A University of Arkansas professor has identified the person he believes was the school’s first Black student.
Sociologist Gordon Morgan has sought the identity of the student for years and recently got his answer: James McGahee, one of the institution’s original students when it opened in 1872.
A 19th century Little Rock newspaper reported McGahee’s name in an 1873 article about the university — then called Arkansas Industrial University.
“The name of the student is McGahee, and he is preparing himself for the ministry of the Episcopal church,”‘ the story in the Little Rock Daily Republican read. “We are glad to learn the fact — better one than none in that case.”
Morgan, who joined the university in 1969, says finding the newspaper article validated his years-long opinion. McGahee is listed, by surname only, on Arkansas Industrial University’s 1872 circular along with his classmates.
Tom Dillard, head of university library special collections, says McGahee’s name should be added as one of Arkansas’ Black pioneers.
“[He] should be powerfully symbolic to Black Arkansans today, ratifying that this institution had a Black presence at the beginning,” Dillard says.
A graduate student at the university found the 1873 article after the school learned that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper was researching the topic last summer.
The University of Arkansas has for years promoted itself as the first major Southern institution to enroll a Black student without litigation. Silas Hunt entered the law school in 1948, but died a year later of tuberculosis without obtaining his degree.
— Associated Press
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