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Audrey T. McCluskey
Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center at IU Bloomington celebrating its 40th anniversary Nov. 19

Nov. 11, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center will mark 40 years of providing support and educational programming to the African American community and others at Indiana University, with events next Thursday (Nov. 19).

Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center

Photo by Chris Meyer

The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center today

Print-Quality Photo

Events will include a tour of the building located at 275 N. Jordan Ave., a discussion of its history by community and campus leaders, entertainment by students from the African American Arts Institute and local high schools, an art exhibit, and a dinner for invited guests.

The program will begin at 6 p.m. Most events are open to the public. The theme for the event is "Forty Years of Affirmation and Excellence."

Several people who were instrumental in the center's development will return to IU Bloomington for the festivities. They will include the center's first director, Caramel Russell, and her husband Joseph Russell, former dean of Afro-American Affairs at IU. Yvonne Hudson, widow of the center's creator, Herman Hudson, also plans to attend.

"Our mission remains focused on black cultural awareness and increasing understanding and appreciation of the black experience, and how it continues to enrich our campus in a myriad of ways. The ultimate goal of our programs and actvities is to promote the academic success for our students, and develop culturally competent leaders and citizens," said Audrey McCluskey, the center's current director.

The center is named for the first African-American male and female graduates of IU: Marcellus Neal, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1895, and Frances Marshall, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1919. The center moved into its current facilities in 2001.

Black Culture Center image

IU Archives

Students gather to study at the center in 1976.

The center was born out of an era of campus activism in the late 1960s. African American students organized in the spring of 1968 and after a series of demonstrations and marches, and then-President Joseph Sutton responded by asking them to develop a document that would spell out their goals.

The student group pressed IU to hire more black faculty, admit more black students and introduce black studies programs. By 1969, that document went before the Faculty Council and was approved. The late Herman Hudson became the first chair of the Afro-American Studies (today known as the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies) and then vice chancellor for Afro-American Affairs.

Hudson created the center -- then known as the "Black House" -- which was housed in a series of buildings before finding a more permanent home at 109 N. Jordan Ave. After years of effort by many IU student leaders, administrators and alumni, a new 97,000-square-foot building received funding and was constructed for the center and its affiliates and the Department of Theatre and Drama Center.

Black Culture Center image

IU Archives

The previous Black Culture Center building in 1995.

In a 2001 interview, Hudson said the center was one of his proudest accomplishments. "Besides being a building, (it) is a symbolic structure indicating that blacks are part of this institution, and a kind of home away from home for them to conduct both academic and social activities," he said.

Looking back, McCluskey said many students of color are more integrated into overall campus life than they were in 1969. However, the value of having a place like the Neal-Marshall Center is not only to gather and explore racial identity, but to express the values of a diverse and engaged community.

"I think students today -- black students, white students and all -- feel a voluntary association with the cultural units," McCluskey said of the center's role today. "The students who come here are from many different backgrounds. Our mission remains still focused on the African American and black diasporan culture, but it is disseminated to all people."

IU is committed to enhancing student success and creating a climate that promotes cultural, ethnic and gender diversity. In addition to the Neal-Marshall Center, there are cultural centers for Asian, Latino/Latina and Native American students on the Bloomington campus.

A documentary on the history of the Neal-Marshall Center is being produced. McCluskey said that guests will be invited to share their memories on video at next week's event.

In 2007, the IU Board of Trustees established a goal of doubling the enrollment of under-represented minorities at IU Bloomington by the 2013-14 academic year. Chancellors at other campuses have been directed to set similar goals. Earlier this year, the university awarded $1 million through the President's University Diversity Initiative to fund 12 projects that will strengthen racial, ethnic and cultural diversity at seven IU campuses.