Help us celebrate Black History Month as we look back on UK: Then and Now

As our University embarks on commemorating 70 years since integration, we want to spend this #BlackHistoryMonth looking at UK THEN & NOW.

The University of Kentucky is recognizing 70 years of integration beginning this month. The celebration will feature a series of events, academic courses and special presentations throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. Read about it all here.

Thursday, Feb. 28 – The UK Black Student Union

THEN: The UK Black Student Union was formed in 1968. Theodore Berry ’70 Ed, ’73 LAW was the organization’s first president. The BSU was formed to work on a range of issues needing attention and change at UK. The group called for more black students at UK, as well as more black professors, administrators, and staff.  It also helped create the first UK course to teach African-American history, literature, anthropology and art. The BSU also worked to create scholarships through the UK College Preparatory Program.

NOW: The Black Student Union, located at 313 Blazer Hall, continues its mission of educating the UK community on the contributions of black Americans; to assist, guide, and orient incoming students; to provide continual guidance for members of the Union; to improve relationships between all students; to provide a social and cultural outlet for its members; to participate in the cultural, social, and athletic activities of the University of Kentucky; and to serve as the umbrella organization for all Black and Latino student organizations.

Jim Embry, one of the founders of the BSU, talked with current president Tsage Douglas on the Behind the Blue podcast about their roles as change makers, their leadership of the Black Student Union and their vision for the campus community and beyond.

Terry Birdwhistell, Senior Oral Historian at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History , discusses the BSU on his UK history blog.


Wednesday, Feb. 20 – UK’s Black Fraternities and Sororities

THEN: on April 1, 1965, the Epsilon Chi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha was cofounded by students Ellis Bullock and Bradley Watkins. The fraternity became not only the first historically black fraternity to be chartered on the UK campus, but it was the first in the Southeastern Conference. It wasn’t until a decade later than the first sororities were founded at UK. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. were both chartered on May 9, 1975.

TODAY: UK is home to eight historically black Greek lettered organizations: Fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Iota Phi Theta and Phi Beta Sigma; and sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho. The organizations are members of the University of Kentucky National Pan-Hellenic Council. The UKNPHC works with the Panhellenic Council and the United Greek Council on campus to promote interaction among all councils to exchange information and engage in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions, further promoting a sense of community and belonging among the Big Blue family.



Wednesday, Feb. 13 – Kentucky integrates SEC Football

THEN: Kentucky became a trailblazer in integration when Nate Northington was the first African American to sign to play football at UK in 1965. Greg Page also signed with UK in the same class as Northington. Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg soon followed, making Kentucky the first SEC school to sign black players. Northington became the first black player to play in the SEC on Sept. 30, 1967.

NOW: The signings helped open the doors in the SEC and college sports in general. African Americans made up nearly 73 percent of UK’s 2018 football roster. UK graduate Paul Wagner made the documentary “Black in Blue,” about the 1967 UK team, and the four men were honored with a statue outside the Nutter Center in September 2016.


Friday, Feb. 8 – The Black Voices Gospel Choir

THEN: The UK Black Voices Gospel Choir was founded in 1970 under the direction of Lutischa Coleman-Morton with the assistance of Minority Student Affairs Office, now known as The African-American Office of Student Affairs. The group has been hosted by the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, won the first “Battle of the Choirs” with Vanessa Bell Armstrong in 2000 and have two recordings to their credit, “God Is” (1974) and “Victory Shall be Mine (1975).

NOW: Under the leadership of President Sterling Crayton and direction of Monique Shanks, the choir continues to play a vital role in the recruitment of African American students to UK and enriching their lives while attending Kentucky. Students now receive academic credit for participation while carrying on a tradition of promoting good will through music.


 Wednesday, Feb. 6 – Lyman T. Johnson’s Legacy

 THEN: In the Summer of 1949 Lyman T. Johnson challenged the status quo with a landmark court case and for the first time African-American students enrolled in graduate and professional programs at UK.

 NOW: As a result of Lyman T. Johnson’s tenacity, grit and true perseverance thousands of minority students have been able to attend UK and carry on his legacy on our campus, in our communities and across the world.  




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