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Remembering MSSU’s Afro-American Society

1975-1976 Afro-American Society

Before we celebrated Black History Month, Missouri Southern State University’s Afro-American Society (AAS) established Black Awareness Week in 1975. Featured activities included a talent show, a “Black Retrospect” event with a rap session, a play, prose, and poetry by Vinnie Burrows, guest speaker James Frank on “The Challenge to the Black College Student,” an “Afro Ball,” and a soul food dinner.

April 21-27, 1975 Program for Black Awareness Week

The Afro-American Society was a student organization that garnered community support for the black experience and connected black students and allies on campus. Active from 1970 to 1985, it amassed hundreds of members. The organization was sponsored by Bud Morgan, a white professor who taught African American literature courses on campus.

The Society was formed amid a segregated, prejudiced Joplin. At the time, there were no black professors at MSSU. The AAS incited change on campus and in the community. Its members became activists, electing a black homecoming queen, promoting its leaders for positions in student government, and campaigning to rename Broadway Street “Langston Hughes Street.”

Langston Hughes, born in Joplin in 1902, was one of the authors taught in Morgan’s courses. The AAS sought to recognize him in his birthplace, writing letters to city officials, informing the public door to door, and petitioning Joplin City Council. On June 8, 1976, the council unanimously approved the renaming of Broadway Street to Langston Hughes Broadway.

The organization underwent several changes over the decades, retitled the Black Student Union, the Black Collegians, Culturally Speaking, and the Black Student Alliance. As referenced in The Joplin Globe, Former members of the AAS – Kenric Conway, Damon Clines, Willie Williams, and their sponsor Morgan – reunited in 2017. Dismayed that their society had dwindled, they recommended the expansion of the Langston Hughes literary scholarship, mentorship for MSSU athletes, and greater observance of Black History Month on campus.

The Black Student Alliance is no longer active, but the wishes of the AAS are being fulfilled. MSSU hosts a campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the organization Brother2Brother, which provides men of color with professional development and networking opportunities. Anyone interested in joining the NAACP chapter or Brother2Brother can contact the Student Activities Office at 417-625-9346 or stop by Billingsly Student Center Room 210. Students can also reach out to the MSSU Brother2Brother advisors Dr. Nii Abrahams ([email protected]) and MSSU Head Football Coach Atiba Bradley ([email protected]).

The following unattributed poem was included in the 1975 Black Awareness Week program.

Reflections of Pride

Black reflections born of soul.

Reflections that shine through

                        the darkness of distress.  

Reflections born of Pride.

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