“A Home Away From Home: The George A. Jackson Black Cultural Center”

Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) presents “A Home Away From Home: The George A. Jackson Black Cultural Center” an exhibition to recognize the 2020 50th Anniversary of the George A. Jackson Black Cultural Center. The exhibition will be open through the end of 2021. It contains correspondence, photos, event programs, and newsletters showing the work of the BSO to gain recognition and establish the George A. Jackson Black Cultural Center.

Establishing  the Black Cultural Center

A student protest, following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., was the impetus that established what is now the George A. Jackson Black Cultural Center (BCC) at Iowa State University. On April 4, 1968, Black students gathered to form the “Afro-American Students of Iowa State”. Two days later on the evening of April 6, approximately 50 demonstrators from this group gathered at the Memorial Union and toasted to “Black unity on campus,” then tossed away their cups, overturned the tables and chairs and left. Within weeks of this action, the students had laid out their purpose in a constitution and formed the Black Student Organization (BSO). The BSO became the leading voice on campus over the next several years in a push for equitable treatment of Black students, the hiring of Black faculty and staff, an African Studies program, the promotion of cultural awareness on campus, and a center where Black students could share life experiences and providing support in a predominantly white institute. 

Struggle for funding and recognition

The Center faced a struggle for funding and recognition from the start. ISU President W. Robert Parks stated that the university couldn't provide money for the funding of the organization or purchasing of property to house the Center. He did urge student, faculty, staff, alumni, and the general public to help raise funds. Throughout the 1969-70 school year support continued to grow on campus in support of a Cultural Center, with the Government of the Student Body passing a resolution in support, and the ongoing fundraising efforts. By late 1969 the $30,000 was raised and a house at 517 Welch Avenue was purchased to be the home of the Black Cultural Center. The BCC was dedicated on September 27, 1970.

The BCC operated as a stand-alone, private nonprofit with no official ties to Iowa State University, but often worked with the BSO to sponsor programming such as Black History Week/Month events, MLK Day events, along with other programs throughout the school year highlighting Black and African culture. Since its inception, the Center had difficulty with funding, having relied on donations for students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community to keep its doors open. By 1995 the facility needed $40,000 in repairs and an agreement was reached between ISU and the BCC. The BCC would finally be formally recognized as an organization affiliated with the University, programming would be designed to support both, and the ISU Foundation would assist in fundraising efforts. 

Honoring Dr. George A Jackson

On May 20, 2017, the Black Cultural Center was renamed in honor of Dr. George A. Jackson. Dr. Jackson served ISU for 31 years, from his arrival in 1978, Jackson served as the first director of the newly named Office of Minority Student Affairs, Associate Dean of the Graduate College, Director of the BCC, and Special Assistant to the Provost. During his time at ISU, Dr. Jackson championed the recruitment of underrepresented students and faculty, and initiated a number of academic and social programs to support underrepresented student life.  

Image left to right: BCC dedication on September 27, 1970. Roy Snell (President BSO), Mrs. Parks, Norman Thomas (1st Manager of BCC), W. Robert Parks (ISU President), Amelia Parker, Dean William Bell (Associate Dean of Students), Mrs. Bell. University Photographs, box 496.

Contacts 

Greg Bailey, University Library Special Collections and University Archives, University Archivist, 515-294- 4216 or gtbailey@iastate.edu

Rachel Seale, University Library Special Collections and University Archives Outreach Archivist 515-294-5311 or rmseale@iastate.edu