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Homecoming Celebrates 50 Years of Pitt’s African American Community Progress


drawing of a computer from the 60s with cut-out photos of black students pasted on top

In the tumult of 1968, a group of students gathered to form what would become the Black Action Society. The mission? To advocate for the concerns, needs and interests of Black students at the University of Pittsburgh and members of the local African American community.

The group grew. And on Jan. 15, 1969, 48 students staged a sit-in in the eighth-floor computer center in the Cathedral of Learning, to insist that four specific demands be met to improve Black life on campus.

students in the stands at last year's homecoming football game with arms around each other

Homecoming 2018

Homecoming festivities will, as always, feature classic events throughout the week: Find details on the football game, laser and fireworks show and more on the full schedule of events happening Oct. 2-7.

Attendees are invited to share memories on social media using the hashtag #PittHC18.

For Homecoming this October, the African American Alumni Council (AAAC) celebrates those students’ activism and the progress it ushered in with “50 Years of Pride, Progress and Partnership at the University of Pittsburgh,” a special lineup of programming to launch a year of celebrations honoring the people who catalyzed change on campus in 1968-69 — and recognizing those today who work to further that legacy.

Former AAAC president Linda Wharton-Boyd (A&S ’75, ’79), who is organizing this year’s events, said “there’s something on this program for everyone. It crescendos into the major 2019 event which commemorates the takeover of the computer center, which was the catalyst of change that we see today.”

Members from several essential groups in AAAC’s history will be honored at the marquee Sankofa Homecoming event, a banquet on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 6-9 p.m. in Alumni Hall’s Connolly Ballroom. There, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher will give a keynote address and receive a major contribution on behalf of the University that will go toward an endowed scholarship administered by the AAAC.

  • The Pitt Engineering IMPACT Program (now EXCEL), founded by the only Black tenure-track professor in the School of Engineering in 1968, Karl “Kirby” Lewis, has offered academic counseling, peer mentoring and summer programs for underrepresented engineering students for a half-century.
  • The Black Action Society became the recognized representative body for Black students at Pitt. Its 1969 computer center sit-in led to the establishment of the Department of Africana Studies.
  • Through efforts of University-Community Education Programs (UCEP), the numbers of African American students, faculty and administrators has increased at Pitt. The programs established a doorway to Pitt for Black faculty and served more than 3,000 students, estimates the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.

Just as it is important to be mindful that progress often flows from struggle, we should also keep in mind the traditional African concept of Sankofa — the need to look back on one’s history, to interpret it correctly and to use lessons learned to guide the future.

Vaughn Clagette (A&S ’89, MED ’93), trustee and former African American Alumni Council national president

Other noteworthy AAAC Homecoming events include:

  • Apple Seed Community Service Project with the Pittsburgh Public Schools from 8 a.m. to noon on Oct. 5.
  • “Blue, Gold & Black: From Doorway to Distinction” film screening will take place from 8:30 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 5.
  • Bebe Moore Campbell Memorial Collection will debut at the Hillman Library from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, to commemorate the Pitt alumna and world-renowned author. A panel, including actress Tina Lifford, will discuss the “Life, Legacy, Achievements and Literary Contributions of Bebe Moore Campbell.” Lifford, who was a friend of Campbell’s, currently stars as Aunt Vi on the critically acclaimed show "Queen Sugar," airing on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Other credits include series such as "South Central," "Scandal" and "Minority Report."

Browse the full schedule of AAAC’s Sankofa Homecoming events for more activities and further details.