The Black Alumni Reunions have been greatly successful in achieving their original objectives of bringing black alumni back to campus, increasing the number of black alumni as members of the alumni association and in providing scholarship funds to black students from black alumni. Prior to the first black alumni reunion in 1990, there were only two scholarships for black students funded by African Americans – the Bryce Morgan Memorial fund and the Sidney Moncrief scholarship; fewer than 100 African Americans with membership in the Arkansas Alumni Association (records could not be divided by race at the time, but the director estimated much less than one hundred members) with fewer than five African Americans having served on the alumni association’s board of directors; and African Americans had no reason to return to campus- not for homecoming or other class reunions by the alumni association.
The 40th anniversary of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity becoming the first recognized black fraternity on the U of A campus is this fall semester with the chapter receiving its charter in 1975. The reason I bring that up is because it has a place in the history of the first black alumni reunion. On the tenth anniversary of Omega Psi Phi being founded on the campus (1984), a weekend celebration was held with the charter and recent members along with a few fellow alumni who shared our experiences and were friends. The event was held at the Hilton Hotel, now known as The Chancellor Hotel, how fitting it is will be the host hotel for the 25th Year Reunion Celebration.
A great time was had by all. Being in Fayetteville, I coordinated the event. At the banquet on Saturday night, Gene McKissic, first black ASG president and I were having a conversation and he stated something to the effect that wouldn’t it be great if an event like this was held for all black alumni. That was conversation was not forgotten. The late Dr. Nudie E. Williams, former associate professor of History and African American Studies received his Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University (OSU). He and I often talked about the black alumni reunions of OSU and the feasibility of one at the U of A. So the three things that led up to pursing a black alumni reunion was the 10th anniversary celebration of Omega Psi Phi being founded on U of A campus, idea put forth by Gene McKissic for a similar reunion for all black alumni, and conversations with the late Dr. Nudie Williams about the OSU black alumni reunions and his experience.
In 1989, I approached Mike Macechko, former executive director of the Arkansas Alumni Association, about hosting a black alumni reunion. He liked the idea but thought it was a few years down the road. I was set on 1990 and although Mike was hesitant due to the time frame, he still offered the support of the alumni association and the idea. One of the major points of his saying a few years down the road was due to the lack of information on black alumni within the data base. Alumni could not be separated by race within the data base at that time. A listing of black alumni was compiled through contacting black alumni in my personal data base and asking them to provide addresses for black alumni they knew; having staff and student workers go through old yearbooks looking for pictures and names of black alumni; matching those names found with addresses in old university directories; and reaching out the black sororities and fraternities asking them for assistance in reaching their alumni through their networks.
The first reunion was held April 27 – 29, 1990 with approximately 150 people attending the banquet, I still have copies of the registrations from all reunions through 2003. Even with the small number at the banquet, it was judged a success and an event to build upon. It was called a “Black Alumni Gathering” with the premise being that any funds leftover would go toward scholarships for African American students. We were successful in making that happen.
Other things of note from that first reunion include Mike Macechko being able to speak to the university’s leadership about his experience at a very emotional business meeting at the reunion where the black alumni held nothing back including tears in telling why they had not returned to the U of A, one graduate had not returned in 20 years and their experiences; three new black alumni members were selected for the alumni association’s Board of Directors; the alumni association formed a committee to address the concerns of the black alumni and students; a committee was formed to assist in the planning of the next reunion; one alumni committed to annually funding the tuition for one black student.
We can all take pride in the accomplishments and benefits derived from the black alumni reunions and that we are celebrating the 25th Year Reunion Celebration. African Americans come back for reunions in record numbers. Paid membership in the Black Alumni Society reached a high of 800 members. BAS has an endowed scholarship. There are now more than 10 endowed and private scholarships by African Americans. AAA and BAS manages a scholarship fund, LaRew for recruiting and retention purposes. Banquets at the reunions reached highs of more than 600 attendees. Not only has there been consistent African American representation on the AAA Board of Directors, the Board has also had its first African American President Gerald Jordan, the AAA has maintained an African American professional staff member since 1994 with duties related to BAS; and the concept of societies was formulated within the alumni association based off the concept and success of the black alumni reunions.
My thanks to everyone over the years who have participated or supported the reunions in any format. Between the reunions of 1998 and 2000, African Americans gave more to the university than in all previous years combined and it has only gotten better with African American students being the beneficiaries. It is a very gratifying experience to be in attendance at the reunion banquets to see the current scholarship recipients to see how far we have come since the first reunion in 1990.
Lonnie R. Williams, Ed.D., B.S.B.A. ’78, M.Ed. ’83, Ed.S. ’91, Ed.D. ’01