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Black Experience at Northwestern Collection

Identifier: 31/6/167

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Northwestern Black Experience collection consists of two boxes. The collection spans the years 1870-2015 and continues to expand. Several of the items in this collection were added and compiled by researchers or librarians, therefore the nature of certain items are speculative. For example, there are several lists of African American athletes, students, and faculty that appear in this collection but no way to confirm if these lists are exhaustive and accurate. The collection has four series: biographical subject files; student, faculty, and athletic life; other local communities; university reports and statistics. Within the biographical subject files are documents from the university’s archives such as applications for admission, alumni reports, and yearbook photographs; as well as additional newspaper articles and photographs collected from outside the university. The student life series includes newspaper clippings about various aspects of campus-life such as student activities and programs, housing, and student protests that erupted during the late 1960s. The other local communities series includes information about Evanston’s Black community and the African American experience at the University of Chicago. The university reports and statistics series includes information pertaining primarily to Northwestern’s Black undergraduate population during the 1970s and 1980.


  • 1870 - 2017

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on use of the materials in the department for research; all patrons must comply with federal copyright regulations.

Biographical / Historical

Founded in 1851 by the Methodist Church, Northwestern University was started to educate residents of the newly emerging northwest territory on the American frontier. The thought of educating and housing African American students at Northwestern was contested and often these students faced exclusion from on-campus and recreational activities sponsored by the university.

Black students have graduated from professional schools that would later become affiliated with Northwestern since the late nineteenth-century. However, in 1903, Lawyer Taylor became the first Black undergraduate to earn a degree (B.S. in Mathematics) from Northwestern University. In 1905, Naomi Wille (Pollard) Dobson became the first Black undergraduate alumna. A few years earlier, in 1902, Isabella Ellis, an African American student was denied housing by Chapin Hall; a dormitory run by the Women’s Educational Aid Association. Thus, Ellis was unable to secure housing nearby and was forced to discontinue her studies. In 1926, the Quibbler’s Club, an interracial student group, was established. Throughout the group’s early years, they hosted social gatherings and sponsored Negro History Week programs.

During the early to mid-1900s African Americans, whether as students or patrons of the university, continued to be excluded from housing, most student activities, and several parts of the Evanston community. Thus, African Americans at Northwestern built coalitions with other college students, local and national civic organizations to protest forms of discrimination and exclusion on-campus. In 1937, William Y. Bell, a student at Northwestern, was prohibited from using facilities owned and operated by the university, and with the help of the NAACP successfully sued Northwestern for $5,000 in damages. In the years following the second world war, post-war racial liberalism began to challenge the existing racial climate on campus. Students at Northwestern began protesting the rigid housing segregation rules resulting in dozens of Black students living off-campus. After years of protest the university finally created the International House in 1947, for college women this dormitory was the first university-sanctioned property that allowed African American occupation. In 1949, Asbury Hall was established for the same purpose for African American men on-campus.

Despite the advancements made with interracial housing and Black participation in certain student activities, Black students at Northwestern continued to be bombarded with instances of racial discrimination. Protests throughout the country, on various college campuses, prompted students at Northwestern to act. In late April of 1968, African American students presented a list of demands to the university’s administration. On May 3, 1968, more than 100 African American students occupied the Bursar’s office. This occupation resulted in the establishment of the Department of African American Studies and the creation of a Black Student Union-- today known as The Black House.


2 Boxes

Language of Materials



Materials in this expanding collection pertain to the experience of African American students and faculty at Northwestern University. The documents included in this collection are university reports about African American students, articles on race and higher education, reproductions of student newspapers discussing race relations on-campus and materials concerning the 1968 Bursar’s Office Takeover. This collection also includes biographical subject files.


The series of biographical subject files are organized alphabetically by last name and the other series are arranged chronologically within folders.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These materials, originally part of University Archives' Subject Files, make up an artificial collection that expands over time as archives staff and university librarians add to it. The collection’s most recent additions were done in November 2021.

Guide to the Black Experience at Northwestern Collection
Taylor, Marquis
November 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US