Each February, Tennessee Tech celebrates Black History Month with events across campus designed to facilitate constructive conversations about the importance of diversity and to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our university and society. Throughout the university's history, black students and administrators have continuously shown their resilience and determination to make positive strides in the campus community and beyond.
Special thanks to Tennessee Tech Archives & Special Collections, Office of Communications and Marketing, Athletics and Multicultural Affairs.
Select a Decade:
Leona Lusk Officer was the first black student admitted to Tennessee Tech after schools were integrated, Jan 3, 1964. Mrs. Officer majored in curriculum and instruction. She became Tech's first black graduate earning a degree in Education, Aug. 28, 1965. The first five black students, including Mrs. Officer, were Marvin Beidleman, Joe Neal Hilson. Henry James Jordan and John Hollis McCleallan.
September 15, 1964 Tennessee Tech admitted it's first black athletes. Earning basketball
scholarships were Marvin Beidleman, Joe Neal Hilson and Henry James Jordan.
Morris Irby became the first black member of the baseball team in 1967. Earning a
degree in business management in 1971 and a master's degree in 1977.
Ted Beverly of Baton Rouge, L.A. became a member of the cross country team. Earning
a degree in biology in 1971.
The Black Student Organization was founded by Nathan Littlejohn II in 1968 following
several campus incidents surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
At that time out of 5,000 students enrolled at Tennessee Tech, 50-60 were black. The
BSO sought to discuss and pursue, in coordination with administration the hiring of
minority faculty, increasing minority enrollment and improving college life for students
in the future. After meeting with other universities to help establish a plan to form
an organization, students at Tech met with administration about forming the BSO with
the purpose of working toward establishing understanding and respect for all people.
Littlejohn graduated with a degree in political science in 1970.
The first historically black fraternity on campus was Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc led by Ken Cooke (Education, 1980) an Ed Osborne (Accounting, 1979). The fraternity received its charter as the Chi Lambda Chapter on May 10, 1978. Pictured are charter members: Vhondy Strickland, Gerald Ross, Jeff Ryans, Ken Cooke, Hank Shaw, Anthony Chatman, Stanley Johnson, Anthony McCants, Roddna Rockymore and Warren Osborne.
Tennessee Tech's first black faculty member was Etim B. Ituen, associate professor
in the department of Earth Sciences. A Nigerian native he served as faculty from 1971-1978
was was the recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1974-1975.
The first black female faculty member was Gloria McGee, who joined the College of
Education as an assistant professor Jan. 1, 1977.
The first black member of the Tennessee Tech coaching staff was Al Lewis, who served as an assistant to basketball coach Connie Inman from 1974-1976. Mr. Lewis was a member of the Golden Eagle Basketball team, setting the OVC record for most consecutive free throws (which has since been broken). He completed a bachelors degree in education in 1973 and a masters in 1974.
In 1977, Leo McGee became the first African-American hired as an administrator at Tennessee Tech. He was recruited by President Arliss Roaden, who had been his mentor at Ohio State University while he was enrolled in the Ph.D. program. During his 30-year career at Tennessee Tech, McGee served as assistant and then associate dean of extended education, associate and then professor of education, assistant and then associate vice president for academic affairs and a two-year stint as interim vice president.
The black first sorority on Tennessee Tech's campus was the Xi Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which received charter May 24, 1981. Michelle Banks, an art instructor and administrative assistant in the Affirmative Action Office served as advisor to the sorority. The AKA's main emphasis on campus was "cultivating high ethical and scholastical traditions to help alleviate problems concerning girls and women and to improve their social stature". The 13 founding members were: Michelle Harper, Hannah Hardy, Melissa Dorris, Cheryl Williams, Suzette Hall, Beverly Shockley, Charlotte Smith, Jennifer Bruce, Stephanie Christmon, Tracey Flemming, Annette King, Helen Montgomery and Olivia Parker.
In 1983 Tennessee Tech's National Society of Black Engineers chapter was established and is actively involved with programs that associated students with the NSBE missions. Some of those programs include a tutorial program, resume and study skills seminar, and social events. The National Society of Black Engineers is the largest student-run organization in the U.S. NSBE’s mission is to increase the number of minority engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively influence the community.
The first black inductee into the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame was Frank Jones, a member of the men's basketball team from 1972-76. He was drafted in 1976 by the Buffalo Braves in the 7th round of the NBA Draft. He finished his career as Tech's all-time leading scorer with 1,733 points and still ranks fifth today. Jones graduated from Tech in 1977 with a Bachelor's in Health Education.
The Black Cultural Center opened its doors in August of 1990 under the direction of Mayme Martin. It's purpose included proving much-needed support system for black students and a means of learning about the African-American culture, as well as an alternative place for students to gather and study. The "BCC" has made many strides since 1990 and continues to be a sources of support for students, providing office space for organizations, a small computer lab, a lending library of African-American titles and a conference room.
Nathan Burton was elected as Tennessee Tech's first black president of the Student
Government Association in 1992. He was also the first black student to be appointed
a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents. Mr. Burton received a bachelor's degree
in business administration August 1993.
Fall of 1994 April Allen, was crowned the first black Homecoming Queen. A native of
Bolivar, TN she came to Tech in 1991 and graduated with a bachelors degree in biology
James Harris, a 1990 business management graduate, was the first black alumnus to
receive a Tennessee Tech Alumni Association Award. Harris also received the Outstanding
Young Alumnus Award during Homecoming 1999 for his outstanding contributions to his
Rear Admiral Vinson E. Smith delivered the spring commencement address in 2004 for
1,000 graduates. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Tennessee Tech
in 1974 and served as the team manager for the Golden Eagle football team before going
on to serve as commander of U.S. Naval Forces. Smith's career honors include the Legion
of Merit, Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal
with two gold stars, and the Navy Commendation Medal. In 2003, Smith was honored by
the Tennessee Tech Alumni Association with the Distinguished Alumnus Award and was
inducted in the Golden Eagle ROTC Hall of Fame.
The Reaching Achievement and Committed to Excellence (R.A.C.E) program was founded at Tech in 2009. This peer mentoring program exists to assist first-time students from underrepresented ethnic populations with their transition to life at Tennessee Tech University. It provides social and intellectual support for students to help them become positively involved academically, culturally and socially.
Music student Jalen Talley won the Derryberry Concerto Competition in November of 2016. Talley is the first African-American to win this competition, which dates back over 50 years, and has performed with the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.
The student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was re-chartered in October 2017 to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality and safety of minority students and to eliminate race prejudice.
In September 2019 IMPACT TNTech was established to promote multicultural awareness,
spark interest in and provide education on issues of diversity and equality, develop
an inclusive service-learning community, and enhance student retention and academic
Marc Burnett (English/Journalism '82), now retired, was Vice President of Student Affairs, and served as the highest ranking position obtained by an African American administrator at Tech. He held this position from 1992 to 2019. In 2019, Burnett was named the university's first Chief Diversity Officer. The Marc L. Burnett Student Recreation and Fitness Center opened in 2020, bearing Burnett’s name in honor of his work influencing students at Tech for more than 36 years.
Fred Lowery became the first black member of the Board of Trustees in September 2019.
He graduated from Tech in 1994 with a degree in mechanical engineering and holds a
master’s degree in manufacturing management from Kettering University (formerly General
Motors Institute of Engineering and Management). He serves as senior vice president
and president of Life Sciences Solutions and Laboratory Products at Thermo Fisher
Scientific, the world leader in serving science, with revenues of more than $24 billion
and approximately 70,000 employees globally. He also was recently appointed to the
DuPont Board of Directors.
In the summer of 2020, The Racial Equity Task Force was founded to help develop an action plan for addressing racial equity issues on campus. The primary charge for this group was to be a high-level think tank for racial equity issues and develop immediate actions to address those issues. The task force hosted monthly virtual forums for black students and employees.