Few people know as much about the Black experience at UW–Madison as Harvey Long does. When he was a grad student in the iSchool, Long began studying the stories of the UW’s earliest Black students, bringing forward names such as William Smith Noland 1875, who is thought to be the UW’s first Black graduate; George Coleman Poage 1904, one of the university’s first Black athletes and the first African American to earn an Olympic medal; and Mabel Watson Raimey 1918, believed to be the first Black woman to graduate. He discovered that, in the previous century, the UW’s graduate programs were often a destination for Black Americans. “In the early 20th century, they are coming from the South and getting a great education then going back to teach at Black colleges and universities.” Badger Vibes talked with Long to get his list of the most influential Black educators to come out of the UW. Though he says “there are so many names,” here’s a start: a list of 10 UW educators who shaped the Black university experience.
Ambrose Caliver MA1921: Served in Franklin Roosefvelt’s “Black cabinet,” and taught at Fisk Univeristy in Nashville. “He was basically responsible for Black education in the United States,” says Long.
John A. Davis MA’34: Taught at Howard University; served as head academic researcher on the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which led to desegregating schools
Harold Finley MS’29, PhD’42: Studied zoology with the UW’s legendary Lowell Noland; taught at Howard University
Larzette Hale-Wilson MPh’43, PhD’55: The first Black woman to be certified as an accountant; international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; professor of accounting at Utah State University
John Welsey Lawlah Jr. MS’29: Dean of medicine at Howard University, 1941–46
Arnold Hamilton Maloney PhD’31: America’s first Black pharmacologist; taught at Howard University
Virginia Nyabongo MA’37, PhD’44: Taught French at Tennessee State University and became dean of women; “She married this Ugandan prince, but she was an intellectual in her own right,” says Long. “There are all these amazing accounts and newspapers talking about all the dignitaries they’re hosting in Nashville and how she’s this towering intellectual.”
Benjamin Quarles MA’33, PhD’40: Taught history at Morgan State University; author of Fredrick Douglass and Black Abolitionists, among other books
Mabel Smythe-Haith PhD’42: Taught at Lincoln University in Missouri; U.S. ambassador to Cameroon and then to Equatorial Guinea
Hubert Mack Thaxton MA’36, PhD’38: Professor of physics at North Carolina A&T. “A lot of scolars believe he could have been a Nobel laureate,” says Long, who notes that he essentially created North Carolina A&T’s department of physics. “He builds that program up almost single-handedly, and after that he leaves and goes to Delaware State University, which is also a historically Black college.”
This story originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Badger Vibes. Learn more about this monthly email newsletter from WAA, and sign up for the mailing list.