Black Student Union

First Black Students at Luther College

The first black student to attend Luther College was Asibong Okon of Nigeria. He attended Luther College from 1951 to 1954 and graduated with majors in history and economics. However, it was not until 1964 that Luther College established an exchange program with traditionally black institutions such as Philander Smith, Little Rock, Spelman and Fisk University. The first black students to benefit from that program were; Cecilia Tucker, Etta Williams, Constance Nabwire, Mary Carter, Rita Sanders, Ben Diggens, Marge Harper (Pioneer, 1964, 121).

Creation of the Black Student Union (BSU)

Four years after the launching of the Exchange program, more black students attended Luther College; unfortunately, with the increasing number of black students came racial prejudice and discrimination. Thus, students of African descent felt the need to create an organization whose “purpose would be to better prepare black students for an existence in the predominately white Luther College community, and to change the attitude of that community, which was at best apathetic, and in many cases actively hostile. During fall 1968, Jerry Hutch, Byron Dean, Augusta Stephens, Reulan Walter and Carmen Allison founded the Black Student Union. At that point in time, black students believed that in order for them to have an active part in Luther College community, they had to enter it with a knowledge and pride of their blackness. They felt that they could best gain that knowledge trough education ventures of, for, and by black people (Constitution of the Black Student Union, 1968).

Accomplishments of the BSU

To gain respect, the Black Student Union had to project a united voice. (Reulan Walter, 1968) To achieve that goal, the BSU resolved to initiate various projects such as the Kuumba magazine and the establishment of Black Cultural Center, which housed the BSU offices and was a house to different guests.

The Kuumba was a magazine created by Luther College black students. At first, Kuumba’s structure was a newspaper format then in 1975; it changed to a magazine format. With the change of structure, the magazine began to deal with more pertinent issues involving political, economic, and social concerns. It included black historical events of significance that uplifted and awakened the reading audience. The Kuumba staff felt that awareness by people of their surroundings allowed them to more effectively deal with the ills of the American society. Hence, the Kuumba staff started doing more research to bring about that change in consciousness remembering that being unaware was being dead. Kuumba motto was “Kufanya Kazi (work), Kusoma (study), Kuumba (create), and Kujenga (build) (Kuumba, May 1975) The Kuumba staff was not afraid to denounce discrimination and the hypocrisy that comes with it. However, that revolutionary approach did not stop the Kuumba staff from questioning black students’ attitude when it was needed. Consequently, Kuumba staff pushed black students to strive for the best for it was the only way to gain esteem.

Sunnyside, or the Black Cultural Center, served many people and organizations since it was constructed in 1850’s. Records show that the first resident of the house was Ebenezer Bladwin, one of early settlers in Decorah. In 1897 the C.K. Preus family moved from the Spring Prairie parish in Wisconsin to Decorah. Mrs. Preus was the oldest daughter of Ove Jakob Hjort. Sunnyside building now went into the hands of the C.K. Preus family. In 1902 C.K. Preus became the second president of Luther College. In 1920, Sunnyside was sold to Luther College and has served as a home for faculty members and a dormitory. From 1951 to 1965 it served as the major music building. For one year it was a student coffee house. The history department was located in Sunnyside for six years. The Upward Bound program replaced them in 1976. With the building of Jenson Hall of Music directly behind the Black Cultural House and following an evaluation of the cost of renovating the house, it was decided to make Sunnyside the new Black Cultural Center. (Erling Naeseth, Business manager, 1984)

BSU Annual Celebrations

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday, which celebrates family, community and culture.It is based on African first harvest celebrations and organized around five fundamental kinds of activities: ingathering of the people; special reverence for the creator and creation; commemoration of the past; recommitment to the highest cultural values; and celebration of the Good. Building on this ancient tradition, Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as an act of cultural recovery and reconstruction. A seven-day holiday, Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 and is structured around seven core communitarian African values, The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles) , which are directed toward reinforcing family, community and culture. The Nguzo Saba are: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith) (Learning about Kwanzaa: University of Sankore Press ( At Luther College, the students working in the Multicultural Center during the year 1999 initiated Kwanzaa festivities. At first, Kwanzaa was a weeklong event, which allowed students to respect the seven principles of Kwanzaa through different celebrations. Then in 2000, Kwanzaa changed to a one-day celebration that combined chapel and feast. During the feast, a speaker was usually invited and everybody shared their talent with the rest of the community. However, in 2007, no speaker was invited, Kwanzaa became an event where people shared their talent and their understanding of Kwanzaa. (Wintlett Taylor-Brown)

As for Black History Month, it begins with historian Carter G. Woodson. In 1926, Woodson finally came across an idea that would forever associate his name with Black History Month. Negro History Week, as the black fraternity Omega Psi Phi called it, was a week in February dedicated to celebrating the achievements of blacks. Through Woodson’s promotion of the celebration in the Journal of Negro History and the creation and distribution of kits for children, Negro History Week gained in popularity. In 1976, it evolved into Black History Month (Jessica McElrath, The origins of Black History Month: Black History is also a major event in the Britain where it is celebrated in October ( Black History Month 2007: The Luther College Black Student Union (BSU) also recognizes the importance of black history, especially for students. The BSU celebrates the month by sponsoring the Iowa Black Student Union Conference. Second of its kind, the conference, which takes place Feb. 17-18, is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of issues that affect black students attending institutions of higher education in the state of Iowa. The conference intends to strategize ways that students can resolve such issues collectively. Another underlying objective of the conference is to provide all black organizations with an opportunity to create effective links among each other, as an effort that will support retention initiatives in the colleges where the organizations are based. (Godson Sowah, 2006)

Club Ebony (the present-day BSU talent show) was formed in November 1970. It was a variety show occurring once a year, which displays the culture and the talents of the Black Students of Luther College and nearby Black communities. (Jefferson Brown, November 1976)

Some Outstanding Black People Who Attended Luther College

Professor Thomas Tlou, was born on the first of June 1932. He came to Luther in 1962, majoring in history and biology, graduated in 1965 with highest honors and recognition (he graduated Magna Cum Laude, and was chosen outstanding graduating senior). In 1966, he received a Master of Arts and Teaching degree at Johns Hopkins University. In 1971, Professor Tlou received his Ph.D in African history from Wisconsin University. In 1977, LC conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa. (1984, BSU booklet) In 1984, he became the first Motswana to hold the post of vice-chancellor of the University of Botswana, retiring in 1988. He also served as Botswana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 1976 and 1980, as chair of the Association of the Commonwealth Universities, and as a member of the Association of African Universities. (, University of Cape Town: Honorary doctorates for June graduation: Professor Thomas Tlou-Doctor of Literature. Volume 25.14, 12 June 2006, accessed 22 June 2008)

Cheryl Adrienne Brown was Miss Decorah, Miss Iowa 1970. She became the first black contestant to compete in the Miss America beauty pageant. Cheryl Adrienne Browne’s activities at Luther have been numerous. She has been active in cheerleading, gymnastics, Orchesis, member of Alpha Beta Psi, served on a Mission Team from IXTHUS, and was member of the BSU including being part of Club Ebony in which her talent as a dancer played a very entertaining role. (Sharon Meyer, September 18 1970, Chips)