Before 1968: A White Campus

The University of Illinois was founded in 1867. Its initial charter in 1863 only provided for the education of white students. This language was removed before the actual opening of the university due to the 13th and 14th Amendments, but the legacy of all white education was very strong as the first African Americans would not graduate from Illinois until the turn of the century. Throughout the 20th century African Americans slowly developed a larger presence on campus, although they would never exceed 1% of the student population. African American students also faced discrimination and exclusion from many campus activities. These students found other ways to enjoy their college experience and did participate in some prominent campus activities including Greek life and athletics. However, external events, most importantly the Civil Rights movement, created the tense environment of 1968 in which the University made the decision to launch Project 500 and drastically increase the presence of minority students on campus. The items in this collection help to tell the story of what life was like for African American students in the century before Project 500 and what national factors helped to prompt Project 500 in the 1960's.