University of Michigan Compiles a Vast Database of Its Early Black Students

Mary Henrietta Graham (Class of 1880) was the first Black woman student at the University of Michigan

A new public database of African American students created by the University of Michigan documents students who attended the university between 1817 and as recently as 1970. The database contains information on nearly 6,000 African American students.

The University of Michigan African American Student Project has been working toward documenting and understanding the Black experience at the university through years of research, archival materials from the Bentley Library, and personal stories. The project has identified more than 5,800 verified African American students, their cities or states of origin, and their degree types.

More than 2,200 of the students in the database came from Michigan with Detroit representing more than half of this student population. Among out-of-state students, the top states were North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Louisiana, and Florida.

In the process of collecting the data, hundreds of compelling stories have been uncovered surrounding segregated housing, relocation after slavery, and “segregation scholarships,” which originated in the 1920s.

“What we have discovered is that it was African American students, their organizations, the local community, and African American alumni who carved out lives for themselves on this campus, often with no help and with opposition from the university itself,” said Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library.

The African American Student Project has identified the “who, when, where” of thousands of Black students, but they recognize there is more to be added to more deeply understand their experience and their stories.

“This is a long-term project that is still in an early phase,” Dr. McDonald said. “We will need help from the public to make this data as robust as possible, and to add additional archival sources on the African American experience to our holdings.”

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  1. Do you have information on my mother who graduated from the Rackham School of UM in 1938 or 1939?. Her name at the time was Ruth G. Bass from Raleigh, North Carolina.
    After marriage she went by the name of Mrs. Ruth G. Newsome or Mrs.Moses Newsome.
    Her last address was 2301 Tropical Shores Drive SE, St Petersburg, Florida 33705.
    (Feb 18, 1917- April 28, 2014) (Master’s Degree from the Rackham School, UM)
    Thank you.

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