Wednesday October 19, 2016
Black students who attended the University of Iowa between the 1930s and the 1960s dreamed of receiving a college education. While their goals reflected family desires spanning generations, their experiences also revealed major developments in the history of the United States. “Visible Hawkeyes” explores these convergences by focusing on Dora Martin Berry, the Great Migration, and mentorship.
In 1955, Berry, a freshman from Houston, became the first black student to be elected Miss State University of Iowa. Her election brought the university widespread praise for its racial tolerance; however, her reign indicated the enduring difficulties of creating a multiracial community. Although her experiences centered on the UI campus, they intersected with broader issues concerning race and democracy.
Dora Martin Berry participates in the Great Migration. Unlike standard accounts of this movement that trace rural black Southerners pursuing job opportunities in the urban North and Midwest, her story involves a relocation based on education. Her case teaches us new lessons about the middle of the 20th century, and with uncanny effects, it tutors us on contemporary situations surrounding black students on predominantly white campuses.
“Visible Hawkeyes” combines a keynote by Dora Martin Berry, a special appearance by performing arts group Step Afrika!, and a mentoring segment. Emphasizing the messiness of human progress, this program attests the profound value of acknowledging all of an institution’s history.
In this clip, Berry discusses her treatment by the University administration after winning. When asked which events she appeared at as Miss S. U. I., her response is swift: “None.”
Although I thought that the students this year deserved credit for their sense of fairness and for their democratic attitude, it seemed to me wiser not to comment publicly, but to regard this as a normal reaction of a student body. I am glad to see that it has been quite generally accepted in that spirit by the State and student body. On the other hand, the hullabaloo in the news media, especially the more distant ones, is a pretty devastating commentary on just how far we are from being a truly Christian nation.
– Quote from President Virgil Hancher’s letter (which you can see here):