Black Boilermakers Through History

Happy Black History Month. February is a month full of learning about the contributions of Black Americans to our society throughout history with little to no recognition in formal education or mainstream media and entertainment. I was intrigued to know more about how Black history played a role on Purdue’s campus. I turned to the archives in the Black Cultural Center Library and wanted to share some of my favorite Purdue Black history facts with you, but encourage you to learn all about Purdue’s Black history and explore the cultural events the BCC has to offer.


1. David Robert Lewis was Purdue’s first Black graduate. He earned his B.S. in civil engineering in 1894

2. Richard Wirt Smith was Purdue’s first Black athlete in 1904.


3. Delores Cooper was the first Black woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in pharmacology as well as the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from Purdue in 1955.

4. Black athlete Lamar Lundy was the only Boilermaker to win MVP awards for both football and basketball in the same year, 1957.

5. In 1960 students organized the Negro History Study Group that eventually became Purdue’s Black Student Union.

6. Nearly 150 students nonviolently protested against racism on campus by laying down bricks on the steps of, what is today, Hovde Hall in 1968. In response to the demands presented by the students, Purdue President Frederick Hovde established a committee to investigate the problems students of color were experiencing.

7. Helen Bass Williams became the first Black professor at Purdue in 1968.

8. Pam King a Black cheerleader was banned from entering the basketball arena during the playing of the National Anthem due to her holding up the Black Salute fist during football and basketball games. King subsequently quit the cheer team.

9. The Black Student Union published the first issues of their newspaper called the Black Hurricane in 1970.

10. Kassandra Agee became the first and only Black Homecoming Queen in 1978.


11. In 1998 money was donated for the construction of a new Black Cultural Center 28 years after the original center was build. The current Black Cultural Center is the first and only building on Purdue’s campus that was designed by a Black architect.


12. Black students on campus organized a die-in protest in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

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