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Cornelius, Alexandra, (1970(?)-) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Cornelius, Alexandra, (1970(?)-)

Historical Note:

History of Purdue University African American Students, Faculty and Alumni collection

In 1993 The Office of Human Relations, the Purdue Alumni Association and the Black Cultural Center worked together to increase the involvement of African Americans in alumni and other University activities.  A quote from a Purdue University Perspective at that time states, “There have been numerous contributions by African Americans to Purdue’s growth as a premier university,” says Myra DeBrow Mason, director of diversity and multicultural affairs. “Black alumni have distinguished themselves in many fields, and we would hope they will lend their skills and expertise to become involved again.”

A project backed by the Purdue Alumni Association and the Black Cultural Center was undertaken in 1993 to contact African American alumni and invite those not already connected to the University to become involved again.  This project was also spurred on by the silver anniversary celebration of the Black Cultural Center on the West Lafayette Campus in 1995, along with the creation of the Helen Bass Williams Scholarship presented annually to an incoming African American student from Indiana. It was also noted in the Purdue University Perspective, “We would really like alumni to become interested in the Williams Scholarship,” says Renee Spaulding, assistant director of the Black Cultural Center. “She was a voice of conscience at the University during a time that saw many changes on campus. She was an extraordinary woman, and we hope people will support the scholarship in her memory.”

It was noted that before 1974, a student’s permanent record did not include any racial or ethnic identification. This missing information impaired efforts of the Purdue Alumni Association to make the group more inclusive of all alumni.

At the same time efforts were being made to contact African American alumni in 1993, Alexandra Cornelius, a graduate student in history began researching African-American history at Purdue for the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. She used the research project to learn about the many contributions blacks have made to Purdue and to learn of the experiences of blacks attending Purdue decades ago. Cornelius went through 99 volumes of the Debris, the Purdue student yearbook and hundreds of Exponents, the student newspaper.  She searched for information to fill the gap in Purdue’s history.

As Cornelius undertook research for this project, she made several discoveries. The first was that Purdue had a longer history of black matriculation than she had expected. The first black student she came across in the yearbook was David Robert Lewis, a student from Greensburg who graduated in 1894 with a civil engineering degree. She also discovered that George W. Lacey may have been the first black student to graduate from Purdue.

In 1905, John Henry Weaver, a black student, ran for the university track team. But Purdue teams, like other national sports teams, became segregated in the 1910s and 1920s. They remained segregated until 1947, when black attorney Willard Ransom, a Purdue alumnus, challenged the University, and a student protest led to a black football player being put into the game. Cornelius found other evidence that life must have been difficult for black students in the early years of the 20th century.

This collection contains material from Cornelius’ research into the history of blacks at Purdue. Alexandra Cornelius graduated from Purdue with a M.A. in 1994. She went on to get a Ph.D. from Washington University in 2006.

For further information on African American history at Purdue University, please see:



Lotus, Jean L. “‘Up South’ In Indiana: Black Alumni Remember Purdue.” Campus Weekly: for Purdue Students 2 (10): pp. 1, 7. Print.

“University reaches out to African American alumni.” Purdue University Perspective: circa 1993: 3. Print.

Note Author: Mary A. Sego

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