, he was brutally attacked by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Before entering politics, he worked in the field of voter education. He was also known for encouraging people to get into “good trouble,” something that everyone showcased in this exhibit did, in one way or another. In 2007, Lewis received an honorary degree from UVM and delivered that year’s commencement address.

    Artifact

    A 1963 article from the Vermont Cynic reporting on a speech on non-violence that the 25-year-old civil rights activist (and future politician) John Lewis delivered at a conference held on the UVM campus.

    1963 VT Cynic Cover

    View 1963 Cynic (PDF)

    Acknowledgements

    Thank you to the exhibit committee:

    • Paul Deslandes, Department of History chair
    • Sierra Espeland, undergraduate student, Civil Engineering
    • Peter Lally, undergraduate student, Public Communications
    • Montana Lara, graduate student, Neurological Sciences
    • Avery Rasmussen, graduate student, Public Health
    • Tiffany Delaney, Larner College of Medicine
    • Melissa Murray, Women and Gender Equity Center
    • Codie Silfies, Department of Student Life
    • Sherwood Smith, Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

    A special thanks to Silver Special Collections Library for giving us access UVM's archives to supplement these rich and valuable stories.