‘Integrating the Life of the Mind’
By Julia Morse
Image courtesy of Special Collections Research Center/University of Chicago Library
At the beginning of the 20th century, members of the University of Chicago zoology faculty were strong supporters of racial equality. Professors Warden Clyde Allee and Frank Lillie went out of their way to recruit and support African-American students in the fields of zoology and marine biology. Among the students they recruited were Charles Turner, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Chicago, Roger Arliner Young and Ernest Everett Just (shown above in photo). Just studied with Lillie, who encouraged him to pursue advanced degrees at the University and supported him throughout his career. The two men maintained a lifelong friendship. During his dissertation research, Just made an important discovery about cell cleavage; his most important publication was The Biology of the Cell Surface (1939). The image of above also includes a letter Just wrote to Julius Rosenwald, explaining the trials faced in realizing his goal of doing scientific work. The letter, dated Aug. 27, 1920, is from the Julius Rosenwald Papers.
A new exhibition at the Library celebrates the rich and extensive history of African-American intellect at the University. “Integrating the Life of the Mind: African Americans at the University of Chicago, 1870-1940” will be on display at the Joseph Regenstein Library through Feb. 27, 2009.
Based on the Library’s historical and archival collections, the exhibit includes original manuscripts, portraits and photographs, African-American publications, books written by African-American alumni and other historic documents dating through the mid-20th century.
Danielle Allen, UPS foundation professor of social science at the Institute of Advanced Study and former Dean of the Division of the Humanities at Chicago, curated the exhibition.
Allen describes the concept behind the exhibition in a narrative: “We all know something about how this nation’s public schools were integrated. From Brown vs. Board of Education to the searing images from Little Rock, Ark. in 1957 and Boston in the 1970s, we follow a trail of icons to tell the tale. What about higher education? African Americans, who often held advanced degrees, led the anti-lynching campaigns of the early 20th century and later legal battles over housing and education. When and how were the nation’s research universities and professional schools integrated? When and how, specifically, was the University of Chicago integrated?”
Allen’s narrative also describes the growth and transition of the old University of Chicago, founded in 1857, and the new University, founded in 1890, at which time the first class included an African-American woman—extremely unusual at that time in the world of higher education.
By 1943, the University had awarded no fewer than 45 Ph.D. degrees to African Americans—more than any other school in the world.
Allen wrote, “In this exhibit you will learn how the University of Chicago came to be integrated and who its first African-American students were. You will see that a few independent-minded administrators and scholars consistently helped clear the path. Finally, you will find that these alumni commonly took from the University of Chicago a strong conviction that rigorous scholarship serves human progress.”
The “Integrating the Life of the Mind” exhibit is presented by the Library in association with the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, a Chicago-based association of universities, libraries and archival institutions that have significant documentation of African-American history, culture and politics—specifically materials that are connected to the city of Chicago.
Additional information is available at http://lib.uchicago.edu/e/spcl/curex.html.