Since 1995 the Black History Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has researched and archived more than 150 years of Black history at the university. Now this research has enabled the project to establish a new website that will display over 3,000 pieces of history related to the Black experience at MIT dating back to the 1870s. At present, the website offers more than 500 illustrations, photographs, and other archival material available for community members, scholars, journalists, and other interested individuals to search. An additional 2,500 items already collected by the project will be included in the future.
The earliest photographic representation of a Black presence at MIT is from 1875. It shows Jones’ Lunch, a small cafeteria located at one end of the gymnasium on MIT’s original Boston campus. Jones Lunch was operated by an African American entrepreneur.
Among the items in the collection is a photograph of Marie C. Turner, who in 1905 was the first Black woman to enroll at MIT. Up to this point, the photograph had never been published. Items on MIT’s first Black student – Robert R. Taylor – and first Black faculty member – Joseph R. Applegate – are also included.
The MIT Black History Project was founded and is directed by Clarence G. Williams, adjunct professor emeritus and former special assistant to the president. Professor Williams joined the MIT administration in 1972 as assistant dean of the graduate school. Throughout an MIT career spanning over three decades, he served as special assistant to the president and chancellor for minority affairs, acting director of the Office of Minority Education, assistant equal opportunity officer, ombudsperson, and adjunct professor in the department of urban studies and planning. He is the author of Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941-1999 (MIT Press, 2003).