Historical remembrances to highlight Black Alumni Reunion 2012 weekend

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This weekend's Black Alumni Reunion 2012 will highlight the collective experience of African-Americans at Penn State, past and present. The event will be held during Blue-White Weekend, April 20-22, on the University Park campus.

This year's theme is "The Collective: Honoring Our Legacy, Championing Our Present, and Preparing Our Future."

"As the University is celebrating 150 years of its land-grant status, we -- the black alumni -- are celebrating 107 years of alumni status with reunion attendees from eight decades," said Heather James, 1992 Smeal College of Business alumna, Alumni Council Diversity Committee chair, and Black Alumni Reunion chair. "This truly is a historic Penn State Alumni Association reunion event."

The weekend will feature two celebrations recognizing key elements of the black experience at Penn State.

From 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 20, Lincoln Hall, a former rooming house for male African-American students at 119 N. Barnard St. in the borough of State College, will be commemorated with the dedication of a historical plaque. Speakers will include State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, Penn State historian Darryl Daisey '83, and former Lincoln Hall residents Wally Triplett '49 and Clayton Wilson III '49. The public is welcome to attend the event.

Lincoln Hall, built circa 1910, accommodated African-American students from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. Named for President Abraham Lincoln, it typically housed six to eight students and was operated by a family of fraternity house cooks who had moved to State College from Mississippi -- Harry and Rosa Gifford, their children Bessie and Emanuel, and Emanuel's wife, Agnes.

Because of an unofficial campus housing stance from about 1930 until 1946, black males could choose to room only at Lincoln Hall or at a few private homes. However, black female students could live in the campus residence halls. At times Lincoln Hall residents made up half the African-American student enrollment, making it the center of black life at Penn State. Today, the (privately owned) structure still is used for student housing.

"For me, the story of Lincoln hall is a success story," said Darryl Daisey. "On one side, it's a story of segregation. On the other, a story where a community came together to uplift itself -- that's the bigger story.

"At the time, Penn State was struggling with issues of race like the rest of America," he noted. "Lincoln Hall really served as kind of a harbor for African-American male students, giving them a place where they could feel comfortable, a proactive place that would support them and help make sure that they succeeded. The tight community at Lincoln Hall was a major part of helping these students achieve success."

On Saturday, April 21, a bust of alumnus David Alston will be unveiled during the "Blue White For the Future Scholarship Gala" at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Penn State's first African-American football player, Alston played on the 1941 freshman team, along with his younger brother, Harry. Considered exceptional on and off the field, Alston was a pre-medical student and an accomplished singer and pianist. The son of a minister, he had been president and class valedictorian at his mostly white high school in Midland, Pa., as well as a basketball, baseball and football star.

A dominant halfback on the undefeated Penn State freshman football squad, Alston was expected to lead the varsity squad to a similar record during the 1942 season. He died from complications following minor surgery on Aug. 15, 1942, six weeks before the varsity season began. To watch a video about his life, click here.

The bust, sculpted and donated by Penn State Professor of Art Blake Ketchum, will have a public home in the All-Sports Museum, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In addition to the sculpture, a scholarship fund is being established in Alston's name.

James said that "just as David Alston was 'exceptional on and off the field,' the David Alston Society is being formed to acknowledge Penn State black alumni donors who are exceptional with their philanthropic support of the For the Future: AAAO Trustee Scholarship campaign."

The gala supports the African American Alumni Organization (AAAO) Trustee Scholarship Fund and Penn State’s For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.

Visit "African American Chronicles" at to learn more about the experiences of African-Americans at Penn State.

Black Alumni Reunions have been held since 1985 with each drawing alumni and friends from across the country. Visit for more information about Black Alumni Reunion 2012.

Visit to watch a video about David Alston's life. Credit: Penn State University Archives / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated April 20, 2012