Manchester University says it will name its Academic Center in honor of the university’s first African American students, Martha and Joseph Cunningham. The siblings grew up near Kokomo and graduated in 1903.
The university says the Cunninghams arrived at Manchester in an era of intense racial violence. School historian Nicholas Patler says a number of Manchester students did not accept the Cunninghams and made them feel unwelcome. But things improved in their second year as fellow students formed a support group, according to the school in North Manchester.
“More than 100 years later, the Cunninghams leave a legacy of tenacity, courage, and achievement in the face of adversity,” said Manchester President Dave McFadden. “Their story reflects the challenges of their time and Manchester’s own journey through that time. Their story is our story – where we have been and the work that remains. Shining a light on the Cunninghams can help inspire all of us to discover our best selves.”
After graduation, Joseph moved to Chicago and became a physician, while Martha moved to the South and helped impoverished families. In 1911, she became the first woman to be installed as a minister in the Church of the Brethren.
The board of trustees voted this week to change the name of the building. A formal dedication will be held next spring.