It wasn't until 2007 that Penn State alumnus Darryl Daisey started doing research for Penn State’s Black Alumni Reunion that he realized how much history about blacks at Penn State had never been documented.
With the help of many groups, including the Penn State Alumni Association, Africana Research Center, Black Alumni Reunion Steering Committee and the Office of Educational Equity, Daisey compiled a timeline of black history called “Penn State University African-American Chronicles, 1899-2008.”
In December 2008, he launched the “Penn State Black History” Web site featuring “Chronicles” and other research into Penn State’s black history.
Following are profiles of significant figures in Penn State’s black history drawn from Daisey’s research.
To learn more, visit his Web site at www.pennstateblackhistory.com.
CALVIN HOFFMAN WALLER
FIRST BLACK GRADUATE
A member of the Penn State Class of 1905, Calvin Waller is believed to be Penn State’s first black graduate, although there are no official school records from that time to indicate students’ racial identity.
A native of Macon, Ga., Waller earned his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.
His arrival on campus in 1899 does not seem to have provoked any disturbances. Rather, he distinguished himself as associate editor of Penn State’s 1904 La Vie yearbook, a member of Alpha Zeta agricultural fraternity, the natural history club, association of athletics marshal for the football team and quarterback for the intramural football team, the Tumblers.
He also was an accomplished vocalist who served as president of the Glee Club and a member of the Cecelian Quartette.
His professional accomplishments include: head of the agricultural department at Prairie State University in Texas (now known as Prairie View A&M University), faculty member at Haynes Institute in Augusta, Ga., and Texas State Leader of Negro Extension work.
CUMBERLAND ‘CUM’ POSEY JR.
FIRST BLACK STUDENT ATHLETE
The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee enrolled at Penn State in 1909 as the college’s first black student athlete.
Posey, who studied chemistry and pharmacy, would become one of the leading entrepreneurs of professional sports, first playing for, and then owning, the Pittsburgh-based Homestead Grays, one of the most successful franchises in Negro Leagues baseball history.
While at Penn State he played on the freshman basketball, varsity basketball and freshman baseball teams, but left school after two years.
After leaving Penn State, and after a brief stint at the University of Pittsburgh, Posey helped form and played for the Monticello Athletic Association team that captured the Colored Basketball World Championship in 1912. In 1913 the club changed its name to the Loendi Big Five. By this time, Posey was the star player and operator (which included managing, booking and promoting) of the club. Loendi won the Colored Basketball World Championship four years in a row from 1920-23. In 1915 Posey played for Holy Ghost College — now Duquesne University — using the alias Charles Cumbert, and led the basketball team in scoring for three seasons.
The 5-foot-9, 140-pound Posey was “lightning fast, controlling the ball and the tempo of a game,” wrote Ocania Chalk in Black College Sport, adding that he was “regarded as the best colored player in America.”
Starting in 1911, Posey played center field for and subsequently became the owner of the Homestead Grays baseball team. He owned the Negro Leagues club until his death on March 28, 1946.
FIRST BLACK MISS PENN STATE FINALIST
A secondary education major from Philadelphia, Julie Cromitie was installed as president of the Association of Women Students in 1964. The group was the coordinating body for cultural, social and educational activities for the women of Penn State.
Cromitie, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, was the first black person elected to this position. She also served as treasurer of the Mortar Board honorary society.
On April 15, 1964, she became the first black woman selected as a Miss Penn State finalist. Judged on their activities, appearance, grades, personality and poise, the five women were chosen from among 38 entries.
ONE OF THE FIRST BLACK FOOTBALL PLAYERS
In 1942, Dave Alston, star of the 1941 Penn State freshman football team, died of complications from a tonsillectomy, about six weeks before he was to make his debut on the varsity squad.
The 20-year-old sophomore pre-med student had been the dominant halfback on the freshman team, and he and his younger brother Harry — who also played on the 1941 freshman team — were the first black football players at Penn State.
Weighing more than 200 pounds and standing well over 6 foot tall, Alston was a triple threat on the gridiron. He ran with amazing speed, was an exceptionally accurate passer and could kick more than 60 yards. He was compared with such greats as Jim Thorpe and Paul Robeson by Penn State football coach Bob Higgins and other experts. Higgins called Alston “the greatest player I ever coached.”
Alston had been named the top sophomore football player in the nation and a preseason All-American by Esquire magazine just prior to his death.
Alston excelled off the field as well. The son of a minister, he had been president and class valedictorian at Midland High School, as well as a basketball and football star. At Penn State he was known as a friendly, intelligent and fun-loving student who wanted to be a “good doctor” one day.
His attitude was unassuming and sincere. He was a great source of pride for the school and the state of Pennsylvania, but especially among the black population.At 9 a.m. Aug. 15, 1942, Alston went to Centre County Hospital for a tonsillectomy. Shortly after the operation, a fatal blood clot formed, causing his lungs to collapse.
BETTY JEAN LOVE
Raised in Pittsburgh, Betty Jean Love began studying ballet at age 4. She took lessons at the old Irene Kaufmann Settlement and the Gillion Studios, and later studied dance at the University of Pittsburgh.
She graduated from Schenley High School in 1952 and enrolled at Penn State in the fall of that year as a physical education major in the College of Health and Human Development.
While at Penn State, Love was active in the modern dance club, becoming president as well as a featured dancer in its annual spring modern dance concert.
During her fourth semester, she was the subject of a prize photograph by Penn State faculty member and noted photographer, Edward Leos. Love was also active in the Kappa Phi Club and intramural sports.
In April 1953, she decided to try out for the Penn State cheerleading squad. She loved football, wanted to demonstrate her school spirit and thought it would be a great use of her dance and gymnastics abilities.
But when she tried to sign up for tryouts, she was told that “Negroes were not allowed on the squad.”
While disappointed, she “brushed it off” and focused her energies on her education and honing her dance skills.
In April 1956, Love made her competitive gymnastics debut as one of two women representing Penn State at the National AAU Championships and Olympics Trials. She competed on the individual balance beam.
After graduating from Penn State in 1956, she accepted a position as physical education director at the YWCA of Akron, Ohio. She later accepted a similar position at the YWCA on Wood Street in Pittsburgh.
To advance her dance career, Love in 1962 took a position at the Lexington Avenue YWCA in New York City, where she could work while auditioning for shows.
In 1964, Love landed a role as a dancer in the gospel song-play “The Prodigal Son,” written by Langston Hughes, and directed by Vinnette Carroll. The show opened at the Greenwich Mews Theatre in New York City, and would tour several European cities, including Paris and London during the next year.
While on tour in Paris, Love met U.S. serviceman Ray Gibbs III, and they married in 1966. His military career took the couple to Paris, where their only child, Cynthia Yvette, was born. The family eventually moved back to Pittsburgh, where Love became activities director for the YWCA. In addition to her director duties, Love instructed adults and children in dance, exercise and swimming.
Her dance program at the YWCA became so successful that she created “Love’s Academy of Dance.” She produced an award-winning competitive dance team in the 9-11 age category, and many of her students have gone on to pursue careers in the dance world.
In 1990, Love began a stint as a dance specialist/instructor at the Pittsburgh High School for Creative and Performing Arts. She retired in 2005 and lives in Pittsburgh. Her husband died in 2009.
MILDRED SETTLE BUNTON
FIRST FEMALE BLACK GRADUATE
In the face of overwhelming poverty, Mildred Settle Bunton refused to let economics steal her dream of attending college. Bunton, recognized as the first black woman to graduate from Penn State, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health and human development in 1932.
Raised in poverty as the seventh of nine children, whose father died when she was very young, she had to work her way through school. She worked for faculty in exchange for room and board, borrowed money for tuition, and won scholarships from the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women. Money was not Bunton’s only obstacle; when she arrived at Penn State in 1929, she was the only black female student on campus. Even with these challenges her name consistently appeared on the dean’s list and she graduated with honors in 1932 with the highest grades in the home economics department.
In the March/April 1989 Penn Stater Magazine, Bunton said “No one ever mistreated me when I was there (at Penn State).” She said in the interview for that article that on occasion, she was called “the woman on the box” — a reference to Aunt Jemima — but she attributed this to unfamiliarity, not cruelty. “They had never seen a colored woman before,” she said.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in nutrition from Cornell University in 1953. Her career accomplishments include: director of dietetics at Freedmen’s Hospital; associate professor at Howard University; work with the 1969 White House Conference on Nutrition, Food and Health; and subcommittee chairwoman on the District of Columbia’s Mayor’s Commission on Food, Nutrition and Health.
MATTHEW ‘MATT’ ROBINSON JR.
‘SESAME STREET’ CO-CREATOR
Matthew Robinson Jr., who was raised in Philadelphia and graduated in 1958 from Penn State, made his debut as Gordon on the first episode of “Sesame Street” in 1969. Appearing in that role for the first three seasons (pictured above), Robinson was one of the original creators of the show.
He wrote “The Gordon of Sesame Street Storybook,” recorded an album of children’s songs and helped shape the show into an international success. He later achieved acclaim writing for and producing “The Cosby Show”; writing for TV shows such as “Sanford and Son” and “Eight is Enough”; and writing and producing movies (“Save the Children” and “Amazing Grace”) and several plays.
The former president of the Penn State Omega Psi Phi fraternity chapter, Robinson and his wife, Dolores, had two children, actress Holly Robinson Peete and Matthew Robinson III.
A recipient of an NAACP Image Award, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1982 and died Aug. 5, 2002, at age 65.
FIRST BLACK WOMAN ON FIELD HOCKEY TEAM
A freshman from Huntingdon, Lorraine Hutchings in October 1969 became the first black woman on the field hockey squad, taking the field as the starting center.
Hutchings, a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, would also be the first black player for the Lady Lions basketball and the lacrosse teams in 1970. She played just one season of basketball but starred in field hockey and lacrosse.