Original Committee members meet with E. Maxine Bruhns, director of Pitt’s Nationality Rooms Program.
L to R: Prof. Al Moye, E. Maxine Bruhns, ?, Chairman Walter Worthington, ?, Luddie Hayden, ?, ?, ?
Nancy Lee accepts contributions from St. Benedict the Moor Church.
Kweku Andrews displays his hand-carved stools. Left to right: Walter Worthington, Larry Glasco, Betty Tilman, Kweku Andrews, Ralph Proctor, Murrell Wynne-Jones.
Lamidi Fakeye reveals Entry Door panels.
Chancellor Wesley Posvar accepts the final drawing from the architect. Left to right: Maxine Bruhns, William Bates, Laurence Glasco, Chancellor Posvar.
African Heritage Classroom
History of the Classroom
Although interest in a "Negro Room" dates to the 1930s, it was only in 1972 that a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Walter Worthington to create an African Heritage Classroom. Meetings were convened to increase community awareness and involvement, discuss design, and formulate fundraising plans. The first donation to the room was indicative of the grass-roots appeal of the project. In November 1973, a member of the University's Black Action Society came to the Nationality Rooms Director's office with a paper bag containing $208.95 collected at a BAS dance
In 1974, Nancy H. Lee became Campaign Planning Coordinator. She has devoted 15 years of unflagging energy to collecting sufficient money (more than $250,000) to construct and dedicate the room and lay ground for an endowment which provides summer scholarships for University of Pittsburgh students to study in Africa At the first fundraising event in November 1975, Alex Haley, whose book Roots had not yet been published, held 1,000 guests spellbound as he recounted his African voyage of research into his ancestral history. Donations were made by many organizations, among them the Pittsburgh Chapter of Negro Business and Professional Women, the Black Action Society, Girl Friends, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. The bulk of funds, however, came in the form of small regular contributions from individuals throughout the community. For example, in 1975 children from St. Benedict the Moor School presented a check to Nancy Lee for $5.37 and the tradition continues to this day.
Policies governing the Nationality Rooms require that the period of the room pre-date 1787, the founding date of the University of Pittsburgh. Progress toward a room design was achieved by concept chairmen Bernard Morris, Dr. Wendell Wray, Dr. John Wilds, and Dr. Ralph Proctor.
The final concept evolved in 1985, under Dr. Laurence Glasco, a professor of African American history at the University of Pittsburgh. The Concept Committee's members included faculty and African students. Dr. Rosalind Jeffries, Dr. Malcolm MacLeod, Dr. J. H. Kwabena Nketia, Louise Jefferson, Dr. Rowland Abiodun, and Dr. Roy Sieber served as consultants.
In 1987, Dr. Glasco travelled to Ghana to verify room prototypes. Architect William J. Bates’ handsome renderings confirmed the compatibility of design and content. The design was unveiled during a public ceremony on May 8, 1986 by Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives K. Leroy Irvis.
Lamidi O. Fakeye, world-renowned Yoruba wood sculptor, executed the room’s doors and lectern. Kweku Andrews, professor of Fine Arts at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, created the plaster frieze elements, the bas reliefs, the wooden stools, and the thatch segments.
Back to top